March 11, 2010 - 12:00am
Katie Klemsem (IPS '05) recalls her experience as a kindergarten teacher in Honduras after Hurricane Mitch left the country devastated:
I am not just a girl. I am a servant, a servant to humanity. Now I am also a writer and a professor, but it hasn't always been that way.
Twelve years ago, I was a kindergarten teacher in Siguatepeque, Honduras. The level-five hurricane Mitch ripped through the country that year, bringing chaos to an already unstable place. I was 18. In the flooding streets, I was hungry for the first time in my life. With no water and only a pocket full of hope, I knew I had to be part of the change.
After the hurricane, it felt like the whole country stopped. My job was suspended, and many of the Peace Corps volunteers were evacuated. But I was dedicated to my community and found ways to help. I spent one afternoon bagging beans, bars of soap, and rice. The local radio station interviewed me that day and asked me why I was there. I remember telling them, "When your family needs you, you go to them and you help. Honduras was home, and Hondurans were family."
Surviving on self-rationed water and flour to make tortillas, I decided to go where the storm had hit the hardest. There, on the eastern coast, I worked with a haz-mat team and collected the remains of bodies that had washed upon the shore. Nothing prepares you for that. Nothing.
So the fire was lit. I had to get a brilliant education, take advantage of the fortunate circumstances I was born under, and grow into an aware, compassionate, and capable woman. I was a servant, and from that moment on, from those days in Honduras forward, I knew my path would take me somewhere where I could make a difference.
As a professor at Eulji University in South Korea, Katie inspires and empowers her students to "be the solution."