Learning to Serve

In 2005 Hurricane Katrina made landfall in New Orleans, Louisiana in the southern United States.  As infrastructure failed and flooding ensued, it devastated the city.  Many people were extremely hard hit, losing everything to the floods.  12 years later and New Orleans still shows signs of the damage done during that storm.  In the days after Hurricane Katrina buses started bringing people from New Orleans to Houston, Texas, most with only the shirts on their backs.  With nothing to return to in New Orleans, more than 100,000 people settled in Houston and began to slowly rebuild their lives.  Now, exactly 12 years later, for those New Orleanians who remained in Houston, history has repeated itself in the form of the worst storm to ever make landfall in the United States of America.   

Hurricane Harvey has finally moved away from Houston after more than a week of dumping over 50 inches (almost 1.3 meters) of rain on the fourth largest city in America.  Houston, a city built to manage flash flooding from sudden thunderstorms, was no match for a storm that brought one year’s worth of rain in less than a week.  The city is devastated and will take years, maybe even decades to fully recover.  

I’ve watched from afar as the city that I called home for three years has literally weathered the worst storm of all time and I can’t shake the feeling of helplessness.  Being on the other side of the world as friends and former students feared for their safety has been extremely difficult.  And now, as the recovery efforts begin, the sense of helplessness continues.  We’ve donated money to the American Red Cross but can’t escape the feeling that we could be doing more if we were actually on the ground in Houston.

A few years after Hurricane Katrina destroyed much of New Orleans, I was part of a school trip that took over 100 sixth graders to the Lower 9th Ward of New Orleans, from Houston, to donate a week of our time and energy to help continue the recovery efforts.  Over the years I’ve wondered if those students were able to experience the feelings that come from authentic altruism or if they were just there because they had to be.  I’ve had faith that there was at least some level of positive impact but could never really confirm what, if anything, they learned from that trip.  Until now…

Never have I been so happy that I’ve stayed in touch with former students as I have over the last week.  I’ve been bombarded with photos, videos, and stories of those very same students as they’ve rushed to the George Bush Convention Center (a makeshift refugee center in Houston), joined their church groups, or just come together to support their neighbors who’ve suffered tragedy from Hurricane Harvey.  Of course, there are many other factors that led to their altruism but I no longer have any doubt in my mind that those students learned a lot during our trip to New Orleans.  Teaching our young people about the importance of giving their time and energy to serve those less fortunate couldn’t be more crucial in our quest to develop the future leaders of our world.  

With only a couple more weeks before we head off for our Education Outside the Classroom (EOTC) trips I want to urge everyone to remember how important these experiences are to the process of developing compassionate leaders for the next generations.  Our responsibility lies beyond the textbooks.  Whether during their time at our school, in university, or beyond, our students will be faced with opportunities to help others.  How they approach those opportunities is yet to be determined and, hopefully, will be heavily influenced by the positive experiences we can provide them through things like our EOTC week.  We, luckily, don’t have hurricane victims to help during our EOTC week but the importance of giving back and helping others shouldn’t be overlooked just because we haven’t experienced a natural disaster.  What we can do to help others during these trips may be less significant than the lessons that we can share with our students as we join them for these experiences.  Remember, they’re always listening and learning, what we are saying and modeling will be noticed.  We may never know it or we may see their growth ten years from now, but it will matter!

Side note: If you’re involved with any great community projects or groups I’d love to hear about them, as life finally starts to feel routine here in Surabaya I’d like to get involved in helping the community.  


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