Paying It Forward

Over the course of a lifetime, you can acquire knowledge, resources, and perspective from having lived longer and experienced more than perhaps your peers and more so than those people younger than yourself. Hopefully, although this is not always the case, you will have gained ideas, maturity, and wisdom, which you can impart on those who will come after you. Now while I am not directly referencing mentorship or being a mentor to others, I encourage those who have the knowledge and skills handed down to them or learned through their own efforts to pass that wisdom down to the next generation.

While ‘paying it forward’ may have gone out of style, it has been a part of human history since the early days of man. All great works in this world could be lost if it was not for oral or written recordings so that the knowledge could be passed on to those younger and curious to learn from those who came before them. Teachers, professors, coaches, and mentors play a valuable role in our society because they are entrusted with the high responsibility on passing on their mastery of different subjects on to the next generation. While these are not perfect people, they take it upon themselves to pass on their teachings to those younger and more inexperienced in the hopes that they will take their learnings to improve the world in some way.

However, you do not need to be a teacher or a professor to pass on your knowledge or your skills to younger peers or students. Everybody should take it upon themselves to ‘pay it forward’ in some way by imparting your hard-earned knowledge on to others whether they are family members, friends, mentees, or work colleagues. Part of paying it forward is realizing that you will not be around forever and if you bottle up all of your wisdom, experiences, and overall knowledge inside your mind then it will be truly lost with your passing.

You can be sure that one way to leave an impact, make your mark, and have a legacy is to teach others what you were taught while adding your own perspectives on what you have learned so that you can add your own context to the subjects you have mastered. Nobody is perfect but it is better to share that knowledge with an apprentice or a student than to let it go to waste and be lost to the ether.

From Socrates to Plato and Robespierre to Napoleon, both knowledge and wisdom has been passed down from one generation to the next. In order to progress and advance in your professional life, you’ll sometimes need to reach out on your own to those older and more experienced than you in your field of work. Guilds, trade apprenticeships, and mentoring programs do a lot of the good work in terms of paying it forward, but these opportunities don’t always come around for the average person.

If you see someone who you can help out either professionally or personally and you want to take them under your wing to see how they progress, that’s the best way of paying it forward. Instead of just choosing anyone to help, focus on those people who are interested in your line of work or have the same kind of personal life as you did. You will want to help those folks who are willing to listen, to learn, and to actually implement the advice that you give them. Sometimes, it’s best to let that person reach out to you when they are looking for help but you may have to take the initiative if you don’t have anyone reaching out.

As I discussed in a previous post, mentorship goes both ways but paying it forward is something you should do out of the good of your own heart and out of a desire to leave the world better than when you found it by positively impacting someone’s life. All of us have a lot of experience, knowledge, and skills to share and there are many people out there who don’t or won’t have access to the same resources as we did.

Of course, first, you’ll have to find who that person is who you want to help but remember to not be too selective or wait forever to make your impact. If you have been working hard over the years and decades to build up your knowledge, you should not let it all go to waste by keeping it to yourself. When no one sets the example of paying it forward, it can create a negative ripple effect whereas that kind of useful information or life experience won’t be passed down to those who need it the most.

You may not see the rewards of your efforts in sharing your knowledge or expertise right away but over the years and decades of you helping others, you will definitely see the results whether its’ in the neighborhood, the community, the country, or the world. Everybody has something to contribute to the overall society and even more so when you are able to help others do the same in their own way. ‘Paying it forward’ may not be requirement in living a good life but it will certainly leave an impact on yourself and those who you assist and help during the course of your life.

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First and Last Projects

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“Teamwork makes the dream work.”

As apart of my training program to become a Volunteer for Peace Corps – Colombia, my fellow trainees and I have worked hard over these past weeks and months in developing and implementing mini-projects in partnership with our community here in different ways.

Overall, there have been three community projects that we have been working on over these past two months. All of us trainees together have worked on a ‘Limpieza La Comunidad’ or ‘Cleaning up the Community’ project with local citizens in an effort to make the parks and the local river here cleaner and safer for everyone. So far, we have conducted two clean-ups so far during the weekends which have at the central park of our town and then most recently at the ecological park and the area near the football stadium.

It has been a real joy to work with the young people of the community especially. The children and teenagers, who have helped us with the clean-up process the most. They have been extremely enthusiastic and willing to pitch in to assist and work with us. I have worked with one child in particular, named Jesus, age eight, who has helped me specifically with picking up the trash and sweeping the leaves. For both times where we have had our clean-up project in different parks, Jesus has been there to be my partner and help me with my big trash bag. I hope that after we leave for our volunteer sites in mid-April that the children, teenagers, and young people of our current community will become the next leaders of this clean-up effort and will continue these projects and make a sustainable difference in their town.

In addition, my colleagues and I have been able to create two mini-projects related to English education here in the community. A few of my fellow trainees have started a ‘reading buddies’ after-school program where they have read books alongside children and teenagers over the past couple of weeks. Others and myself have worked hard to create a community English class based around conversation lessons that have taken place on Thursday nights and during the weekends.

My fellow trainees and I have split the hours of teaching between ourselves and now provide about three hours a week between the three of us in giving conversational lessons in basic English to those members of the community who want to learn and expressed sincere interest to us in attending our classes. I have been very pleased with the turnout for my community class on Thursday nights and the hard work, engagement that my students have had so far for learning conversational English.

