Passion, Privilege, and The Purple Door

Recently I’ve realized that passions are privileges.

I am unquestionably privileged to have passions, to choose the things in my life that cultivate joy. These passions were formed by the circumstances of my life.

In December, I started an Environment Club at TGC. I wanted to share my passions with the students…

Plastic use (abuse) is a huge problem here. Individuals need to be held accountable for their actions, and therefore grassroots action is necessary. In the end, the solution to this problem will be generational. The best place to start on such issues are in the centers of communities: schools.  I wanted to instill an inherent sense of respect and compassion for the environment in TGC students. I believed that if successful, this program could have the potential create a massive and profound ripple effect within the greater community.

But there was a disconnect.

Our circumstances weren’t the same. My passion for the environment is concretely rooted in my summers chasing butterflies and frogs around fields of Vermont wildflowers. I can’t create that experience for them. I can’t create a passion for them.

I was again brought back to Ernesto Sirolli’s Ripples from the Zambezi, in which he outlined recipes for developmental disasters. More harm is done when outside beliefs and visions for change are forced upon people. I made a promise to myself that, for these 9 months, I would do right by Ernesto (and Hal).

Ok. So here I was with my club proposal approved by the principal and the board, but at a personal crossroads. How can I carry out this program with the awareness that I would be forcing my own views and opinions on others?

After considering scrapping the whole thing, I came up with some remedies. There were a few ways I went about this:

The first was that I shifted the leadership of the club entirely into students’ hands’. We had a democratic election, complete with nominations and ballots. We now have a four-person, extremely enthusiastic executive board, with an overflow of amazing ideas. I will always remember the reaction of the club’s secretary when I handed her her own folder. Never has anyone in the entire world been more excited about taking notes. Not only does this give the kids the freedom to learn about and engage in programs and activities that they are interested in, but it also gives them ownership over the club- something to call their own. Finally, this design will allow the club to sustain itself once I leave in April.

The next step was a little more challenging. I needed to spark a passion somehow. A field trip to the green mountains was out of the question. I came to the understanding that this group of students needed a platform through which they could form their own opinions, perspectives, and passions.

So, last week, TGC’s environment club took its first field trip. We called it the “Photography Kickoff Campaign.” We split into two groups and set out on foot around town. The objective was to view things we look at every day, but to see them through a different lens. To see things related to the environment, that made you feel angry and upset and inspired. The results were pretty remarkable. And we have a lot of pictures to rummage through. Next meeting, we will be displaying the photos, and having a discussion about the students’ new perspectives.

My hope is that, through this program, I have given the students the option and the circumstance to choose a passion. Maybe I’m wrong, but I think that’s the goal at the end of the day… to show kids the doors, to give them options to choose the things in life that they want to love. I am where I am today because so many people in my life have shown me doors, and helped me open them. One purple door in particular is to thank.

I faced a lot of unexpected personal challenges in designing and re-designing the nature of this program. Hopefully, with this strong foundation, it will be successful in the long run. Future awesome club endeavors will include farm education and sustainability programs with environmental NGOs in Siem Reap, documentaries, working on our new raised-bed vegetable gardens, a skype info-session/Q&A with fellow fellow Mason at Environmentalist Foundation of India, and community mentoring days.


E-club executive board







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