We Are America

Voices of the Nation's Future

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Photo ofCeylon Vanston

When you are a young child, your parents are always there and give you everything required. Children never consider what their next meal will be or if they will have a roof over their heads. Learning to  appreciate life’s gifts comes with age.  My first life-changing event happened when I was six. My school announced that students had to perform community service. I chose to donate school supplies in Liberia. My family decided to travel there so that we could experience a third-world country. It was decided that my family would go to Liberia to deliver all the supplies.  We arrived, unpacked, and traveled to the orphanage. We brought school supplies to the orphanage, and I was shocked by how little they had. Thin sheets of metal as walls, dirt floors, and only a few worn-out benches in each ‘classroom.’ Yet, they were grateful. It was Easter, so I asked my parents if we could hand out candy to the children. I will never forget the look on the children’s faces when they tasted candy. As a youngster, I did not comprehend how impoverished they lived.  In August of 2017, a second major event occurred. My parents decided we should move to Abuja, Nigeria, and experience living in another country. They received job offers to work at the American Embassy School. It was hard at first, but I slowly started to feel comfortable in my new home. We moved into a four-story apartment building with stone walls and barbed wire on top. We also had two guards at the gate at all times, and a driver that took my family to school. Along the road, there were vagrants, and often women and children selling items. I was appalled. Over time, I became accustomed to their situation.  While in Nigeria, my school worked closely with an impoverished girl’s school. When we arrived at the school, all the girls were surprised that I was white, blue-eyed, and had blonde hair. One of the projects I worked on was starting a garden for the school, which provided a source of fresh food. After eight months, my parents told my brother and me that we were go- ing back to America. I was curious about what brought about this change, but my mother did not feel comfortable telling me at a young age. For two nights, my brother and I stayed with a friend while my parents retrieved our belongings from the building. At midnight my family climbed into a car and drove to the airport with no one knowing we left. When we finally got back to America, we went to stay with family in Florida.  When I turned twelve, my mother decided I was old enough to know what happened when we were in Nigeria. My mother had discovered that money was being stolen from the school. She reported this to the American Embassy and stopped the stealing, knowing it was the right thing to do and that the Board would be happy. It ended up backfiring as it was the Board members that were the ones stealing the money. These Board members cornered my mother in her office and told her that they would kill her and her children. She was terrified to stay there, and we were all evacuated in the middle of the night, with the help of armed guards.  I am now fourteen, and my perspective of the world is different than before this experience. I used to take for granted the gifts America has to offer, but now I am thankful for the many liberties I possess. I am grateful for the freedom, opportunity, and resources I have as an American. 

© Ceylon Vanston. All rights reserved. If you are interested in quoting this story, contact the national team through this website and we can put you in touch with the young person’s teacher.