Doing it anyway: the Sustainability Concern

One of the buzzwords I’ll take away from my college career is “sustainability”. I’ve gone to many a presentation by people working on projects in various questions, where they would share anecdote after anecdote backed by statistics, some depressing, some uplifting about the work they’re doing . Afterward, someone would undoubtedly raise their hand and ask something like, “Excuse, em, how sustainable is this endeavor of yours? How do you see this continuing 5 or 10 years from now? Are the people becoming dependable on your organization to solve problems that they can solve for themselves?”

Don’t worry, I’m not picking on anyone. I’ve asked these questions myself. These are smart questions. These are forward-thinking concerns. Every program manager should keep “sustainability” in mind. However, concerns of sustainability may hinder us from acting. Sometimes, I think about simple things that may help someone in a village somewhere, but I think, “no, that’s not sustainable enough.”

I was (re)-inspired by a lady who came to visit the French Language Residence program this past week. A native of Morocco working in the States, she often goes back to her native land. Taking part of her modest means, she buys little things like school supplies, soccer balls, shirts and go spend the day with kids in an orphanage she sponsored. She also takes them out at least once, on a picnic, so that they can switch settings for a little bit. It reminded me of my parents’ efforts when I was growing up. They would have a Christmas party for all the children in the neighborhood. There was no gifts per say, but there was food for everyone. Apparently , they had started the tradition before I was born. I’ve met many people who are adults now who told me about excited they were around Christmas for that occasion. They’ve also taken kids for a picnic at the beach, a place many of them never get the chance to do. At the end of the Moroccan lady’s presentation, she told me in French: “No matter what you become in life, don’t forget your roots. Our people need us. Remember to do something.”

So, what did I learn from that encounter? Not every endeavor have to be sustainable. Putting a smile on a child’s face may not feed them for the next 20 years, but in some way, shape or form, both your life and theirs will be transformed by coming in contact with each other.

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