A New Perspective: Katelyn Cowser

Katelyn Cowser, a junior majoring in English, participated in the Spring 2011 Practicum in Liberal Arts course on Appalachian Community Development.  Katelyn decided to return to Eagan, TN for the summer to work with the Clearfork Community Institute.

“An old woman was collecting fresh water from a creek. Someone came along and asked if she needed any help.  She allowed it and they walked along the creek together for some time. When they left her, another came after awhile, then another, and another. But after a few years the old woman stopped the volunteer and said, “If you are here to help, I don’t need it. Good day to you. But if you are here because you realize that your liberation is tied with mine than welcome, let’s begin.”

This was an anecdote shared with me last night by Carol Judy. It was a brief story but it helped me realize something that I had forgotten: this community does not need my help. I came here with the expectation of making great changes, but have been disappointed numerous times with what I have ultimately perceived as failures. My view of Eagan, TN after my spring break experiences was one of hope and admiration. I thought of them as people who lived sustainable lives and who did not need ME to be their savior. Somewhere between planning my grand ideas and preparations for traveling, I lost that knowledge. Rather than focusing on helping the community with the projects that the residence specifically wanted, my whole purpose became focused on how I could help them, what I could change.

Though it has been difficult to accept, the answer is so simple: absolutely nothing. There is nothing I can change but my own opinions. I’ve realized that in order for my stay here to be a success, I need to change my outlook, because otherwise frustration would be the only possible outcome. Having a ‘save-the-world-complex’, as my mother calls it, this change become very difficult for me. I feel the need to help ‘save’ everything in my sight, but here in Eagan, that’s not what they need, or want.Quite frankly, they don’t need me here at all; I need them. I need them to help me bridge the gap between the academic world and the real world, to create a unity in both valuable sets of knowledge; bringing together two cultures to create a coop that can last for years to come.

The summer camp at CCI has been such a project.  It has been a tool that has allowed my fellow Intern and me to work with culturally diverse people, to mesh our ideas into one cohesive program, where you can learn that we all share a common interest. While the camp’s initial purpose, at least in my opinion, seemed to be a failure, having only three consistent participants, it has taken on a completely new meaning for me.  Rather than focusing on the lack of participants and the reasons behind what I considered to be a deficit, I have worked to focus on what I could learn from my experiences with the camp. Learning from our mistakes, I now know that next year’s camp will be much better over all.  Now we know what people like and dislike, we have started the foundation for ever increasing possibilities; we can only go up from here, but we must keep going. The worst that I could call this round of camp would be a system of mistakes that can be used as a reference, a guide for future efforts. Camp isn’t going anywhere, and the fact that we had consistent participants proves that there are children out their who are eager to do something more.

More importantly, the camp has allowed me to work with people who in my normal circumstance I would have never had the opportunity to meet. Because of this camp, I have been able to work with remarkable people from wholly different upbringings. Our collaboration has created something that will last. While the camp has not been successful in recruiting the entire youth population in Eagan and its surrounding areas, it has become a success in what I think is  far more important. It has brought together people with altogether different backgrounds; it has been the conduit to discovering that we all have a commonality, and until we can recognize that our liberation is tied together, we can never truly help each other.

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