We were two—two in a crowd of about 1,200 peers our age—staring intently at former President Bill Clinton. Stephen Colbert, half‐facetiously and half‐curiously, had just asked President Clinton the fundamental question, “Why help other people?” during the closing session of the Clinton Global Initiative University meeting at Washington University in St. Louis. We had been invited to the conference for our commitment to action in education: implementing an application-based science curriculum using toys from trash and scrap materials (like newspapers and plastic water bottles) for middle schoolers in underprivileged areas of Mumbai, India.
President Clinton eloquently and thoughtfully responded that he wanted to leave behind a better world for his daughter, the grandchildren he one day hopes to have and future generations.
Seriously, though: Why help other people? We’re just two college kids with nowhere near the networks, funding nor wisdom of the former president. What’s our motivation?
Rewind back a year ago to the summer of 2012. Like many college students, we applied to internships, research fellowships and considered taking summer classes. Ultimately, though, we decided on something a little different: a summer of immersive civic engagement in Mumbai through DukeEngage. We started off that summer as students interested in service and emerged as social entrepreneurs with a mindset of lifelong civic engagement.
Our “summer of immersive service” came and went. But, why do we continue to help others? Simply, because with privilege comes responsibility. Living in a global era, we have to recognize that we are a part of a larger social fabric. Our problems, and, thus, the effort to make the world a better place are no longer confined to a geographic boundary.
This is where we feel college students can and should step in. Institutions of higher education, from community colleges to research universities, continue to be hubs of knowledge, resources and scholarship. As college students in a digital era, our reach is much further than the four walls of our own college classrooms. By virtue of our interconnectedness, we can harness our collective brainpower to come up with effective solutions to national and international problems. We can tap into Duke’s resources—whether that is increasing knowledge by contributing to research or an opportunity such as DukeEngage or CGI U—to deliver solutions to communities in need.
In January of 2012, we came across an NGO in the state of Maharashtra, India called Anandwan, a self‐sufficient community rehabilitation center for some 5,000 leprosy and disabled patients. Inspired by Anandwan’s work, we emailed them asking how we could help. They replied promptly, asking us to use our vast library system to develop health education curricula for children in grades two through 10. Something as simple as a library—found on every college campus—was a hindrance to their vision.
As college students, we often perceive the library as a haven from the distractions of college life or an encampment during finals week. To those without access, though, our libraries represent an abyss of information, a maze of knowledge waiting to be navigated.
More often than we’d like, our generation is labeled as an antisocial pack who would rather “like” each others’ statuses on Facebook than engage in real-life conversations. As the witnesses of the social networking revolution, though, we are undoubtedly a socially connected generation. Then, isn’t it about time we redefine connectedness?
Traditionally, “connectedness” has meant being able to relate to those around you. What if our generation takes this one step further and uses our connectedness to engage with communities far and wide? We, for instance, were able to form a deep human connection with students from an entirely different hemisphere that we otherwise wouldn’t have met.
As we form deep human connections, we share ideas and the ensuing innovation unravels new possibilities. This culture of interconnectedness—a culture in which you may find yourself working alongside someone with a completely different paradigm, upbringing and culture—allows us to dissect problems through various lenses. The end result is not just social networking, it’s social engagement.
That DukeEngage summer, we decided to leverage our privilege of connectedness to enact social change. While that may sound like a big agenda, all we did was identify a skill set and share it with a community in need. In President Brodhead’s words, we used our knowledge in the service of society. In the process, we emerged as global citizens with a heterogeneous social network—and not just the virtual kind.
Prachiti and Pranali Dalvi are Trinity seniors and the Clinton Global Initiative University campus representatives for Duke University. Send them a message at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com to learn how to get involved with CGI U.