July 10, 2013 - Some people shoot for fame, fortune and other fleeting delights in this life.
Kate McQuater, a 2009 graduate of Oxford High School, works on building her global citizenship by helping others in places like Valparaiso, Chile. Photo provided. (click for larger version)
Not Kate McQuater. Her main goal is to become a global citizen.
"I believe it is vital that young people understand that they are not just citizens of the town they grew up in, or even the country or hemisphere that they grew up in, but that we are all citizens of the same globe together," said the 2009 graduate of Oxford High School.
"Understanding that our neighbors in Africa are just as connected to us as our neighbors in Lake Orion opens the door for deeper understanding and communication between nations."
McQuater believes one of the most important things a person can do to realize their global citizenship is experience other cultures.
"Travel, if you can," she said. "If you can't, (leave) your own community – be it your religious, political, heritage community, etc. – and spend a day in someone else's. It's amazing what you find."
McQuater's been busy cultivating her own global citizenship by helping those less fortunate than herself in developing nations.
McQuater conducts interviews with some village elders in Senegal, Africa. (click for larger version)
In 2011, she cofounded Mission India, a service program that allows American students to travel to India and help children living in orphanages because their parents suffer from diseases such as HIV/AIDS and leprosy. The orphanages are run by a non-governmental organization called St. Paul's Brotherhood.
"The children are part of ostracized groups . . . so they really received almost no outside visitors," McQuater said.
The program allows students "to experience another culture while actively giving back to it," she said. The first team of 14 students went to work at four orphanages across India in January 2012.
"We asked every participant to design an engaging cultural exchange program highlighting their own cultural background, (so it could) be shared with children ages 3-18," McQuater said.
Many of the participants were first-generation Americans representing more than five countries. Prior to leaving, the students were educated about Indian cultural practices.
"This way everyone involved in the programs benefitted – the American students learned more about the Indian culture and each other's cultures, and the kids in the orphanages got to learn about many other cultures they wouldn't get exposure to otherwise," McQuater said.
Anyone who's interested in these Indian orphanages or the work happening there is welcome to e-mail McQuater at NYCmissionindia@gmail.com.
McQuater's cofounding of Mission India was inspired by her time volunteering at a health clinic in Cuesta Grande, Honduras as part of Brooklyn College's Global Medical Brigades in 2011.
"It was my first experience working in an impoverished community, so I think one of the biggest things I got out of (it) was perspective and an awareness of (the) inequality and (the) lack of access to resources in certain areas," she explained.
"I chose to volunteer because I wanted to expand my horizons. At that time I had already studied abroad in Spain, but (I) knew my experiences in a global context were very limited."
While in Honduras, McQuater experienced firsthand just how pervasive American popular culture is, even in impoverished Third World nations.
She recalled hanging out with a young girl named Nicole, who didn't speak a word of English, but she knew all the lyrics to pop singer Justin Bieber's hits.
"As I was American, she expected me to know the words, too, which I did not. But I learned," McQuater said.
McQuater is currently in Santiago, Chile as part of an internship for NESsT, an organization that works to develop sustainable social enterprises that solve critical social problems in emerging market economies.
"We work to make businesses and organizations with key social missions more sustainable and scalable," McQuater explained.
According to the NESsT website the group achieves its mission by combining the tools and strategies of business entrepreneurship with the mission and values of nonprofit leadership to support the development of social enterprises in emerging democracies around the world.
McQuater recently graduated with bachelor's degrees in religious studies and creative writing from Macaulay Honors College at the City University of New York.
Both of those degrees go well with her self-defined goal of becoming a global citizen.
"There may be nothing more important in developing a global consciousness than an understanding of and appreciation for the diverse belief systems that have shaped national identity around the globe," McQuater explained. "To have a career – or even a life – that strives to connect with people in other cultures, (possessing) an understanding of their national religious backgrounds is ethically essential.
"As for creative writing, I do not think there is any way to change the world so quickly as to tell a well-written story. So, I plan to find stories in need of telling, and do my best to tell them."
In the end, McQuater hopes reading about her work in other countries will show others "the importance of letting down our barriers and our preconceived notions of what our 'community' is in 2013."
"I hope we realize that the whole world is our community and all people are our neighbors," she said. "What that means (is) that all people deserve our respect, appreciation and admiration."
CJ Carnacchio is editor for The Oxford Leader. He lives in the Village of Oxford with his wife Connie and daughter Larissa. When he's not busy working on the newspaper, he enjoys cigars/pipes, Martinis/Scotch, hunting and fishing.