Eight adults showed up for my first class last week and I hope that they will continue coming to class over the next few weeks. For this program, I also hope to designate a leader(s) to continue having English classes within the community. If possible, I will select an adult with the English skills necessary in order to teach his fellow Colombians and keep the class going into the future. I always think back about how lucky I was in the past to pursue my passion for foreign languages and how I was able to take Turkish and Arabic classes at night and also attend Spanish conversation groups as well. It has been great giving that same opportunity to those adults interested in learning my language and developing their conversational proficiency.

Lastly, my fellow trainees and I have successfully completed recently two separate training sessions for the English teachers in our community. The topics have focused around creating speaking and listening activities for their students in an interactive way, as well as working on the pronunciation of difficult sounds in the English language. Both ‘charlas’ or teacher training sessions have been well attended; the teachers were enthusiastic about sharing what they had learned from us and applying this knowledge in their classrooms for the future.

As our first projects finish up over the next few weeks, I can say that we made a meaningful impact in our community during our training program. Each of the trainees has worked hard, provided a lot of time and effort, and have developed good relationships with the local community too. I believe that we can hold our heads up high as we head into April 2016 and the beginning of our formal volunteer service here in Colombia.

Atlántico

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“My host family here for the next three months of training gave me an extremely warm and kind welcome.”

Over a week has passed since I arrived in Barranquilla, Colombia with the other Peace Corps Trainees from our CII-8 group but it seems like more time than that with all of the changes and moving around that we have done in such a short amount of time. Each of us has since relocated to different rural towns and communities outside of Barranquilla where we were each introduced and have become acquainted with our first host families here in Colombia for the first three months of our training.

The Atlantico department of Colombia has an interesting climate to say the least. It is very hot and humid here but the rainy season here is not slated to begin until around April or May. However, this month and hopefully in February, there is a very strong wind breeze coming from the coast that cools down the temperature a little bit which is a very welcome relief. From what I have heard from others, this is only temporary and does not stick around for the rest of the calendar year. Oh well.

I can’t speak for the other trainees but I have been extremely happy with my 1st host family here and how they have received me so far. They have been very hospitable, kind, and helpful to me especially when it comes to improving my Spanish and preparing excellent food for me. I currently live with a grandmother, her husband, and her grandson. Besides the Spanish classes that we are enrolled in as part of our training, I have enjoyed conversing with my host family in Spanish and learning the local slang words and phrases. The locals here known as Costeños, (People from the Caribbean coast of Colombia) tend to speak very quickly so it’s quite the challenge sometimes to understand everything but it will only help me in the long run to develop my fluency.

It’s been a real pleasure meeting the people in my community so far and sharing with them where I’m from, who I am, and why I’m here in Colombia. The locals in my community are very curious about the Peace Corps and what we are all about. This is the first time for many of them with meeting an American so I hope to make a good impression on behalf of my country and its people. In addition to Spanish classes, I hope to get involved in some community projects during my three-month stay here. My fellow Peace Corps trainees and I were lucky enough to meet some local officials along with the Mayor and we hope to be of any assistance to the community if it is necessary.

Families live within walking distance of each other and the bond between neighbors is much stronger and closer than what I’ve seen in the United States. That’s one of the first things that struck me about my community as well. Everybody knows each other pretty well and they each look out for one another. It’s really cool to see families hanging out and children playing together when the heat lets up and the sun sets down.

One thing that I underestimated before coming to Colombia was the sheer passion and love that the people have here for the game of football (futbol). It doesn’t matter what age you are or which neighborhood you are from. All you need is a few friends, a sturdy ball, your feet, and a makeshift goal/net and you have yourself a game. I have enjoyed bonding with my younger neighbors and other kids in the community by playing some football with them at the local field (cancha) or in the park. Regardless of language miscommunications that are bound to happen, football has a universal language that everyone can enjoy at the end of the day.

For the Colombians who are living in rural communities, access to the Internet is not easy to come by. I was very pleased to see that the local government here has recently set up a new Internet (Wi-fi) cafe with laptops for locals to share and use for a very minimal cost per hour. In addition, there is a small conference center for meetings, and a room for young people to hang out and play some video games after school lets out. From what I have noticed so far, there is a lot of construction going on and a lot of development, which is exciting to see.

In addition to the many motorcycles, motorcars that take families and friends from place to place within and outside our community, there are also these large buses that transport Colombians to and from Barranquilla. They remind me a lot of the dolmuşes that I used during my time living in Istanbul where for a small cost, they would ferry the stuffed in passengers from neighborhood to neighborhood. However, the difference here in Colombia is that these buses are a little bigger than the dolmuşes that I used there and they also are much more colorful. Each bus is unique in the colors that it has, the symbols and pictures that are used, and also with the kind of music that is being played through the speakers. It seems to me that these are buses that you would only find to be used in Colombia though. Some symbols are religious in meaning on the buses as they would be on the dolmuşes but other symbols represent cartoons, historical figures, etc. The cool fact of it is that each bus has a different name, different colors, and has a different saying for its passengers to read and enjoy.

In a way, these buses could represent the Colombian people. Colorful, full of life, and not shy when it comes to avoid a traffic jam at rush hour. One week in and I am starting to understand why Colombians are often ranked as one of the happiest, if not the happiest people in the world. More entries from me to come in the near future. Until then, “Que le vaya bien!”