Thursday, August 27, 2009

The Courage to Design Your Own Life

Madeline Uraneck left her position as International Education Consultant for the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction and spent two years in Lesotho with the Peace Corp. In a recent public letter she recounted "What I’ve Learned in Lesotho’s Mountain Kingdom".

Here are some excerpts:

If you have a dream, it’s easier than you imagine to explore it.
What is our fear of change, so great that we can’t break the routine of our daily life to pursue a dream?
I waited far too many years, lured by my salary, pension, job security, on-going projects and friends I loved. But what a great gift to discover a new land, new language, and small children without parents who truly adore me? Yes, it took a full year of indecision, medical tests, and applications to eject me from my comfort zone. But now these obstacles seem petty.

Addressing the elimination of world poverty is a worthy challenge.
In one public letter I wrote that one can substitute trivial work for challenging work. Addressing poverty, rape, HIV/AIDS is frustrating, maddening. But every day that I work hard, I work well. Perhaps I am simply spinning my wheels, “accomplishing” nothing, but at least I am trying.

I want every person in the world who thinks their current job is boring or trivial, to spend a couple years trying THIS. The world would be a better place if we all set our best efforts to living more equitably and sustainably on the planet.

But to tackle world problems, one needs the energy of idealism. Pessimism and cynicism can be fueled by the failures of international development to date, but pessimism and cynicism cannot move mountains.

Progress is impressive, even in poor countries.

The children of Lesotho demand so little, expect too little. I hang my head when I remember the children of the USA, whining in supermarkets, throwing tantrums in friends’ houses, storming about, sulking, sassing their parents. How can one child have summer camp, ballet lessons, a horse, after-school soccer, a closet stuffed with clothes, shelves overflowing with books and toys – and another child have none of the above?

It is not the children who are to blame, but we, the parents, who have spoiled them. Who have given them too much, and required of them too little. Who have not taught them about inequities of the world, or introduced the idea that they might share with others. While it is natural that we want to give -- and I am certainly one who wants to give much to specific children -- it is horrifying to see the unbalanced world that results. By the time we are adults, we no longer question our right to abundance.

Who’d have guessed that these two years have been my healthiest in decades? That learning to live on $200/month would be good pre-retirement training for the new economy? That one laughs a lot at funerals? That one can be intimate friends with 20-something’s? That one could begin a whole new career after the age of 60? That one could tackle her 4th foreign language? That one would be respected because she is older? That one could claim the front seat in public taxis, while others are crammed, with snot-nosed kids and sacks of corn and canisters of gas, in the back?

Khotso, pula, nala (peace, rain, prosperity) from Africa’s Mountain Kingdom.

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