Be the Change: Generation Next and Light the Path

shelbylewis's picture

Mahatma Ghandi once said, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.”  While most of the world is sitting around waiting for change to come, few people are going out to change it themselves. Thoughts soar through people’s heads, stopping them from making the change. “I couldn’t make that big of a change, I am just one person.”  “What if I can’t do it?”  “What if I fail?” Often people need an innovative push to make their first step in creating a difference in the world.


For the past eight months, I have been living in the heart of Panama. I have seen unimaginable amounts of poverty; also I have met some of the kindest, most generous people in the world. There are thousands of impoverished families in Panama who don’t have electricity, something that is a staple in households across the globe. When I see these families without electricity, with a big toothy grin, glowing with happiness, I can’t help but think of Ghandi’s Be the Change quote.  I ponder how I could help the wonderful people of Panama.


I recently interviewed Riley Banks, a seventeen year old girl from Branson, Missouri, to share her story of the difference she is making in Africa.
“My first trip to Africa was in 2010, when I went to help with a missions trip at the Tenwek Hospital in Kenya,” said Riley.  “I first decided I wanted to help this community after visiting in 2010 and speaking with my Uncle Logan, who was a doctor at the Tenwek Hospital.” 


Riley collecting donations from Quality Inn to take to Kenya

Riley collecting donations from Quality Inn to take to Kenya


After coming back from Africa on her first trip, Riley started a non-profit organization called Generation Next to provide children with an education and proper hygiene. Riley stated, “Generation Next was started so that it will help many generations to succeed in their scholastic and spiritual life.”  Riley Banks has supplied over 500 children with school supplies, hosted a medical clinic that served over 1,300 people, built her own school to help the children in the community, and handed out over 1000 hygiene kits.


When asked about how this project has affected her life, Riley replied, “This has changed my whole life. I will continue Generation Next after I graduate, and plan to make Kenya my home.” With the help of great friends and family, Riley works on Generation Next every single day. Banks has reached out to communities in her surrounding area to help with collecting supplies to take to Kenya.  Schools in her surrounding area have made fundraisers to help support Generation Next. Schools have also donated school books, school supplies, and hygiene kits.


Project Patricia: 3000 reusable pads and 100 pairs of panties

Project Patricia: 3000 reusable pads and 100 pairs of panties


In chasing your future dreams to help people, Riley’s advice was, “Realize when you are being called. No matter the age, if you listen, God will speak and guide you in everything you do. God is always present in every decision I make.” Lastly, Banks commented in her interview, “Get out there and DO IT!!”


Donations for Generation Next

Donations for Generation Next


Diving into other cultures, witnessing firsthand the enormous amount of poverty and need for help in third world countries, and seeing Riley’s journey in Africa, has inspired me to reach out to help the needy in Panama.


Currently I am working on providing Panamanian families who don’t have electricity in their homes with solar powered lights. I have started my project first by collecting tin cans and recycling them into citronella lanterns. These lanterns help to keep the bugs away and add decoration and light to a back porch.  The lanterns are for sale in our artisan shop for locals and tourists to buy.  This money will help pay for the solar lights to go to families in the area without electricity.


Light the Path, Panama

Light the Path. Photo courtesy of Shelby Lewis


My hope is that my project Light the Path will turn into something much bigger. I hope to be able to help people on a bigger scale, more people around the globe with more needs.  Riley and others like her have inspired people in many different ways to reach out to other communities and help people in need. Anyone can start helping other people, no matter how big the scale. Start by volunteering at a soup kitchen, or volunteering at an orphanage, or looking around and seeing what needs to be done.  Many people are out there who need help, and you could be the exact person they are looking for!





Shelby Lewis is a member of the Youth Travel Blogging Mentorship Program.


All photos courtesy and copyright Riley Banks, except where noted