Too Much Stuff? Want Hope? Talk to an Eighth Grader.

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Sometimes hope is found in the places we don’t expect, hidden among the bad stuff, or the mundane stuff, or the unnoticed and taken for granted stuff. The difficulty is that sometimes all that “stuff” gets in the way of seeing any hope. Sometimes we need to look a little closer, be a little quieter, unclutter our thoughts in order to see it. Recently, beneath the tired expressions, the not in the mood to be back at school statements, the anxious energy, I saw it. From the busy tapping of keyboards, and scribbling of pens, sprung the words I think we all need to hear, from a place we might not think to look – middle schoolers, or more specifically, in my 8th Grade students.

At the start of the year, we started reading together the nonfiction book The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind by William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer.  The book follows William’s life growing up in the small village of Malawi, Africa, where he encounters so many challenges most of us never have to face – famine, poverty that keeps him from attending school, and no electricity. William doesn’t let these hurdles get in his way. He manages to gather junkyard scraps, spend hours learning about electricity on his own at the new local library, and ultimately builds a windmill that generates electricity for the first time in his village and pumps water needed to farm the land.

William writes about when he climbs to the top of the windmill’s tower and says,

“I reached the top, where I stood level with my creation. Its steel bones were welded and bent, and its plastic arms were blackened from fire. I admired the other pieces: the bottle-cap washers, rusted tractor parts, and the old bicycle frame. Each one told its own story of discovery. Each piece had been lost and then found in a time of fear and hunger and pain. Together now, we were all being reborn.”

So, there it is. Hidden in all that trash in the junkyard, the young teenage William found hope. He took each piece and made it good. Like the Bible says in the book of Romans:

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” – Romans 8:28.

William took what others thought was useless trash and created something good to help others. These items were found in difficult times, but William was able to make times better with his gifts and his dreams and his unwavering determination.

Sometimes young people get a bad rap.  They can be called irresponsible, immature, unfocused. Well, we’re all like that sometimes, right? But this young William disproved those beliefs, and so did my students. Working with young people every day, one of the many things I’ve learned is to never underestimate them. When given a listening ear and a safe place to express themselves, it’s amazing what they reveal, the good “stuff” that glimmers beneath the surface. 

I asked my 8th Grade class to think about their hopes and dreams for the world. What would they want changed or improved? Then, I asked them to think of their gifts, talents, hobbies. How could they use these to better the world? What might someone title the story of their gifts and dreams? I had to share what they said because their thoughts are a gift wrapped up in one beautiful message of hope.

Some of the book titles shared were, The Girl Who Loved the World, The Girl Who Remade the World, The Boy Who Did Many Things, The Boy Who Helped the Ocean, The Girl Who Taught the Kids, The Girl Who Repaired the Paws, The Boy Who Rode the Water, The Boy Who Played Baseball, The Girl Who Captured the Clouds.

These titles were inspiring and fun, but what they said about themselves and the world really got me. They want to raise money for charities, clean up the ocean, coach or teach kids, rescue animals, end poverty, stop racism, cure cancer, find answers to medical problems, write books. Listening to all their dreams and goals gave me such incredible hope for this world. What wonderful ambitions just within one 8th Grade class in one small school. Imagine all the great things that are possible within every school, every young mind.

One of my favorite writings was the following:

One thing I want to change in the world is how we support each other. I want people to feel more appreciated. When I see things like violence and crimes on the news, I hate it. I feel like if people cared for each other more and treated each other kindly, stuff like that wouldn’t happen as much. My talent is to be inspired and create things. If I could use my talent to change the world,  I would want to create a book to help people understand each other. It would show that people make mistakes; it would show how people feel when others are unkind; it would show how people can believe in one another; it would show the hardships people can go through, and it would show how small acts can make a difference.”

Now that is some good “stuff!”  Without even realizing it, these students have already made a difference. Maybe I should title them The Class that Harnessed Hope. By sharing their ideas with each other, by sharing them with me, and by me sharing with whoever reads this, that circle of hope spreads wider and wider.

So, if you’re looking for some hope today, go look in some unlikely places, or better yet, go talk to an 8th Grader.

 

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