Tamara Titsworth, Freshman
In a fairly large office, lit only by sunlight streaming through un-blinded windows, sat a small desk with stacks of books and consumed by loose papers. I was soon to find out that its comfortable atmosphere as well as its outstanding number of books was a direct reflection of its inhabitant. On the desk lay an unfolded pamphlet titled “Panijiar Community Development Services,” also known as PACODES. I curiously pondered this term PACODES when a woman appeared in the doorway. She kindly apologized for keeping me waiting, introduced herself as Dr. Joan Kopperud, and graciously invited me to take a seat at a round table in the corner. I had heard about Joan from a student of hers who told me about the wonderful program she has been involved with which is building a library in Sudan, Northern Africa and I was very intrigued. Before ever meeting Jan I knew she was a compassionate and driven individual.
Joan sat across the table with interested eyes and a genuine smile across her face. She seemed quite organized, ready with pamphlets and a newspaper article to give me more information about the project but when asked how she believes she is viewed by others she suggested with a grin, “I think others would say I am very organized, but I don’t think it is as true as they think.”
Along with the previous statement she believes others see her as a level-headed and open-minded. How did she become such an open minded individual? Aside from her liberal arts education at Concordia (yes, she is a fellow Cobber,) which she refused to reveal a graduation date for, she said her biggest influence was her parents. She is one of four children in her family and has a great relationship with her mother as well as a great deal of respect for her struggles being a breast cancer survivor and widow.
“I am in awe of the woman she is and I admire how she is so positive,” Kopperud said.
Her parents are responsible for teaching her to be respectful of differences, which has truly shaped who she is today.
“ I didn’t grow up with jokes about other religions or people; they were inclusive about the values of others,” she said while pushing her reddish-brown hair behind her ears.
She also said that both her parents really valued education and made it a priority in the house. It is her ability to see beyond differences and her value of education that caused her to reach out to the youth of Sudan.
Joan has been working with PACODES, run by Justin Machien Luoi, a ’06 Concordia graduate and Concordia religion professor Dr. Roy Hammerling to build a library in the city of Panyijiar, Sudan. PACODES is a non-profit corporation organized for charitable, educational, religious and scientific purposes. They are beginning to improve areas such as: education, sports, basic health, humanitarian aid, agriculture, faith and peace building. It is because of the shocking statistic that 99 percent of people in Sudan are illiterate, meaning only 1 percent are able to read and write, that they began with the gift of a library, the gift of literacy.
It was at a faculty workshop that Joan was first introduced to PACODES and its service in Sudan. Hammerling was one of the workshop speakers and mentioned the project.
“It’s hard to explain.” she acknowledges. “I just thought I need to know more. I have to get involved.”
She did just that and is now a part of an organization committed to improving the lives of those in deprivation.
You may wonder what has inspired Joan to become involved. Aside from being a self-stated “curious person,” she says it is Luoi and other Lost Boys of Sudan and their stories. She says that he wants to give back to his home country what he has experienced in America. His selflessness and generosity are an inspiration to her.
It is clear that being a lost boy provides many challenges and it is because of Joan’s knowledge of this that when asked what her greatest life challenges have been she answered, “How can I say that I have faced any challenges when comparing my life to the Lost Boys and my other?”
She feels unfit to say that she has come across any major challenges in her life, as of now, and considers herself to be lucky. However, after much thought she did come up with a thought-provoking answer. She said that we all face the challenge of living up to what we are called to be; whether it is as a teacher, student, mother or wife. Also, she discussed a challenge that has crossed her path with the project in Sudan.
“We all have money but no materials. You cannot go to the local Menards,” she said using her undeniable sense of humor.
Her service in Sudan has heightened her interest in assisting other areas in Africa. When asked where she would most want to go on vacation and what she would do, she answered with the latter statement. By choosing to go to Africa to work with those struggling, she displayed her passion for service. According to Joan’s book, “Service-Learning Companion,” she would be a transforming citizen.
“This person critically assesses social, political, and economic structures to see beyond surface causes, educates others and forms partnerships around a deeper view of community issues, and acts to change injustice through policy and social innovation.”
When asked if she considered herself to be in that category she said, “In some areas of my life. I am aware of the problems and if I get the opportunity to change things I will.”
Also, by informing others about PACODES she hopes she is living up to the name of transforming citizen. By realizing there is a problem, and helping to create change anyone can become a transforming citizen. Joan thought it was important to state that one does not need to win a Nobel Peace Prize or join the Peace Corps to make a lasting difference.
“Look around you at the opportunity for change, you could be the one to take the first step,” she said.
As students we are making a difference everyday by becoming informed citizens and opening our minds to change. People say that fear of difference leads to hate which leads to war and destruction. If we are aware and accepting of difference we can slowly eliminate fear and hatred, which is causing the current problems in Sudan.
“There is an inner voice that calls you to serve but we let our iPods, Internet, everything drown out those voices,” she said. “Just listen.”
If your inner voice is calling you to assist with the PACODES project there are a few opportunities available on campus. One of which is to donate books at the book drive. There will be a book drop at the bookstore at the end of the semester for all unwanted textbooks and novels. A second way to get involved is to help pack all of the books and send them to the organization, Books for Africa, which will stock the library shelves when construction is complete. A third way to get involved is to donate finances to PACODES, where 95 to 100 percent of the donations go directly to the project.
The project in Sudan has become very successful in obtaining its goals to provide a better life for its citizens, but does Joan consider herself a successful individual? She would like to consider herself successful as a teacher by creating a positive influence and enriching the lives of her students.
“Success can’t always be measured,” she said. “Part of success is in the journey not just the end result.”
After about 45 minutes of discussing PACODES and getting to know Joan the interview came to a close. I found myself not wanting to leave, wanting to know more about the project and just talk to her. Joan has this presence about her that makes you feel as if you have been lifelong friends when you have only just met. She is confident, compassionate, open-minded, life-loving individual. She is so thankful for what she has an generous enough to want to provide the same for others.
I gathered my things and headed for the door. The pamphlet that was earlier sitting on the desk I held in my hand, and on the cover it read, “To love is to care.” Joan is a woman who truly lives by this statement. Whether it be teaching, caring for her family, or assisting those less fortunate she shows compassion in all she does.
Published: April 24, 2008 Updated: 04/24/08 5:04 AM