By Lindsay Griswold
My passion for working with youth at an international level first blossomed during my time with the Peace Corps in Kenya. I served as a Deaf education volunteer from 2006 to 2008 at Gede Special School in Coast Province.
While I was not aware then of the significance Rotary would later have in my life, the school was built by the Rotary Club of Malindi, Kenya, a few months before my arrival. Gede serves not only students who are Deaf but also those who have physical and cognitive disabilities such as cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, and even polio.
Living and teaching in Kenya was an incredibly meaningful journey that I continue to learn from and reflect on, even today. I miss the mamas at the village cafe, the beauty of the Indian Ocean, and most importantly, my former students.
My love of biking flourished when I moved to Chicago after the Peace Corps. I bought a road bike from Ciclo Urbano, a West Side bicycle shop that supports local at-risk youth through its earn-a-bike summer program. I used this as my sole mode of transportation and quickly learned the necessity of avoiding Chicago’s numerous potholes and car doors along the way. A few years later, I met my now husband, and our mutual love of bikes easily solidified our relationship. In fact, we even got engaged at the top of a mountain during a bike ride in Crested Butte, Colorado — an incredibly romantic event until I had my first-ever bike crash soon after. Now, I find myself riding long distances on the weekends, discovering new trails, and roadtripping with my bike always in tow.
After six years of working in Chicago schools, I made the decision to return to my Peace Corps roots and continue working with youth worldwide. Little did I know the Rotary wheel painted on the wall of my Kenyan classroom had foreshadowed my professional future! Rotary International has been a perfect fit for my interests. As the senior specialist for Youth Exchange, I work with district leaders to support Rotary Youth Exchange students during one of the most eye-opening, adventurous years of their lives. As a member of the RI staff Miles to End Polio team, I am able to build fellowship with like-minded colleagues and push myself in different ways than I can when riding on my own.
To me, Service Above Self means being generous with my time, opening my mind to new experiences, and putting others’ comfort before my own. What better testament to Rotary’s mission than biking 104 miles to end polio? When the Tucson hills loom ahead this November, I will draw strength from my time in Kenya and think of the students at Gede. I will remember Sidi’s smile, Zawadi’s dancing, and Kupata’s storytelling. And I will keep on pedaling through the pain.
Lindsay Griswold is a Youth Exchange senior specialist for Rotary International. She is one of several Rotary staff members who will join General Secretary John Hewko in biking El Tour de Tucson in Arizona to raise money for polio eradication. Check back for posts from other team members between now and the 21 November event and learn how you can support the team.
Want to join the effort? Take part in the Indoor Ride to End Polio by riding a stationary bike at your local gym or at home anytime from 14 to 21 November.