By Aidan Alexander, 15
I was raised in Boise, Idaho. Most people think "Idahoans" are actually just cowboys that frolic around listening to country music and dodge massive tornados while planting potatoes. (Although Idaho is famous for potatoes and the French fries are really good.)
I was raised in a manicured suburb of Boise, where I had the privilege of never living in poverty, and having access to a good system of education and culture. There’s a large selection of charter and IB schools to choose from. Although I knew being able to choose from so many educational selections wasn't available to everyone, it wasn't until I got involved in an organization called Pencils of Promise, that I realized the lack of academic access some people had. PoP is an organization that is dedicated to promoting literacy worldwide, building schools, providing teacher support and developing local leadership. To date, they’ve built over 300 schools since 2009. When I think about my early experiences in school, a lot of things come to mind.
Growing up, I had an English class that I always looked forward to going to. We would always have intellectual conversations about the difference in opinions we had about different characters in books we were reading, or about what we thought a certain piece of writing meant. The class really taught me a lot about how to communicate with other people, while still respecting their side of the argument. I think that is a really important trait.
I also really didn’t like science growing up, until I had a teacher in middle school who was always finding hilariously creative ways to trick me into learning it. That got me to thinking how important it is in the lives of young people -- to have somebody care about their education as much as they do, and frankly, sometimes more. Growing up in an environment with people learning the same things I was learning and going through similar processes of maturing, it really gave me a sense of connectivity with people who were going through comparable situations. Basically, my ability and desire to question the world around me and form thoughts and opinions, stemmed from my initial education.
A few weeks ago I was in New York City, and I visited the Pencils of Promise headquarters. I had the chance to watch a really life-like virtual reality video focusing on the conditions the kids are raised in, and their lack of access to education in third world countries. Although I always knew increasing the literacy rate and school count in other countries was a priority, the video really showed me the pressing need of the situation. We as a society are always saying the youth is "our future," but how can we expect children from other countries -- who don't even have the opportunity to learn how to communicate with other cultures, or understand them -- to grow up to be instrumental in solving their countries' problems? Third world countries will remain third world until we work together to provide those populations with opportunities to develop skills to enact change from within.
With the help of both the amazing PoP team, and my management company, I’ve been granted the opportunity to fly out to Laos and assist in building a school in 2016. I have had a lot of friends who have served humanitarian trips, and I always thought, however amazing the trips sounded, they also sounded really intimidating. Flying into a foreign land and subjecting yourself to things you have never seen before and living conditions you can’t even imagine, is pretty scary to me. Although a fair amount of teenagers around the world look up to me (another idea that really terrifies me), I didn’t -- and couldn’t -- hesitate to say, "Of course."
My outlook on it is so: However cheesy and cliche it sounds, we are all human. Some of us are born into different worlds, so to speak, and I think there is no reason we shouldn't be using the resources we have been given, and try to help improve conditions in places where people might not be as lucky. Whether it’s promoting literacy in third world countries and flying out to build a school, or even joining a pen pal program and writing with people overseas to help them learn to communicate, there are so many easy ways to stay involved and help others. There are people out there who need us and it’s so important we help them.