The thought of making a difference first hit me when I was 16. Before that, I was a bit numb. I do not really remember thinking about others much. I was in a world of my own, trying to survive the troubles of the day, schooling and fighting with my parents. You know, those regular things teens go though and consider the end of the world.
When I was 16, I became a very good student and experienced success and comfort. Suddenly, I realized there were others around me who were much less fortunate. It was funny how four months in my life had changed my perception so much. In 10th Grade, everything was tough, I thought my life was horrible and I did not manage very well. I envied everyone around me, convinced their lives were easy and fun.
But in 11th Grade, a month after school started, everything changed. I realized I was a very lucky girl. I started writing poetry, joined the junior school council and was even chosen to be one of the teens going to Egypt as the first youth delegation after the peace treaty was signed between Israel and Egypt.
From a needy student with lots of problem, I became a leader and organized many events to bring people together and help those with fewer friends and lower academic abilities. Because I had been on the other side, it was easy for me to understand those who did not succeed.
In my Year Book, I wrote I would like to be a journalist and my favorite song was "Imagine" by John Lennon. I had John Lennon's song posted on the door of my wardrobe and I thought that one day I would make it a reality.
My poetry was in protest of injustice and in search of love. From there, going to study Special Education was a natural progression. Evidently, making a difference was a major value for me.
Everything was clear until I got some exposure to Buddhism. That made the ideas of "change" and "making a difference" seem somewhat problematic. Why change? Why not accept what is and let go of the desire to change? But later, as I grew, I understood that acceptance does not mean compromise and that kindness is still the key to making a difference and making this world a better place.
It is funny how things turn out.
I have been teaching and making a difference for 25 years and for a long time, I thought I was living my purpose, because teaching is the kind of job that certainly makes a difference. It is part of every teacher’s job description.
But three years ago, I joined an organization called "Together for Humanity Foundation". This organization works with kids around Australia to promote acceptance and harmony through kindness and shared experiences. Two years ago, I became the QLD State Coordinator of the foundation and I feel I am completing the cycle I started almost 30 years ago.
Next month, for the second time, I am taking a group of 50 student leaders from 7 schools to a leadership camp called "Kids Leading Social Change". The reason I gave the program this name is that I believe kids can lead social change.
One of my 11th Grade teachers told me that if I make a difference in the lives of four people and they make a difference in the lives of four people each, and the cycle of change continues, after a very short time, we will make this world a better place.
Six kids who attended the previous camp organized other students from their school, with the help of their chaplain, and wrote an intergenerational play for elders. They performed their play during Senior Week in front of 400 elders. My teacher said I needed to change only four people, but soon after that camp, I had reached over 400.
When I prepared the camp for them last year, I searched the Internet for things kids can do to make a difference and found a great big list of kids and their ideas for making a difference. I have added my ideas at the bottom of the list and I hope that after next month's camp, I will add more.
Read, be inspired, add your story about kids you know who are making a difference and pass it on. For kids to be able to lead social change and make a difference, they need to have inspiring adults to show them they can. Parenting is much the same - if you make a huge positive difference to your kids, they will make a difference to theirs and the cycle will continue.
May your children see inspiration in you.
How kids are leading social change around the world
- PREPARING FOR WINTER WEATHER: In Dublin, Ga., Trinity Christian School students collected 200 winter coats for needy families, while the eighth-grade Bible class made treat bags for hospitalized kids.
- STUDENTS LEAD THE WAY: Chicago's Amundsen High School brought together 4,000 students from 17 public and private schools, youth groups, Chicago police and other city departments, as well as Kiwanis, Mothers Against Drunk Driving and clergy. They cleaned up four parks and a business area; collected food, clothes and toys for the needy; helped the elderly change smoke detector batteries and do other chores; and distributed community police information.
- VARIETY OF COMMUNITY EFFORTS: 94 students from Horace Mann Elementary School's Challenge Center visited a Sioux Falls, S.D., homeless shelter, worked at a soup kitchen, entertained patients at a children's hospital, and collected clothes, toiletries and books for various charities.
- BONE MARROW, BLOOD DONATIONS: The Florence M. Burd Middle School student council organized a blood and bone marrow drive in Newton, N.J., at which 15 people became bone marrow tissue donors and 37 donated blood.
- CLEAN SCHOOL GROUNDS: Students in Action and a teacher from Woonsocket High School in Rhode Island raked leaves, planted flowers and cleaned up around the school.
- USE ART: Arizona second-graders at Apache Elementary made paper Kachina dolls for residents of Westview Healthcare Center.
- MASSIVE EFFORT IN TEXAS: The Aldine Independent School District in Houston mobilized 40,000 students, teachers, staffers, family members and community volunteers for 56 projects, including to collecting food and clothes for the needy, delivering get-well cards and books to sick children, and visiting with seniors. With a special emphasis on children's needs, the volunteers -- ages 3 to 80 -- responded to a mission's urgent call for baby needs. One school employee matched contributions of baby food by buying 405 jars herself.
