Whether suing the governor of South Carolina for school funding, assisting families in Kenya during her International Summer of Service, or teaching children in Zimbabwe, Casey Edwards considers education to be a bridge that can lead to significant change in any community. We take a look back with Casey from her time as a perspective scholar in 2009, through her current year as a senior BN Duke Scholar to see how scholarship has forged her path.
Even while interviewing and being considered for the B.N. Duke Scholarship Edwards was busy in a court battle over education. In 2009 the then high school senior sued the state of South Carolina because the governor refused to accept $700 million in federal stimulus funds, funds that were sorely needed for a state with some of the poorest school disctricts in the nation. On the eve of her high school graduation Casey won her case in the South Carolina State Supreme Court. Casey will tell you she’s not political, but she is engaged in community issues. She takes steps address those issues in meaningful ways with outcomes that have real impact on families.
The Office of Undergraduate Scholars and Fellows (OUSF) takes a look back with Casey from her time as a perspective scholar in 2009 while battling a governor, through her current year as a senior BN Duke Scholar to see how scholarship has forged her path. Here is our conversation with Casey.
Out of the Gate
In the Spring of 2009, while you were a prospective BN Duke Scholar you were also suing the state of South Carolina. How do you feel that experience and the outcome served communities in South Carolina? Would you say those actions you took in 2009 still have an impact on South Carolina today?
The outcome of my lawsuit versus the state of South Carolina provided funds so that many teachers around the state were not laid off that following summer. With the recession having recently hit before this court case, many districts were going to have to reduce their number of teachers and staff in order to make the budget balance for the next year. Not only did the stimulus money help keep many teachers employed, but also it made evident the importance of quality education in South Carolina. Having education policy in the news and media drew the public’s attention to the issues our state was facing. While I can’t be positive the actions I took in 2009 still have an impact, I’d like to think that those teachers who are still working because of it would say that it does. I also believe that though South Carolina still has much to do in order to achieve high quality education statewide, any small step to achieve this goal is worthy and my lawsuit in 2009 is only one example of the efforts being made to reach it.
Working in Communities Abroad
The B.N. Duke Scholar spent two summers abroad in Africa….. (continue story line after receiving Casey’s answers)
Your B.N. Duke International Summer of Service in Kenya and your internship in Zimbabwe differed in some ways from the efforts you undertook in South Carolina. Explain how your work in Africa served very particular children and what that may mean in a broader sense for these communities and regions in Africa.
I did my international summer of service in Kenya, and then returned there again the summer of 2012 for an internship. During both of these experiences, I was mostly serving families in very rural communities and my focus was on a way of serving that is much different than what we typically think of when we hear the word “service.” Samuel Wells, the previous Duke Chapel Dean, called it “being with” people, and that is exactly what I focused on throughout those summer experiences. I did not go there to teach, or to build, or to “do” anything for the Kenyan people other than to serve them in whatever capacity they wanted that day, which most often meant assisting them in their daily activities while listening to their stories about life in Kenya.
During my internship in Kenya with Uhuru Child, I was focused on creating documentary photographs to help further their mission of providing children with quality education and creating employment for adults through social business. Working with community members in the Jikaze IDP camp, we were empowering an entire community by building greenhouses to create jobs whose profits fund self-sustaining secondary schools
In Zimbabwe, my mission was on slightly different as I was living at an orphanage and primarily spending time serving the needs of that community. This involved tutoring many high school students, helping the House Mothers with their daily tasks, and playing with the smaller children during the day when others were in school. The tutoring aspect of my trips to Zimbabwe is always a priority, as I see the students really prosper from time spent one-on-one to help them study and understand the material. In their school system failing the quarterly exams means not continuing on with the rest of your classmates to the next grade level. Without proper education, these students have little hope of finding a job after finishing high school. Many of them have dreams of college that will only be possible through excellent grades and scholarship opportunities. Education is important worldwide, but in third-world countries, it is even more important as the only chance of moving out of a cycle of poverty that many of these families have been in for decades.
How does education fit in terms of building or improving communities?
In my opinion, quality education is crucial to building and improving any community. Having spent time in both rural and urban cities in the U.S., as well as rural and urban cities in Kenya and Zimbabwe, I’ve seen how quality education can impact and grow a community. Regardless of their financial circumstances, having a quality education can offer opportunities to students to achieve dreams and goals that having money alone could not afford them. Education allows us to make informed choices, have educated opinions, and learn the skills needed for pursing careers. Through education families can be lifted from poverty and entire communities can be transformed. Education is far too often undervalued, but taken seriously it can create positive changes that will not only impact individuals, but will also improve our society as a whole.
Serving in Durham
Can you describe a community project in Durham that was particularly meaningful to you?
I didn’t undertake any education projects in Durham, but I did spend time volunteering at Urban Ministries in the food kitchen on a regular basis. I also spent an hour each Saturday at the Durham County Jail praying and talking with inmates. I learned an immeasurable amount from each of these service opportunities.
OUSF: Why are you so committed to community service?
My commitment to community service stems from wanting to focus on something greater than myself in this life. I feel as though if I’m not serving others, my life becomes “all about me” and all of my actions are self-centered. There are many parts of life that aren’t fair, and it would an impossible thing to say my goal is to settle that score, but rather I’d like to use the resources, talents, and blessings I’ve been given to help make someone else’s day a little bit better.
As you prepare to wrap up your senior year at Duke, where will your passion for service take you? What are your plans?
I actually just graduated in December, one semester early. I’ll be coming back in May for all of the commencement festivities, but I have moved and am currently living in Greenville, SC. I am working as the Mediation Coordinator for a nonprofit organization, Upstate Mediation Center (UMC). The position combines my desire to serve along with my study of public policy. UMC aims to promote the use of mediation and other non-adversarial means of resolving conflicts and to nurture peace by restoring and strengthening family, business and community relationships. On the side, I’m continuing to pursue photography as a potential future career. I am photographing clients in the area in the evenings and on weekends.
Lastly, though I am not certain of the exact timing yet, in the near future I am planning to return and live in Kenya, working alongside nonprofit organizations to serve the needs of that country.