‘Tis the season, the season of graduation. Thousands of young people across the country are finishing college. Some are more relieved than others to be done studying, staying up late writing papers, sitting through some boring classes. Some will move home, some will stay in their college town, and some are getting ready to join a brand new community.
No matter where life takes these recent graduates, they are about to become a part of a community, and they bring with them 17 years of schooling and a nice, crisp diploma. While endlessly encouraged to “do community service,” these new graduates may or may not have really been involved in a community before. They have to decide how to interact with their community, wherever it is.
Perhaps these graduates might consider the following story as they decide how they want to interact with their community and what exactly community means to them.
This March, I traveled to Nicaragua with my Hillel through American Jewish World Service. We visited a small southern community called Rivas. In the 1970s, Nicaragua experienced a Sandinista revolution, a populist movement using the name of an earlier revolutionary to topple a dictatorship and create a national consciousness that valued human rights for all.
Like hundreds of young people, Rosa Elena Bello, a girl of 16, left her home to be a part of a massive literacy campaign in the countryside that reduced illiteracy from 50.35% to about 12%. While she was a part of this campaign, she worked her own education, completing a nursing degree. Because of the turmoil in the country, there was an urgent need for medical personnel, and Rosa Elena was often asked to perform tasks that typically fell to doctors, even though she was only trained as a nurse. She eventually gained her full medical degree, raised a family, and founded a non-profit, Servicios Médicos Comunales (Communal Medical Services), the group that my Spring Break cohort worked with.
In 1990, SMC was founded to teach rural Nicaraguans better health practices. After an evaluation at the 5-year mark, the founders realized that their health campaign actually was not successful; it was not bringing about the results that they had hoped for. SMC readjusted its practices. Improving medical knowledge and health practices was still an important goal, but there was a realization that education was a crucial next step.
Since then, SMC has worked tirelessly in remote Nicaraguan villages to help thousands achieve various levels of education that lead to self-empowerment. They did not abandon ship after realizing that their original plan wasn’t exactly working; they didn’t even abandon their original goals. They looked at their community, talked to their community, and changed their tactics to fit the needs of the community.
This story should not be seen as a far-off tale. Jumping right in to address an urgent need in your own community, with or without a crisp piece of paper, is not only the business of revolutionary doctors; it can be the business of any who desire it. As a part of the Millennial Generation and a soon-to-be college graduate, I say to my peers, let us challenge ourselves. Let us challenge ourselves to be a part of a community (no matter how local or global in scale), and let us not be held back by fear, uncertainty, or laziness. Let us jump in with both feet and conquer the challenges that we are faced with, as Rosa Elena and countless other Nicaraguans did in the 1980s. Let us listen to our communities and respond accordingly. If not us, then who?
Rachel Stanley is a native of Atlanta, Georgia and a rising senior at Elon University, majoring in International Studies and minoring in Non-Violence Studies, Political Science, and French. Rachel became involved with AJWS through an Alternative Spring Break to Nicaragua in 2012. She has a background in Jewish social justice through her positions as past Social Justice Chair and President of her university’s Hillel and through the Goldman Fellowship with American Jewish Committee. She loves the intersection of service and culture and has spent time volunteering in the refugee communities in Atlanta and Greensboro. She is completing a thesis on French interventions in the civil wars of Rwanda and Cote d’Ivoire as part of the Elon College Fellows program.