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Tuesday, March 29, 2011

From Here To Mongolia

My wife and I have a son (30 years old) and a daughter (27 years old). As we raised our children we cultivated certain experiences and developed several general but deeply held values, such as care, compassion, integrity, honesty... Among the beliefs we reinforced is the personal reward one receives when availing themselves of the opportunity to serve others. Both my wife and I have experienced lengthy careers in public school education. We have modeled the personal characteristics we cherish for our own children through our work on behalf of countless learners over our many years as educators. The moral compass points we have supplied our son and daughter have been embedded in the expectation that helping others can precipitate a "carry it forward" progression whereby the recipients of acts of kindness and generosity will similarly extend themselves to assist others.

Our daughter is enjoying her fifth year of teaching elementary age learners. She invests her heart and soul in her efforts to promote the growth and sustain the dreams and hopes of children. Her gregarious personality and unwavering commitment clearly contribute toward her success. She has coached athletes and encouraged learners in many different settings, all with the goal of raising expectations and compelling their pursuit toward individual potential. I am very proud that she has elected to follow in the footsteps of her parents by entering the teaching profession. She had vowed early on, well before graduating from high school that she would become a teacher.

Our son, on the other hand, shied away from teaching and carved out a different path for his journey. He was reluctant to work in the same role as his parents. As a child, he attended an inner city elementary school where I served as principal. He was one of three learners in a grade that numbered over 120 that were not a member of a racial minority. His classmates were from several different South and Central American countries, a handful of nations from Southeast Asia, a few Native Americans, and the rest were from other racial groups that together comprised the full spectrum of human skin pigmentation. One common denominator among this diverse population was the poverty they shared, no matter where they originated.

Our son acquired a keen insight into many different customs and cultures. He also developed a sense of humility and sensitivity born of his interactions with his less fortunate classmates. This experience eventually was converted into a passion for enriching his understanding of other people and other cultures. He graduated from college with a degree in anthropology and archeology. He continued his studies and received a graduate degree in History. That training enabled him to obtain a position with the Smithsonian sponsored National Museum of the Native American in lower Manhattan in New York City. After working at the museum for four years he will be steering his life in another direction. On June 2 of this year he will leave home to begin a 27 month assignment in The Peace Corps serving in Mongolia, half a world away from New York.

Mongolia is the most sparsely populated country on the planet. Forty percent of the Peace Corps volunteers in Mongolia work in isolated rural villages and live in yurts (or gers), a product of the nomadic way of life practiced through generations of Mongolians as they frequently traveled across the country tending to herds of yaks and goats… The country is surrounded by Russia and China. The great Gobi Desert forms a southern boundary. The majestic mountains on the western border form a formidable boundary. In between are the steppes, or an expansive area of hot, dry land covered in grass. He will be away from home without an opportunity to return for the entire 27 months. My wife and I are hopeful of taking a trip to visit him at some point during that long stretch of time.

It is ironic that his responsibility in the Peace Corps will be teaching English to learners in grades 5 - 12, and working as a resource for Mongolian teachers who instruct English. He will be a teacher after all. He will help others by equipping them with the ability to communicate in a language that will enable Mongolians to enter an interdependent global economy as they extract the vast and valuable reservoirs of minerals beneath the surface of their territory. Mongolia is a country on the verge of tapping into their rich natural resources to improve their economy. Increasing the number of Mongolians who can communicate in English, the official second language of Mongolia, will assist the country in raising their stature with other nations.

The Peace Corps sponsors a program called, School Match, in which the schools served by Peace Corps volunteers are matched with an American school for pen-pal exchanges that seek to enrich learners of both participating schools. If our son is fortunate enough to live and work in an area that has Internet connections, then we will be able to communicate regularly via email or Skype. Also, in that event, learners at his school could communicate electronically with learners in America. That could prove to be a great learning experience for everyone.

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