Usually the night before a big event with my students, like most teachers or FFA advisors, I am up worrying and worrying…hoping that the next day will go well. Hoping that I remembered to do everything, call this person, remind this person, print that, or purchase this….hoping that people actually show up. I can make myself so anxious I barely sleep sometimes. But this evening was different. I had a big event tomorrow, a field trip with the FFA! We were taking 20 students off campus to a place called Wulki’s farm which was about 45 minutes away. But, I didn’t have the bus driver’s number, I hadn’t purchased any food for the trip tomorrow, I didn’t have the list of the names of students who were going, I didn’t even have the name of the tour guide who was supposedly taking us around the farm. How could I not be panicking??? What kind of advisor was i?! I had done nothing, absolutely nothing! Ahhhh but that was the beauty of it….because you see this time, I wasn’t the one in charge….they were.
For the past few months the students had been begging me to go on a field trip. I tried planning one (mostly on my own) the previous month and let’s just say the results were not too good. I did all the planning, all the organizing, and lined them up with all sorts of activities I thought they would enjoy…but when it came time to commit and pay for the field trip….crickets….only 1 person signed up and paid. I was definitely a little bit hurt and offended that I had worked so hard to put this together for them….something that they said they wanted! So when the idea came up again that they wanted to try planning another field trip, I was a little less than thrilled to be a part of it all over again. I told them I didn’t think we had time to plan another one (which was true knowing how long things take to plan in Liberia) but also I really just didn’t want the stress or to be responsible for another failed event and I was tired from trying so hard the last time (and all the other times we had tried things and failed…the FFA was taking a long time to pick up speed and popularity on campus despite our best efforts). I only had one more month left, I could see the end in sight and I could see the possibility of a free Saturday lounging around Kakata in my future. But the students insisted, we had to do a field trip they said and sensing my hesitation, they said they would plan the whole thing. Plan the whole thing? Hmmmmm…..let me think about this….
On one hand, this could be really good….really give them an opportunity use their leadership skills, work together as a team for one common goal, practice responsibility, and put into practice a lot of the things we have been talking about all year. This could be a great last project for them, an amazing way to end the year! But on the other hand, I’m tired….and what if I give up complete control (yikes!) and it doesn’t happen at all or it’s a complete disaster?? What am I worrying about…it probably won’t happen. Just say “yes” we can do it and see what happens. When you think about it, you have nothing to lose and they have everything to gain if this works out…. Give them a chance, Anna! Believe in them!
Right away they assigned two people to be on the planning committee. The next week, Amos gave a report on how the field trip planning was coming. He said he had paid his own way in a taxi on his free Saturday to go to the farm, talk with the tour guide about dates and negotiate price. Wowza, a sophomore in high school taking that kind of initiative! That’s awesome! The next thing I knew the treasurer, Joseph, said he had spoken with the owner’s wife at church and was working on negotiating an even lower price for our FFA group. Even better! The club members were impressed too and visibly getting excited. Being around their energy, I myself couldn’t resist getting excited too and found myself thinking “this could actually work out” but I had my reservations still because I knew there was still so much to do in 3 short weeks….
The following week Amos and Harris came to me after school and we sat and crafted our letters to the administration asking for permission to go and possibly use the school bus. When I got word that our request to use the bus had been rejected, I got discouraged….knowing that to rent a bus would double our price making it hard for members to pay their way. I was ready to quit, but luckily they weren’t ready to quit so easily. The leadership already had a back-up plan and they quick got Josephus, the president, to start working on talking to local bus companies and negotiating prices. This task is “no small thing-ooo” as we say in Liberia and requires walking around to different taxi stations in the city, lots of back and forth dialog/debate about prices, and finally staying on top of drivers to make sure that they don’t accept any other offers for that day and end up leaving you high and dry. Josephus worked tirelessly and each time we spoke over the next few weeks he always had a new lead or update he was following. Meanwhile, Harris and Amos were also busy writing/delivering letters asking teachers and community members for donations to help fund the trip. Sounds easy enough…but in Liberia where hardly anyone has a computer (or fast typing skills for that matter) and where most printers within a 1 mile radius always seem to be out of ink and/or paper this is no easy thing! Then there’s trying to track down everyone you want to give a letter to…there’s no email or postal system, you have to do it in person! Well they did it, they delivered 17 letters!
While the planning committee was out chasing money, the publicity chair Patience and her group were out advertising the event…making signs, speaking in classrooms, and standing outside the dining hall. Their publicity worked and soon the treasurer started collecting the funds from people. Before I knew it, we had at least 14 people signed up, just like that! And the treasurer had detailed records for everything, neat and organized. In a country where corruption and thievery is rampant, (even among student groups) and where organization skills are not always highly valued…his perfect little entries in his notebook were such a beautiful thing to see! People trusted Joseph, people trusted the FFA and it was becoming more and clearer to me each day why. These students were different, these students had pride in their work, these students had integrity, these students had ambition, these students were honest and sincere, these students cared, these students were real leaders… a real embodiment of everything that the values and mission of the FFA. I don’t know how they ended up with me here in the FFA but I’m sure glad I was getting the change to work with them.
The trip ended up being a great success and I really didn’t have anything to worry about, they had thought of and taken care of everything! We played games, sang songs, and even got to see tons of things they had never seen before including horses (some even tried riding them), donkeys, crocodiles, turkeys, geese, ostrich, and a swimming pool! Everyone had such a great time! I will always remember that trip as one of the best days of my AgriCorps service. Not just because of seeing the animals (although it was super fun to get to see my students approach a horse for the first time), but because it was visible to see how proud our FFA members were of themselves for organizing this trip entirely on their own. That really warms a teacher’s heart anywhere in the world ❤
It was also a humble reminder for me how important it is to build up and encourage others around you, to believe in people. I know I’ve said this before in one of my past blogs but I think it’s been a theme for me this year: It’s amazing what people can do if you just believe in them.
I’m so excited to see where these students go and everything that they will do with the FFA in the future!
“Be an encourager, the world has enough critics already”
“Encouragement is free, and beyond measurement in value”