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A Friendship Across Cultures

Friday, June 30, 2017

As part of the program called ASSIST that got me into this school, I went to a four-day orientation in Boston. During those four days, I got close to my roommate. He is the guy I want to talk about. His name is Hamse. He is 18 years old. The first time I met him, he told me he came from Somaliland. I had never even heard of Somaliland, so I was very embarrassed. He told me it is a country in eastern Africa that is not recognized as independent. He grew up 3 boys spanish german somaliland in a place that couldn’t be more different from the places where most of us grew up. His country is corrupted by war, greed, selfishness and inequality. He has four younger brothers, none of whom go to school because the family couldn’t afford their tuition anymore, or they just didn’t think it was important. His oldest brother, at age 14, left Somaliland for Europe. He is currently in Switzerland as a refugee. He will have to leave by the end of the year and return to Somaliland. Hamse realized his only way out was education.

Hamse’s life depended on getting this exchange year. If I hadn’t gotten it, I probably would have had a nice life anyway. But for him, it was everything. This exchange year shapes his future. Hamse doesn’t have all the things we all have—he is not as privileged as we are. And yet he told me his stories as if they were “normal.” He didn’t seem at all fazed by the fact that his brothers were all out of school, that he lived in extreme poverty, or that he has already faced much more horror than many of us will ever experience in a lifetime. It was as if living without security was normal—as if this was how things were.

Take a moment to look around. The high-income class, the people sitting at the tables, you are merely 10 percent of the world. You have everything people in other places can’t even dream of. Middle-income group, you represent people like Hamse. You need to work hard to earn money, and you have enough money to buy food, but just one small tragedy—a drought, a missed harvest—can put you in the low-income group. Low-income group, you earn an average of $3 a day. Three dollars a day. That’s less than we pay for a cup of coffee at Starbucks. You represent most powerfully how much the world is divided. You make up over 50 percent of the world population. I know for a fact that I cannot remember one day in my life when I didn’t know where the food of tomorrow was supposed to come from. There was always food. Hamse taught me that there is a different story out there—far closer than one might think. A story much less often told because it is much less glamorous. We don’t like to listen to things that don’t sound nice.

So today let’s open our eyes to what’s around us. Think about what it must be like for the people that experience hunger every single day. Think about Hamse as you eat. Think about how hard he had to work and how easy it was for us, how unequal the world is. Look around you: 90 percent of us are not sitting at a table. Ninety percent of us do not share in the wealth of this planet.

We are all the same. We all get hungry, whoever we are. We all want security, happiness and food. When I asked Hamse what he was going to do about the situation in his country, he said something that went like this: “Simon, when I go back to Somaliland I will work at the school I went to. I want to get funding from Europe and America to start helping to save people’s lives in my country. I want to make Somaliland independent and start a business. I want to give.” Those are words I will remember for a long time. In these incredibly turbulent times, let’s remember to give. Let’s care for each other, just like Hamse cares for his people.

Simon Sperl ’18 hails from Neuruppin, Germany, and is attending St. Andrew’s this year through the ASSIST Program. Each year, St. Andrew’s hosts a German student through the ASSIST Program, a nonprofit, international educational and cultural exchange that identifies, places, and supports outstanding international students on one-year scholarships at leading American independent secondary schools. The text above is excerpted from a talk Simon gave at an Oxfam Hunger Banquet (an interactive dinner designed to raise awareness about world hunger) organized by students and held in the Dining Hall on the Wednesday after Election Day.