Taking advantage of global engagement can present struggles, but without struggle, there is no progress in an individual’s life.
This philosophy on cross-cultural commitment comes from Carrie Wagner, an Asheville, North Carolina-based photographer and speaker, and former long-term volunteer with Habitat for Humanity.
Wagner spoke to a crowd of a couple-dozen in Missouri State University’s Plaster Student Union Theater on Nov. 14 for International Education Week. Her message was simple: “Go, give, learn and Tell the Story.”
Wagner and her husband served for three years in Uganda in the early ‘90s, moving to South Africa and back to the States to fill the international training director role for Habitat for Humanity. The couple worked with the organization for 11 years, and Wagner says this experience and the struggles it brought have shaped her perspective in the years since.
“(My husband) and I went to see a Jane Goodall documentary,” Wagner said. “For us, just sitting there and watching the movie (brought) back so much that (we) forget about. (A) sense of familiarity, (a) sense of … warmth and hospitality, and the genuine sort of give that the people offer. It’s very humbling.”
Wagner encouraged the crowd to be the person who changes the world around them. She had the crowd recite “The world needs me, and the time is now.” Her presentation echoed this theme.
“We have to think about things in new ways,” Wagner said. “Opportunities are to revision a world of abundance and resilience and vibrance and sustainability for all. The world needs us, and the time is now. The world needs us collectively … across different industries, sectors and cultures.”
Alex Johnson, MSU’s director of community involvement and service, attended the event and related Wagner’s message to life at Missouri State. Johnson facilitates service trips, or “Bear Breaks Immersion Trips,” which he said encourage students to “pop the college bubble.”
“I thought (Wagner) had an encouraging message for folks to step outside of their comfort zone,” Johnson said. “Those challenging experiences are often the most rewarding. (She) encouraged audience members to seek personal growth through service and critical reflection.”
Wagner reflected on her time in Uganda in the ‘90s, and her return in 2009 with a service team. She said stepping off the plane in 2009 brought back memories of another time. She spoke on the realities of everyday life in the African bush.
“I think the rawness of life — just living … on the edge (is relevant.) You really have to let go of control because you have none, and you have to trust other people for survival — and people rise to that occasion. You lose some fear, because maybe in your experience … you’ve had miracles happen. So, the minute to step off the plane (and back into Africa), it all comes back to you.”
Giving of yourself individually is good, Wagner said. But doing this collectively is the formula to implement change in society. By interculturally connecting and working collaboratively, every individual and team has the capacity to do great things, she said.
Tying this back into MSU’s public affairs mission, Johnson said Wagner’s message was useful for International Education Week, but hopefully will stick with the students who attended on a deeper level.
“(Wagner’s) message of ‘Going, Giving, and Sharing’ was inspiring, and can resonate with many students,” Johnson said. “I personally believe that each member of our Missouri State community can create positive change, on a local, national or global level.”