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What are Your Career Aspirations?

When I was a little boy, I dreamed of becoming an explorer. At age 12, National Geographic Kids selected me as a Young Explorer and took me to South Africa. I went into a shark cage with a Great White shark biting on the bars and I climbed on cliffs where people lived 15,000 years ago.  Then they took me to the African Townships and I saw the schools the kids go to. I walked in their neighborhoods. There was no running water, no bathrooms and no hospitals. I saw children with smiles on their faces as if nothing was wrong.  I saw little children with swollen stomachs. One girl smiled and I saw she had a huge belly button. Turns out it was a hernia and needed an operation. She still danced for the welcoming ceremony. I can’t imagine her pain.
Today, I want to be a doctor.  I was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease. My doctor helped me with my Crohn’s and took away most of my pain. He inspired me to be a doctor by being a nice guy and answering my questions. He told me about “Doctors without Borders.” I know there are people around the world in constant pain from chronic disorders and I understand how to live in pain. Hopefully, I can help them. I also hope that I become an inspiration to others. I’ve seen how helping others brings joy to yourself and those you touch.

What Type of Contribution Have You Made to the Betterment of Your Community?

When I was 10 years old,  I organized a holiday toy drive. I thought I’d get 20 toys. Over 300 toys filled the boxes for local hospitals. I gave a stuffed animal to a girl. She smiled. Her mom said that is the first time she smiled since being admitted. It felt good to make someone a little happier. I’ve learned people donate more than you’d expect. They want to help.
After seeing the schools in Africa, I was devastated. They had no supplies, no sports equipment, no desks -- nothing. The school was one big empty room. I am proud to say that this Fall two schools in Zimbabwe will get their first ever shipment of school supplies, sports equipment and clothes from my town. The shipment will include over 1,000 books for two brand new libraries. The students will spend the next three years becoming pen pals. The project is about more than just giving supplies. It’s about making the world a little smaller by getting kids to know each other. You should see how neatly the kids write to us from Zimbabwe.  Many of my classmates even got their parents involved. One day a truck pulled up to the school with donations collected over the weekend. Each time I told people how they can help, even with just one book, they jumped at the chance. My town and my school worked together to make a difference for others. We all felt good as the boxes stacked up higher and higher.

Who are Your Role Models and Why?

We sat in my principal’s office. I showed Mark Grashow my pictures of South Africa’s townships. He showed me a picture of shelves filled with books donated from a US school. Mark looked directly at me and said “one notebook and one pencil will change a life.”  I knew exactly what he meant. The children in Africa wrote their math problems in the sand with sticks. He then told us of his foundation started after a vacation to Victoria Falls which also included visiting local schools. He spent 30 years teaching math in the NYC school system. He said that was a breeze compared to the challenges facing Zimbabwe. He recently retired and decided to devote his life to “Giving.” Today, he has over 70 US schools donating supplies.  In Zimbabwe, the reading level in donated schools increased from 5% to 60%.

He looked at me again and said, “Gary, people will help you. All you have to do is try. There are a lot of us out there. We just have to find each other.” He then pulled out a book called “Giving” by Bill Clinton.  Mark’s effort is highlighted in chapter 4. 
Mark is my role model because he understood how important it was for me to help the kids in Africa. He came to my school and showed me how to energize people around a cause. He showed me not to be afraid to ask for help. I admire Mark because as I write this he is in Africa delivering the supplies from my school.

Have You Overcome a Personal Obstacle?

At age 12, I was sick, so sick that I was starving. I lived in pain and with diarrhea. I was supposed to weigh 130 pounds and the scale said 83. Turns out, I have a chronic disease called Crohn’s. It is a digestive disorder. To get the disease into remission I was given two choices. One was not to eat any food for a month, only drink a supplement. The second was to take medication with lots of possible side effects, but I could eat whatever I wanted. I had to choose. Can you imagine not eating birthday cake or not eating at lunch at school? The doctor said he never saw a 12 year old not eat for a month.
I went home that night and thought one month without eating is an impossible goal. But here is a secret. Do not look at the big goal. Break it into little goals. So, I told my parents I wanted a paint ball party if I did not eat for a month. On a sheet of paper I wrote down the numbers 1 to 30. Every day that I did not eat, I rewarded myself with the name of a friend that could come to the party. By the end of the first week, I did not want to disappoint my friends. It became easier to get through one day at a time. Not eating was the hardest thing I ever did. Now I am a healthy 14-year old and yes my disease is chronic, but I know that whatever obstacles are in my path, I can overcome them one step at a time. 

What is a Major Problem With the World Why and How Would You Solve the Problem?

By 2025 there will be a global water crisis. I can help my generation understand the problem and make a difference. Each one of us can have an impact.
In South Africa, I saw people carrying plastic jugs and walking two miles for water. They lacked running water and bathrooms, yet they expressed joy. I saw the same joy when the kids in my school, were carrying heavy boxes out to the truck for Zimbabwe. Everyone was high fiving each other. So I think I can help more kids experience the joy of helping with the water crisis.
My donation money will build awareness of the water shortage. We can target sister schools and purchase “Play Pumps” for them. I already know schools in need. As kids play on the pump, water is raised and flows freely. The pumps cost about $14,000 each. We can show video clips of the schools and how it makes a difference. We can even write about how we are reducing our own water consumption or perhaps even have a nationwide school contest for who uses the least water. We can use a website to put up charts with the amount of global water available and the amount wasted. Kids are already on the computer, now they will have a place to go to see how their water usage is making a difference.  This crisis affects all of us. I’ve seen that people want to help and feel good helping to make the world a better place.

What Book has had the Most Effect on Your Life and Why?

The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho is about how the universe conspires to help you live your personal legend. It explains “the mysterious chain that links one thing to another.” (pg. 72) and how even if you think something is an obstacle you can learn from it, get stronger and overcome the obstacle. As I read this book, I saw my life chain unfold. From taking a picture for the National Geographic contest, to seeing the kids in Africa, to meeting Mark Grashow and watching a truckload of supplies packed up by the kids in my school. There is someone in Africa whose life will be different. They are a part of the chain.  The book says that the endpoint is not the goal, but it is continuing to improve because as you improve the people you encounter, you improve as well.
When I was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease I was scared. Many people suffer with continual pain and have to go through major surgery. “Tell your heart that the fear of suffering is worse than the suffering itself, and that no heart has ever suffered when it goes in search of its dreams.” (page 130). I found that even if I had a huge cramp when we were loading the truck at school, I had the strength to breathe deep and overcome the pain. Helping others makes everyone better.
My entry for this contest is a beginning point. We will bring water to schoolchildren, save lives and my biggest hope is that more and more kids find the joy in giving. 
 

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Interview

  • When I was a little boy, I dreamed of becoming an explorer. At age 12, National Geographic Kids selected me as a Young Explorer and took me to South Africa. I went into a shark cage with a Great White shark biting on the bars and I climbed on cliffs where people lived 15,000 years ago.  Then they took me to the African Townships and I saw the schools the kids go to. I walked in their... [Read More]

 

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