Last year I won a writing contest sponsored by United Planet, an organization that sends volunteers around the world to work on various social and economic projects. The real outcome of these projects is to foster cross-cultural understanding. My entry for the contest was a poem called Oasis.
I taught for seven years at The International Community School of Abidjan, an American Embassy -sponsored school in the West African country of Cote d’Ivoire. Prior to Cote d’Ivoire’s civil war, I.C.S.A. had a student body of more than 500 students who represented more than 70 nationalities. What an amazing environment to grow as a teacher and a writer!
I wrote the poem Oasis as an introduction to a unit study on poetry. I wanted my fourth grade students to recognize and appreciate that understanding poetry requires diligence and many readings. But, I wanted them to approach the task of trying to derive meaning from a poem in spirit of joy and fun. I asked them to imagine themselves as poetry detectives, who were looking for clues that led to meaning. As an introductory activity, I wrote this poem, Oasis. Each day, I would read several stanzas about a particular student and the class would have to reason their way as to what student I was describing. After selecting the student a particular stanza captured, some students illustrated the stanzas. I have included these illustrations as well.
This poem, these illustrations and The International Community School of Abidjan are testaments that people from different backgrounds, cultures, religions and political views can work together and love each other when such a challenge is presented and then nurtured.
The students of this fourth grade class are now juniors in college. For many of us, our lives were torn apart by the war in Cote d’Ivoire and necessitated us moving to other places. One of the students involved in this project, who has since relocated to Florida, last year requested from me a copy of the poem and the illustrations. She wanted a tangible complement to her memory of the marvelous life we all had in Cote d’Ivoire because we were, indeed, the world.
Here is the link to poem Oasis and its illustrations. http://www.unitedplanet.org/documents/OasisbyOctavia_000.pdf
I share all of this to say that I am so thrilled by the vision and action of many young people, particularly young Africans who recognize that they are the solution to the African continent’s challenges. Such young people remind me so much of my students.
Here is video link to Patrick Awuah,a young man from Ghana, who went to Swarthmore College and then on to a lucrative career with Microsoft. But, after becoming a parent, he became more ambitious in his expectations and faith for Ghana. He returned home and founded Ashesi University, an oasis where progressive and ethical leaders are being groomed. Listen and have your faith restored.