When we reach out to alumni to share their unique ASH experience with us, it is more often than not that they reflect on how they were able to discover their natural strengths during their time as students at ASH. For many, the learning environment at the school cultivates the opportunity for them to uncover hidden passions, natural talents, and unknown strengths, leading them to take new paths in life, forge new ideas for their future, and to embrace personal growth without any hesitation.
This sets the stage for us to share many inspirational alumni stories, like that of recent graduate Josie Safir, Class of 2020. In her junior year at ASH, Josie took part in an experience which lit a spark in her, that she never really knew existed: impactful and sustainable volunteerism. Her participation in the 2019 Global Service Learning Program trip to Tanzania revealed her unrealized strength of a change agent: to advocate for change and actually make it happen. Josie recounts for us below how her desire to help make a difference extended beyond the program trip, to take up immediate individual action when she returned to the Netherlands from Tanzania.
“Relocating to Europe was an immense change from suburban Kansas City, and it has had an extraordinary impact on my life. Before moving to the Netherlands, I would have never thought it would be possible to serve a local community in Tanzania in such an impactful and sustainable way.
I travelled on the week-long ASH Global Service Learning Program trip to Tanzania in February 2019. We helped the community in many ways, from laying cement for new toilet blocks and sanding and painting desks for the classrooms at an underprivileged school, to planting hundreds of trees at the base of Mount Kilimanjaro for Jane Goodall’s Roots and Shoots organization.
Part of our time in Tanzania also included visiting the DINKA School (Dutch INitiative Kids Africa), a private primary and secondary school set up by Kimberly, a woman from Wassenaar, and Erick, her Tanzanian husband. I was privileged to play a leadership role on this trip as the co-teaching coordinator at this school. This allowed me to help prepare the materials for the scheduled activities, ready my peers to teach meaningful lessons, and ensure that everyone understood the long-term benefits of these lessons, as we left the supplies and lesson plans at the school with the teachers to continue to use.
Inspiration from these experiences and gratitude for my ability to take part in this initiative made me want to extend my impact. While I understood that children at the local community school would benefit from new toilets and desks, and the private school would have some new lessons and materials, I felt a little disappointed that my active impact in Tanzania had come to an end.
Upon my return, my parents waited in the school parking lot with large smiles on their faces and their arms ready to give me a big hug; of course, they wanted to hear about my time in Tanzania, too. After uploading my photos and thoroughly explaining everything, I expressed to them my desire to continue this mission started by ASH. They noticed this newfound spark in me, and my father told me about the Signify Foundation, part of a global lighting company. I was inspired by their mission to improve the quality of life for people in underprivileged areas by helping them add a variety of lighting options.
I quickly connected with the Signify Foundation to see if they could aid me in furthering my impact in Tanzania, and it was not long before they came back to me with some exciting news - they approved my idea to bring lighting to the DINKA school. As the project manager, I set up and managed the relationships between the professionals at Signify and the administrators in Tanzania. With the help of the Signify point people and some great, experienced teachers at ASH, I designed pre- and post-lighting surveys for the students, teachers, and other people who will be affected by the endeavor to complete. The following year during the February 2020 Tanzania trip, one of the ASH teachers brought the pre-surveys to the school to fill out in order to start the quantitative data collection on what kind of impact the lighting would have on their school environment and lives in general. This whole process has taught me valuable information in an area I previously knew very little about and has provided me with practical management, communications, and statistics."
Working with the Signify Foundation, Josie was given the freedom to manage many of the project elements herself, as well as working closely alongside the foundation for guidance and crucial decisions. In order to assess which type of lighting would be most impactful at the school, Josie presented the information she gathered to the foundation, and after making an on-site visit to the school, Signify recommended a lighting package that they could provide, which they also hoped would have a significant impact on the school environment.
The type of lighting that will be installed includes a mix of ground and solar panel lights that will hopefully serve different purposes once installed. Josie’s hypothesis for the lightning impacts is based on her initial research and prior volunteerism at DINKA, where she hopes that the ground lighting will increase the level of safety and security on campus, and the solar panels will provide sustainable lighting options for campus use as well as for students to use at home. For example, installing a ground lighting option may help the security guards see the student dormitory better at night, when walking through campus on their evening safety checks, and students may also feel safer at night with increased nighttime visibility. The solar lantern lighting could serve a dual purpose; where the lanterns could be checked out and brought home at night so students can have light at home, and brought back the next day to recharge at the charging station. Also, if the generator goes out, the lanterns could be used as a back up when walking around the dormitories. Josie is keen to see whether or not these hypothetical positive changes come to realization, but in the end, the goal to positively change the school environment is most important to her. Josie reflects “I think it is amazing what one simple thing, lights, can have on a community; for example, it might help improve attendance, attention, and participation.”
The installation of the lights has been delayed due to the COVID pandemic; where the lights are still in shipment and hopefully are installed in the very near future. While Josie admits that it has been a bit of a struggle to keep in close contact with the project due to the pandemic, her dedication to its fruition is as solid as ever. She has worked on refining her quantitative data assessment of her self-designed surveys by connecting with a university professor this past fall, who is an expert in the field with years of experience in China. In fact, her choice of studies was influenced by her newly discovered passion for impactful and sustainable volunteerism - currently majoring in international business and supply chain management at University of Kansas in the Business Honors Program. It was all of these factors combined together - her experience at ASH, the guidance from the Signify Foundation, and the mentorship from her university professor - that have helped solidify that this is what she wants to do in her life; have a positive impact on others - and hopes to take the framework of this project and model more projects after it in the future.
To our current students, Josie shares a meaningful insight: “While reflecting on life during the pandemic, it is easy to think about the negatives. However, I urge you to think about the lessons you have learned and use these to drive positive change in your future. By shifting our mindset, we can identify the positives and cherish the blessings in our lives. For me, these include the value of helping others and spending time with people who make me happy.”
What resonates from Josie’s story is the literal lightbulb moment that we can all have, or have already had in our lives - where the spark is lit within us to pursue something that has meaning, purpose and impact. This ability to embrace change, to welcome it in fact, is a strength that cannot be taught in lessons or read in books; it needs to grow from experiences that resonate with our individual core values. The desire to discover the power of our own impact and our own strengths, is one that only manifests itself when we are brave enough to take that first step in making change. And all it takes is one small step to help change the world.
Side note: During the pandemic, Josie took the time to pick up a project that she had started with her brother and grandfather during their childhood - writing a children’s book. In their youth, the siblings realized most introductory reading materials lacked an interesting story and developed characters, something that is particularly essential when stimulating the interests and imaginations of early readers. So at the ages of seven and nine, Josie and her brother Nathan started working with their grandfather to write a book that young children would be excited to read. Fast forward to June 2020, after Josie graduated virtually from ASH, she picked up the novel where it had left off with her brother, and together with their grandfather, finished the literary work alongside completing the novel illustrations. The book, entitled “A Special Gift”, is about a young boy Max who finds a dog one day on his front porch. After naming her Rosie, he finds that she is not an average dog, but has a mysterious power. The story takes young readers through Max’s journey with his magical pet, and how their extraordinary friendship impacts everyone around them.
At the young age of 18, Josie isn't just a sustainable volunteerism project manager, but is a published author as well. It is safe to say that the future is bright for this inspirational ASH Alum!