Q&A with #SummerImpact winner David Watterson
Earlier this month we launched our #SummerImpact contest where we asked you, our faithful readers, to tweet what you’d be doing this summer to make a social impact. We got loads of amazing and diverse world-changing responses. We selected five winners and we’re giving those folks an opportunity to share their stories here on Dowser.
@GoodKingDavid: @dowserdotorg I created an exchange program for Kenyan and American students to solve the water crisis. http://bit.ly/8YNQoD #SummerImpact
David Watterson, 24
Little Rock, Arkansas and Bunyore, Kenya
Dowser: How did you get involved with this work? Was there something specific that got you interested?
Watterson: I got involved with Kijana Educational Empowerment Initiative through two things. First, my former high school social studies teacher, Jim Cummings, founded the organization and after several years of watching and being inspired by his work to empower youth in Kenya, I decided I needed to get involved in a more meaningful way myself. Second, I’m a graduate student at the Clinton School of Public Service in Little Rock, Arkansas, and as part of my degree I was required to do an international public service project, so they helped make it a reality.
Can you tell us a little about what this organization does?
We work to empower Kenyan and American youth by building schools, contributing needed resources, and providing opportunities for cross-cultural exchange between school communities in America and rural Kenya. The project I worked on focuses on that last part, cross-cultural exchange, by linking Kenyan and American high school students together via videoconference to promote solutions to the global water crisis.
If I were a fly on the wall while you worked, what would I see you doing on a typical day?
You would see me traveling between the three partner secondary schools I worked with in Kenya to recruit students! There was a lot to discuss and work out in order to coordinate the program with the principals and teachers. Luckily, the schools were very supportive of the program and helped me a great deal in developing it and introducing it to their students.
Has this experience changed how you’ll approach your future work, goals, or career path?
I can definitely see myself thinking more seriously about directing my public service efforts internationally as I embark on a career following my graduation from the Clinton School next May. If I didn’t already believe it before, I definitely believe it now – education is the most important key to building healthy societies and ending poverty, and it’s especially important in developing countries with high poverty like Kenya. I couldn’t believe how amazing the high school students are there. They have the drive and intelligence to succeed; now they just need the resources and opportunities.
Do you have any advice for people interested in pursuing a similar experience?
Google is a powerful tool! Although I already had a connection with Kijana, most of my classmates at the Clinton School found their international public service project leads this summer with a simple Google search. You can find a lot from there as a starting point, and with enough genuine interest and enthusiasm for making a serious difference, most international NGOs would be crazy not to welcome your help! I know Kijana is always looking for more volunteers.
What’s something concrete and tangible you’ve learned this summer?
It’s not directly related to my project, but I was reminded of the beauty in taking pauses from time to time. My favorite expression that I heard over and over again from my Kenyan friends was, ‘I am just here.’ I would hear it in the most mundane moments, like when my friend Ben would come in and sit in my living room (‘So, David, I am just here.’) or running into another colleague named Okwemba at the market. He said, ‘So, we are just here,’ as he took me in with his eyes, smiling largely as if to savor the moment. It made me realize how little we pause and savor moments in America, and how public service can’t be performed in a vacuum separate from our humanity.
Photo: David Watterson