Passport in hand and adventure in mind, Trés McMichael, the 2014-2015 Baltimore County Student Councils (BCSC) president, arrived at BWI Airport on a cool morning in July. Through baggage check-in and security, the rising Grade 12 student at George Washington Carver Center for Arts and Technology made his way toward the airline terminal. Then, with one last look at Baltimore, McMichael boarded a plane bound for Ghana.
Some 12 hours later, McMichael arrived in a small African village called Anloga. Anloga is located more than 5,000 miles away in Ghana’s Volta region and is home to just fewer than 36,000 people. While most of the villagers speak Ewe as their native tongue, many learn English – and so much more – from volunteers like McMichael.
“I went [to Ghana] for 21 days with an organization called Global Leadership Adventures through its Children of Africa program,” said McMichael. “It’s really an international program… [There were] 33 students assigned to six different schools. I taught at a school for a P-6, or primary six, or junior high class. I had about 20 students and I taught them everything from English and math to ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ and some dancing.”
According to McMichael, his students ranged in age from 12 to 19 years old and reflected diverse educational backgrounds. But, most importantly, “they were all learning and all improving.”
“Whenever they got something,” McMichael added, “seeing them get it was the most amazing feeling because English isn’t their primary language. So, to break down that communication barrier and to see that they got it was such a great experience… Teaching at the school in general was a pretty amazing experience.”
“Pretty amazing,” too, was McMichael’s favorite teaching moment.
He described, “We were having a discussion one day about peace and what peace means to them. When it got to [one student’s] turn to talk, he couldn’t talk. He can write but he can’t really write letters, so I asked him, ‘Hey, can you maybe draw a picture?’ So, he went off into his own place and he just started working. I didn’t think that he was really going to do much, but when I was going around the circle and I came back to him, the only thing on his paper was a heart with the word ‘love’ inside.”
For McMichael, that moment led to a revelation – and a mission.
“[In Ghana,] everyone is so loving [and] so kind,” said McMichael. “That’s the one thing that I want to bring back to America from Ghana: the amount of love that they have for everyone.”
And, as he starts his third year of service on the BCSC executive board, McMichael has a plan to realize that goal: “This year, I want to lead with love and lead with understanding – lead with the understanding that we have the resources to make change and we have the resources to do big things… We need to use everything that we have in our power to create other leaders, to make change in our community, to share the love that we all have for each other and to make the BCPS community a little better and a little more of a loving place.”
To get a jumpstart on achieving those “big things,” McMichael’s mind travels back to Ghana.
“[While in Ghana,] I also built a library and I also painted a medical clinic,” added McMichael. “[But] I know that, when [the other students and I] built the library, the library didn’t have any books – it’s just the building. So, one of the things that I really want to do is try and get people to donate old books and then send them over to the library that I built. That’s another way that I can give back to this place because my work doesn’t have to stop just because I’m back in America.”
While organizing a book drive would add another project to BCSC’s already busy agenda, McMichael emphasizes a notable distinction in the aim of this year’s service projects.
“Yes, me and my executive board and my officers and my clubs, we’re going to give a lot,” stated McMichael. “But my focus this year is what we’re going to take from [our service projects] and how are we going to apply this to who we are and to our futures and our dreams and what our goals are.”
He continued, “Service is not just a one-way street; it’s a two-way street – a give and return. Both parties are getting something from it.”
Though his trip to Ghana helped him to foster this “two-way” view of service, McMichael, who hopes someday to open his own school, the Greater Baltimore Center for Arts and Community Service, says that service is “something that I’ve always loved.”
“People ask me, ‘What do you love to do?’ Well, I love to help people,” explained McMichael. “Helping others is really kind of an inspiration for me.”
Now, as he settles into his last year as a Baltimore County Public Schools student, McMichael looks forward to keeping that inspiration alive by inviting others to follow his lead.
“Never stop serving,” McMichael encouraged. “It gives you so much peace of mind and it gives you the will and desire to wake up every morning because you know that you’re going to go out there and do something to help someone else.”
To learn more about BCSC, click here.
Story by Blake Lubinski, consultant, Department of Communications and Community Outreach.