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A couple days ago I had the honor of receiving the Gloria Barron Prize for Young Heroes, along with 20 other incredible young people from throughout the US and Canada. While the award is in my name, it is really a recognition of all the work that RUFC has accomplished in the past 3 years. Achieving this recognition for our work is incredibly important to all of us at RUFC. It gives us the opportunity to raise awareness about what we do, increases our credibility, and it gives us some much needed momentum moving into the next fundraising season.
It’s also personally nice to get acknowledged because most of the time being the face of, and running, a non-profit is difficult, time consuming work. I’ve already written on this blog about some of the struggles. People question my credibility and my motives. They challenge me on the work I do and often times refuse to give up their hard earned dollars. Sometimes I even wonder whether the hard work I put in is really making a difference in the world.
But then I got a beautiful plaque in the mail: “In recognition of extraordinary service to people and our planet.” Is there anything cooler to be recognized for that that?! I don’t think so! I couldn’t help but smile because I know that there are people that believe in me and the work I am trying to accomplish. And I’m not alone in my struggle to better our world and to spread happiness among its people. People of all ages around the world are dedicated to these things. But reading through the list of this year’s Gloria Barron Prize winners I felt a special kinship and respect for my fellow young ‘heroes’. While we are working on diverse issues in very different communities, I know they have faced many similar challenges as me.
To my fellow ‘heroes’ I want to congratulate you. Like me, you may go through periods where you get discouraged. You may be seen by your peers as unrealistic for wanting to promote change and a lot of the time it may feel like the work you do will make very little actual difference in the world. But you are not alone and together we are making a difference. Also, I know the attention you get as the ‘face’ of a successful philanthropic effort and getting awards can be a bit embarrassing. Because we know that none of us are ‘heroes’ alone. Many people support us and make it possible for us to work on the issues that are important to us even though we are just kids. For many of us that’s our parents. I know I would never be recognized as a ‘hero’ if it weren’t for my parents.
I also know that none of us do what we do for any prizes or recognition. In the end, it doesn’t matter if people recognize us because we are committed to our work. We see the change we make and we know that no matter what others think, we are working to make a positive impact. If we receive recognition or not we will strive to do what is right for people and our planet and try to make the world that we inherited better for everyone. We have been given a platform and the experience to not only address problems directly but to educate people. While we don't do it for awards, the Gloria Barron Prize will help us spread our message farther and help us to make a bigger difference.
With the support of the Gloria Barron Prize, I am recommitting to my efforts to promote health, wellness and global citizenship. Many people struggle to connect a foreign concept, like extreme poverty, with people who are almost identical to them. Not everyone knows that millions of people live on less than a dollar a day, and even fewer know the actual people that do. As one who does, I will continue to fight to reduce poverty, raise awareness, and increase opportunities for all kids.
In the end, it’s not about awards, but I have to say… the recognition is still cool. I am honored to be recognized among the wonderful people working for positive change.
So, I’m graduating from middle school next week (high school promotion or whatever you would like to refer to it as). For me it is a good opportunity to put my life and education in perspective. As I continue my journey into high school I give thanks for the free public schools provided to me. La Canada High School is an incredible place. The highest ranked open enrollment high school in California by US News and World Report, the school not only offers a wide range of challenging AP courses, but also offers excellent programs in music and the arts. For example, I’m a singer and the school has a vibrant choral program that tours all over the world, singing in famously renowned venues. Nearly every student at LCHS goes on to a 4-year college.
I know I am exceptionally lucky to live and go to school in La Canada. I know that if I was living in rural Uganda, for example, this graduation might mean that my formal education was over and instead of looking forward to all the incredible opportunities that await me in high school I would be facing a lifetime of work. If my parents couldn’t afford secondary school, I would now be forced to join the workforce like millions of other children around the world. As is the case for so many poor youth, my potential would be robbed by fate and my opportunities confiscated due to generations of poverty.
In the end education is all about opportunity. The opportunity to grow, to learn, and to achieve. The opportunity to one day to have control and choices over your future and to thrive. It is through education that we can break the chain of poverty. To be able to help provide educational opportunities to youth in need is one of the greatest blessings that I have gained through RUFC over the past 3 years. This week, thanks to nearly a dozen families who have agreed to support students, RUFC again paid tuition for nine children to continue their education in secondary school. These are terrific, bright kids from hard working families who without our support would no longer be attending school. Through this support, we are setting these youths on a path to success and paying jobs. People often think that they need to give so much to make a difference. In reality, all anyone needs to give is these kids a chance.
I think it is time to address something that was said to me the other day while fundraising for RUFC that has been eating away at me.
“You know there are veterans in OUR country who are living on the streets, and you’re helping kids in Africa?”
To you, I say this: It is obvious that the issue of veteran neglect plaguing this country frustrates you, as it does many. But you can’t always expect other people to prioritize your concerns (I have learned this firsthand). As a wealthy person living in La Canada you are as fit as anyone to take on a fundraising role, help raise awareness, or any other positive action for an issue that is important to you. The abject poverty and inequity impacting children and families in Mpigi is what concerns me and I spend my time and effort to help improve their lives. If you want something else done, do it. And as for your strong sense of patriotism, it is not wrong to possess a love or loyalty for your country, after all it is where you live. However, this love is susceptible to corruption in a form of supremacy. Then it becomes an extreme form of nationalism - or patriotic feeling, principles, or efforts especially marked by a feeling of superiority over other countries. To me, unity among the world’s countries and all its different people is the ultimate goal for mankind. Something people have been trying to do for as long as we have lived. How, as a world, can we progress without developing and nurturing friendship and positive relationships with people who live beyond our conceived borders? We are a human society that has extended across real, tangible, geographical isolations, so why should we cower beneath the imaginary ones? Imaginary political lines have been partially shaped by our fear and our greed and the truth is that nothing stands between us and unity except our fear of change. It is our job to extend our arms of love and generosity to all the world. Nothing makes a person on one side of the border different than someone on the other, and the same goes for across the world. We are all humans, of common blood. Wherever we come from, whatever religion we follow, whoever we choose to love. We are all the same, more so than any of us can understand.
I believe that at this time in history it is as important as ever to show the world that Americans care about equity and access to opportunity - at home and abroad. Next week is “Giving Tuesday” and I hope that everyone will think about what is important to them and make a commitment to help. This can be in the form of a donation, but it doesn't have to be about money. It can mean writing a letter to a policymaker, raising awareness, or learning more about why the problem exists in the first place.
Ray Wipfli, RUFC founder, shares his thoughts.