During the summer of 2013, Pepper Gross ’15 participated in Iron Sharpens Iron, a study abroad immersion program cosponsored by Wheaton’s business/economics department and the J. Dennis Hastert Center for Economics, Government, and Public Policy. To the donors who helped make her trip possible, she says, “The experience was incredible, and I am so grateful. God has given me so much. Wheaton has given me so much. I am thrilled and honored to give back more.”
Below, Pepper shares details of her summer learning experience:
Iron Sharpens Iron 2013
“Iron Sharpens Iron allowed me to visit and understand countries in ways I never have before. Learning about the history and culture of South Africa, Ghana, and Malawi gave me insights into the businesses we visited, the people we met, and the unique challenges faced by each country.
“Observing such a variety of businesses/enterprises enabled me to more thoroughly understand the complexities of doing business in foreign countries. For example, BEE (Broad-Based Black Economic Empowerment Act) is South Africa’s attempt to fully integrate blacks into the workplace. It is a noble goal since, because of Apartheid, the workplace has been dominated by whites.
“However, depending on whom we queried, BEE was perceived in a very different manner! For instance, some companies run by South Africans considered BEE to be a progressive and necessary measure enforced by the government. They had no trouble balancing the ratio of blacks to whites in their respective companies. Others, especially foreign companies, struggled immensely to keep the BEE-recommended ratio. This difficulty stems from the lack of college-educated blacks in South Africa (a result of the legacy of Apartheid).
“While visiting these three vastly different countries, I sought to learn what each country needed most to grow and flourish. What I discovered was fascinating and will certainly aid me as I consider how to help others around the world.
“What I heard again and again from people across all three countries was the great need for education and infrastructure. Without an education, people are unable to obtain jobs that support their families. This in turn leaves people without the means to pay for healthcare or nutritious food for their children. These children are then not sent to school because either the family lacks the financial resources to pay for school or because the children are needed at home to bring in a nominal income from a menial job. Additionally, these children may be required to take over the care of younger children while the mother works. Thus, they grow up without an education and the cycle starts all over again.
“I became aware, firsthand, of the importance of good infrastructure. Especially in Ghana and Malawi, the roads are in a deplorable condition, making travel exceedingly difficult. Decrepit roads make travel take significantly longer and deter buses from traveling to areas outside of the cities. Because of this, people in the villages have no way to travel anywhere beyond walking distance.
“As schools, especially secondary schools, can be several miles away, it simply becomes too difficult for many children to attend school. Additionally, we met with villagers who could not expand the market for their goods since they had no way to travel to a marketplace to sell their produce.
“Hospitals also do not exist out in the rural villages, leaving many people with restricted access to healthcare. While building roads may not seem glamorous, improving a nation’s infrastructure in this way is one of the biggest and simplest issues needing immediate attention in developing countries.
“Being able to compare these three differing countries side by side allowed me to better understand each nation’s strengths and weaknesses. There is the idea held by many that Africa is a country rather than a continent. Although no one literally believes this, many people tend to view all African countries as one and the same.
“Prior to Iron Sharpens Iron, I did not believe I had this view of Africa, but I came to realize that it was indeed part of my thought process as well. Through studying and then visiting each country, I came to understand how truly different each country and culture is. For the entire first week in South Africa, I could not figure out what I thought of the country. I had been to Nigeria before and had seen huts and dirt roads and bustling cities and marketplaces teeming with activity. While I knew South Africa to be the most developed African country, I did not expect European architecture, highways busier than my own (in Maine), and malls bigger than any I had visited. And yet beside these highways and malls sprawled shantytowns. I could not reconcile these two opposite sides of life.
“Something that struck me while bouncing over the dirt roads of Ghana was how I dream. While our over-crowded busload of students and professors could not wait to hobble out of the car and stretch their sore limbs, the people we were visiting longed to have any sort of vehicle to transport their goods to market. The ladies we visited who had been given loans to start chicken businesses stood out among their peers as the lucky ones. They had a chance at a business; they had a chance at sending their children to school and putting food on the table every day.
“Personally, raising chickens does not even make it to my list of fallback plans. I would never consider it the height of my potential! And yet for these people a dirt road, a chicken coop, or running a kola nut stand are what they long for. Our team would carry on about the things that would come ‘after’ (we returned to America). Paved roads, a lack of mosquitoes carrying malaria, and airports with planes departing on time were eagerly anticipated. But for these people there was no ‘after.’ This is their ‘after.’
“Before this trip I thought it was simply good enough to help these people establish an income, live in security, and provide access to their medical needs. I did not consider how they view the future differently than me. I look at life and try to imagine how God will use me; what company can I start, what type of missionary can I become, whose story can I share to bring awareness?
“But these people have a completely different mindset; their biggest accomplishments would hardly fly as a decent summer job. Why did God choose to have my soul born in the United States to a Christian family with the ability to dream big and pursue areas in which God has given me talent? Do these people not have the same talents and special gifts that I and my Christian friends believe we have been blessed with? Then why do I put the less fortunate in a box and determine all of them should be helped in the same way, thinking it must be enough for them simply to have a job? How then do I work to best help each individual pursue his or her dreams and potential?
“When I first applied for Iron Sharpens Iron, I thought my parents and I would be able to shoulder the cost of the program. However, right before I sent in my official answer of ‘yes,’ I found out that it was not a financial option for our family. Sorrowfully, I informed Heidi that I would not be able to participate in the program and apologized for the late notice. Within two weeks, however, I received a call from Heidi to come and talk over the finances of the trip. I was blessed beyond belief to hear that they would be able to offer me enough financial assistance to cover half the trip.
“After discussing this with my parents, I deemed that I would borrow the last couple thousand from my parents and work over the remaining weeks of summer to pay them back. A few days later I got a call saying that I had been given a scholarship from a fund established by a Wheaton donor. Subsequently, I was sent an email from student accounts informing me that I had been given an anonymous donation. I was in shock. God had provided me with enough money so that I could participate in Iron Sharpens Iron without taking out any loans. My trip was fully funded! While I know that God provides for and blesses his children, and I have seen Him do so numerous times before, I tend to rely on the skills He has given me to provide for myself. I had never asked God to make this trip a financial option and yet within just a week or so every penny had been provided for. It was incredible, and I am so grateful.
“Wheaton College and the generous donors who fund programs like this make it possible for students like me to go places and do things we do not think is possible. I think of Luke 12:48: ‘From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.’ God has given me so much. Wheaton has given me so much. I am thrilled and honored to give back more.
“I long to continue to explore God’s gifts and will for my life through an overseas internship next summer. If you have any ideas or leads, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you!”
Rachel “Pepper” Gross ’15