Be The Change You Want To See In The World

The title of this piece is a quote often wrongly attributed to Mahatma Gandhi, and though Gandhi never said such words, the message remains true enough.

I am a firm believer in the idea that if you are not an activist, you are an inactivist. If you do not actively pursue a life that attempts to change the system, then you are ultimately a part of the system itself. Complaining is not enough to redeem yourself, neither is voicing dissatisfaction online, and neither is voting once every five years. It is your actions, not your thoughts or opinions, who define who you are. And actions are conducted every hour of every day.

It is the widely held belief that we are unable to change anything that prevents many of us from trying. This belief provides a shield to those we would hope to usurp and a reassuring comfort to those of us who have thought the thought, but then shied away from acting. By telling ourselves that it would have made no difference anyway, we let ourselves off the hook. The guilt and perhaps even shame is removed and we can continue our day-to-day lives.

What if we realised that this belief where one person cannot make a difference is misguided? What if we looked back through history and saw the struggles, the revolutions, the uprisings, and the policy changes that occurred because of one persons actions? Would that persuade us that we were more empowered than we know, or would it have the reverse effect and make us feel even more useless in comparison to these icons of history?

It is worth remembering that no person is an island and that no action is conducted in a vacuum. Your actions have impacts and these impacts have knock on effects. Like the Butterfly Effect, no matter how small and useless you may think your activities are, they may have enormous outcomes.

With all this said, I should not have to tell you that if you surround yourself with people who believe and perpetuate the status quo, you will never achieve anything of note. These people who not only blindly obey, but also continually spread the message of “one person can’t make a difference” are the people you can do without in your life. They are poison. They lack desire, vision, and when push comes to shove they would rather fall over than fight back.

You should not be like this. You don’t have to be like this. And thankfully, as time goes on I am encountering more and more people who swim against the mainstream. People who not only believe in a better world, but people who actively set out to make that world a reality. One of these people is a man called Ben McBride.

Ben McBride left the University of Brighton with a degree in Mathematics. After graduating, he enrolled on a teacher training course and became a qualified maths teacher and began a job at a school in Southampton. He and I were friends throughout University and had the (dis)pleasure of living with one another for a year. As he began his career in teaching we maintained contact and remained good friends.

Since leaving university, Ben had become noticeably different. He was no longer content with days of Football Manager and nights of drinking. Though he continued to practice both, a change had come over him. He began to question the path that he was walking and soon became a victim of wanderlust and curiosity.

“For most of my life I had only wanted a stable job in which I could settle down and start a family. However, for an unknown reason to me I began wanting to see more of the world and experience different cultures”, he said.

This wanderlust grew inside him and Ben found himself thinking outside of his comfort zone. Coincidence lent her estranged hand and soon Ben would be in discussions to move to Ghana to become a teacher.

The comfortable life, the well paid job, and the girlfriend of over half a decade, all had to be secondary priorities as Ben made plans to leave the UK. Whilst in Ghana, “I wish to improve the lives of those I will teach”, he said. Recognising that his skills may be better utilised elsewhere, Ben swapped his cosy life in the suburbs for a rural life in Africa.

Speaking with Ben, it is clear that this is not voluntourism and this is not a late Gap Yah experience. The passion in his eyes surely echoes the belief that he has in his heart, a belief that his actions are meaningful and positively contribute to a better world. Ben said that before he decided to go he had told himself that “it has to be effective and not a glorified holiday”.

With this mantra enshrined in his thinking, Ben spent his 45-minute commutes to and from work thinking about his future. It was during one of these commutes that the next piece of the puzzle fell into place. Becoming a teacher in Ghana was good, but there was still more he was able to do.

Acting as a human bridge between his school in Southampton and his school in Ghana, Ben began to lay the foundations for an affiliation between the two. As well as running a bake sale, raising money to buy calculators for the school in Ghana, Ben held a meeting with the members of the senior leadership team and the school governors at the Henry Beaufort school in Southampton. Despite having only been at Henry Beaufort a short time, and despite being one of the youngest members of staff, Ben’s proposal received great praise. The foundations began to expand.

Working with the senior teams, a letter was drafted and then sent to the parents requesting donations of sporting equipment that could then be given to the school in Ghana. The response was superb. 30 pairs of football boots, Nike sports kits, shorts, and old PE kits were all provided. Ben told me that these old PE kits were his “favourite donations”, and said that they represented “possibly the best symbol of the link between the two schools.”

With Ben set to become a teacher there and a collection of calculators and a host of sporting equipment having been donated already, you would be forgiven for thinking that Ben had done enough, but still he persisted. The two schools are now looking into the possibility of arranging a tour that would allow the students to meet one another and share a game of football. It is international relations at its most brilliant; organic and mutually beneficial.

12-months ago, the students of Henry Beaufort had probably never heard of Teshie in Ghana, and yet now, they are directly helping improve lives there. International affiliations between schools is just one method of aiding tolerance and understanding, and improving the lives of those less fortunate. In the annals of history it may go down as nothing more than a sidenote, but it is a sidenote that would not have been possible if it were not for the vision and passion of one man.

After talking about Ben’s project he said: “the thing I would stress the most is that if you plan and think effectively it takes little or no effort to make, potentially, a massive change” to people’s lives. It is a change we are all capable of, so what is stopping you?

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