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THE GIFT OF OPPORTUNITY
Elly Sukup has been given many precious gifts.
The tangible gifts were a chicken and a small bag of eggs.
The less obvious gifts were understanding, and friendship, and knowledge. And, most important, the gift of opportunity.
Elly, a senior from Dougherty, Iowa (population: 80), spent the past two summers in Uganda, working with the poorest of the poor as part of Iowa State’s Sustainable Rural Livelihoods program.
The first summer, she taught children about agriculture. Not big production agriculture, but agriculture they could use to make their lives better, right then. She helped them plant a school garden, and she showed them how to plant gardens at their homes. She watched as workers put in a bore hole (a well) to bring water to the school for the first time. Water they could drink, water they could use to irrigate their garden.
Within three months, Elly saw changes in the children and changes in the village. In that short amount of time, she saw the children’s health improve. She saw the community come together.
That summer, Elly said, she found her passion in life. She didn’t want to leave. If someone told her, hey, you have to stay in Uganda forever, she would have been the happiest person alive.
So when the opportunity arose last summer for Elly to return to the village in Uganda, she went back. She wanted to study the garden’s impact on the children’s health. She wanted to learn how many of the students planted gardens at home. She wanted to know what the children had taught their parents, what kind of crops they planted, and why they chose those crops.
She found that some of the students had had their gardens for a year, and they were already selling some of their produce. The money they made had gone toward school fees, buying soap for their homes, buying new clothes. Elly was very excited. The children had shown an entrepreneurial spirit that she’d only dreamed about.
One day Elly was working on her research project when one of her students, Florence, invited Elly to her home for tea. Elly said she’d be honored. Two days later, Elly and Florence walked the two and a half miles to Florence’s home. While they were walking, Florence asked Elly many questions. In America, do you eat eggs?
she asked. Yes, Elly said, we eat eggs. Do you drink milk? Yes, we drink milk. Do you eat chickens? Yes, we eat chickens. Elly wondered where all these questions were heading.
At home, Florence’s mother served Elly a wonderful meal of potatoes and gravy and biscuits and tea. As Elly started to leave, one of Florence’s siblings came in with a bag of eggs, and then Florence presented Elly with a live chicken.
In Uganda, Elly explained, the highest honor a guest can receive is when your host gives you a live chicken.
Elly walked home with her bag of eggs in one hand and the chicken in the other.
It’s Elly’s favorite story from her time in Uganda.
I love this story, too, because it’s such a wonderful example of the power of giving. Elly Sukup had the opportunity to teach in Uganda and to learn from the Ugandans because of a gift from Karen and Jerry Kolschowsky, who initially funded the Sustainable Rural Livelihoods program. Their gift gave many gifts in return.
I hope you’ll read more about Elly Sukup (and see a photo of her with Florence and her family in Uganda) on page 15. And I hope you’ll think about the gift of opportunity that so many students and faculty receive at Iowa State through the generosity of alumni and friends. There are endless stories, endless opportunities, and endless ways to make a difference.
I can’t wait to see what Elly Sukup has done five years from now. Because of the opportunities she discovered at Iowa State, she has found her passion. She is on her way.
About the Writer | Carole Gieseke is editor of VISIONS magazine.