My last few days at Starfish were some of the most memorable. We finished up my music class and the exam tutoring of the students. I was so proud of everything they had learned in 2 weeks, and how they all wanted to keep learning more. I left my ukulele to the students in order for them to continue playing and for any future volunteers that could continue my work.
With finishing my classes came the hardest part of my internship… presenting about my experience. I completed my write up on lesson plans and activities, but the last part of the presentation was how this experience had affected me. How do I put into words all the things I wanted to say about the community that had become a second home to me?
I personally hate public speaking and presenting anything always makes me nervous. So naturally I was a little scared going into my presenting room in front of all the mentors and Aunty Yassin. But as soon as I got in there, it felt so natural. I knew all the people listening cared about me and genuinely wanted to know how my experience had been. It wasn’t like in some class where I had to present on a topic I didn’t like, to a class full of students who weren’t listening, and in front of a teacher who was grading me. This was just me talking about something I was so passionate about, to a group of individuals who actually wanted to know how I felt. It was the best presentation of my life.
July 2nd, this past Saturday, was my birthday. It was the first birthday I spent in a completely different country away from home. But I didn’t feel at all alone. At midnight, all the mentors and volunteers came charging into my room with chocolate bread from my favorite bakery and singing happy birthday. They went in a circle and talked about their favorite trait of mine, and I have never felt such unconditional love before. The next day, after dinner they got me a beautiful cake and sang to me with all the Starfish students. I can’t lie, I shed a couple of tears while looking at all their happy and loving faces. The whole Starfish community made me feel so at home that I didn’t even miss being home for my birthday. I can’t thank them enough for everything they did for me.
This entire experience has definitely had a lasting impact on me as a person. I didn’t see it at first, but by the end of my internship, I could see the full effects. The main goal of Starfish is girls’ education and empowerment. This goes not only for the students, but also the mentors and volunteers. I have become a much more confident person, whether it’s in public speaking or just in my goals in life. These girls have so many dreams and are so committed to service, that it made me re-evaluate my goals. I have so many opportunities to go out and change the world, and the Starfish students have really inspired me to embrace these opportunities. Another thing I’ve realized is how important the relationships and connections you have are. When I’m old and thinking back on life, I’m not going to care about the money I made or the material things I have. I’m going to remember all the people I met and how they have had an impact on me. Africa is such a different culture, based around people and being part of a community. This culture really helped me understand that people should come first, no matter what color or country they are from. Every experience I had, from the students greeting me with hugs the first day I was there to having a conversation with our bus driver at 2 am about his life goals, showed me the oneness of humanity. Even being halfway across the world, people are still people and they aren’t as different as you would think. I want to thank Starfish and everyone that supported me through this journey, but whatever words I say will never be enough.