Alex Ding is a student at The University of Chicago. She is Founder and President of Oxfam Hunger Fighters Project. Among other things, she's also Project Founder and Director in Senegal for Rural Women's Co Opt Garden, Minnesota Democratic Party Field Organizer, President of Culver Committee for Africa, and Founder and Director of Indiana Girls Who Rock! Symposium.
She's an aspiring change-maker hailing from the Twin Cities. After graduating from the Culver Academies in 2013, Alex travelled with Global Citizen Year to rural West Africa, where she worked for eight months on a peanut farm, working with local community leaders, youths, and Women’s Groups to plan, fund, and build a 125-meter Community Garden Project. Alex has also served as the student director of two non-profits, and is interested in sustainable development, social justice, poverty alleviation, and community organizing. In her spare time, Alex enjoys hiking, sampling pudding flavors, and following famous people on Twitter.
Alex decided to share with us her wonderful message regarding on why she decided to come to MCC2014. Her journey is a breath of fresh air and inspiring to young millennials who are striving to make a difference.
"Like the Fresh Prince of Bel Air, I was raised on the playground—in cul-de-sacs dotted with sprightly lawns, weather-hardened gravel, and roving bands of kid-cops and preteen-robbers. In 2014, I celebrated a nineteenth year, and while time has changed much, cultivating play—discovered in tire-swings and trampolines; sustained in passions, experience, and relationship—was and remains a central thesis to my worldview.
Choosing in 2013 to disrupt the normative learning process, I picked play over college: I ditched the textbooks, and donned a chofnay (sun-hat in Fula) and became a full-time Senegalese farmer. For eight months, I lived and worked on a beautiful peanut farm two kilometers from the Guinean border, under the gaze of a mighty and ancient baobob tree.
There, I built a first small “playground of purpose.” Collaborating cross-culturally in Fulani with community leaders, members and Women’s Groups in a rural Senegalese village, I led a team who developed, funded, and built a 125-meter Community Garden. Farm work is hard, but there is play plentiful to be found in the innovative agricultural and agroforestry techniques I learn, practice and implement: live-fencing, tree-grafting, mulching and organic composting.
Play paired with purpose, I found, lends itself so effortlessly, so organically to the service of a collective vision. Play and service revealed themselves to me to be two united forces of a single provenance. Like reconnecting lost twins, I was delighted.
It is easy, I think, to become angry. To creak upon “shrill and angry” hinges. To yell (at others in expectation they share in this plight with you) and to yell some more (when their blasé, apathetic response seems empty, not enough). But to fight force with brute force is neglect one half of a whole, rejecting play, and inviting only deafness. Perpetuating deafness is not the goal, and it is not the means either.
I used to be angry. I creaked on “shrill” hinges. Great change follows in course, I think, when we cultivate play with purpose, and in time, our vision of what might be, what could be, what will be, is deafening, inevitable to others.
When I look to the future, I am hopeful. I have only to discover the “places,” like the Millennium Campus Network and Global Citizen Year, Rev. Victoria Safford, a Unitarian Universalist minister in White Bear, MN, writes, “where history is met by the hope of the human soul,” to be reminded of “life's longing for itself.”
Experiences in Senegal have helped me to imagine my role in the “Great Work.” I offer this to the world: a disposition for, and commitment to play–exploring ideas, people and places, as I always have—and, in playing, help to build a better world. It is the small work, in the Great Work."
Alex, as well as many other student leaders from across the globe, will be joining us this October 10-12th, 2014 at the 6th Annual Millennium Campus Conference. There, she and other students will be exchanging ideas and talking about how to achieve the UN Millennium Goals. in addition, everyone will be able to attend keynote speeches by influential global leaders such as Nicholas Kristof, Dr. Paul Farmer, among others. Apply now!