- GIVE A GROWING GIFT: Harrell High School and Community Friends in Texas got three area Mexican restaurants to save avocado seeds, which they planted and handed out to nursing home residents; members also performed other community chores.
- BAKE COOKIES: In Kintnersville, Pa., Palisades High School's "Kids for Kindness" baked more than 200 dozen cookies to be shipped to U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Egypt.
- DELIVER CARDS: In Lower Burrell, Pa., Bon Air Elementary School Student Council made cards and chocolate lollipops and delivered them to seniors at a high-rise.
- ENABLE HANDICAPPED ACCESS: About 1,000 students and staffers of New York's Gouverneur Central School raised $3,300 for a swimming pool access ramp for senior and disabled swimmers.
- SCHOOL-TO-SCHOOL: In an Arkansas district where 25 percent of students live in public housing, 11th- and 12th-graders in North Little Rock High School's Octagon Club rallied the community to donate 1,000-plus clothing items to The Care Closet at Central Elementary School, where needy students and their siblings can get free clothes.
- PUT KNOWLEDGE TO WORK: Teens in Betty Magee's Spanish II class at Mendenhall High School, in Mississippi, spent the day teaching employees of a local women's shelter how to help a victim of domestic violence who can't speak English and gave the employees them with a class-made video and audiotape packet for future reference.
- RAISE AWARENESS: Hibbing High School's SADD raised $300 for a drunken-driving victim's family in a "Powderpuff" football game in Minnesota.
- HOLD A WALK-A-THON: At Coventry High School in Rhode Island, 30 National Honor Society seniors raised $500 in a walk-a-thon for the American Cancer Society.
- START A COLLECTION: E.P. Hubbell School in Connecticut collected hundreds of personal-care and household items for four shelters.
- VISIT SENIORS: Hot Springs High School's Diamonds in the Rough -- a culture and service group -- visited nursing home residents in Arkansas and gave them decorated pumpkins.
- COLLECT PENNIES: Arbor Elementary School in Piscataway, N.J., collected $220 in pennies to help a financially pressed family with newborn quadruplets.
- GET THE WORD OUT: Forestville Central School, in New York, and the community of Dunkirk rallied 350 volunteers in a fund-raiser for a student in need of a wheelchair, as well as painting, raking and cleaning for seniors and sprucing up the town.
- TEACHERS SHOW THE WAY: Five students and 29 teachers from West Woodland Hills Junior High School in Swissvale, Pa., rehabilitated a four-unit row house.
- SHARE GENERATIONS: Students from the Tuscarora Indian School on the Tuscarora Reservation in New York raked leaves and visited with community elderly.
- TEAM UP WITH A NONPROFIT: Newark, Ohio, middle and high school students from Youth Engaged in Service, with the Mental Health Association of Licking County, held a party for 252 needy kids.
- BRING STAFF AND STUDENTS TOGETHER: Students, faculty and staff members from King's College in Pennsylvania participated in 13 projects, including raising funds for Make-a-Wish Foundation, visiting pediatric wards, and collecting blankets for the homeless.
- BE A HERO: Students at Oak Forest Elementary School in Houston, many of them needy, set up a "Heroes R Us" store stocked with their own possessions. They gave away more than 600 toys and books to 150 needy children, many brought from shelters and churches.
- AUCTION AND COOKIE SALE: Fifty seventh- and eighth-graders at The Most Precious Blood School in Brooklyn, N.Y., raised nearly $1,000 for the homeless and a dialysis patient by selling 300 cookie cartons and auctioning off 13 decorated goody baskets.
- INCLUDE MENTORING: Georgia Military College volunteers -- 300 cadets in sixth grade through junior college -- cleaned a lakeside park, served meals to veterans, collected socks and food for the needy and mentored at-risk students.
- USE BOOK POWER: In Indiana, the Madison Heights High School Latin Club collected 500 children's books to be earned by elementary school students as rewards for good grades, attendance and acts of kindness.
- START A HOSPITAL LIBRARY: Fifteen Lakewood High School marketing students in New Jersey collected 500 books for a hospital pediatric unit, Head Start program and kids with cancer.
- TLC FOR SHELTER ANIMALS: Felton Middle School’s seventh-graders treated local humane society pets to new collars, toys, shampoos and walks; and gave 100 pounds of dog food with $330 earned pumping gas.
- WISDOM IN THE WRINKLES: after participating in a Together for Humanity leadership camp called "Kids Leading Social Change", six kids in Grade 7 from Upper Mount Gravatt State School in Brisbane, Australia, wrote (with the help of their Chaplain) an intergenerational play. They performed it during Senior Week in front of 400 happy elders.
May this list keep getting longer!