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Gerry ChidiacTeacher and motivational speaker Jack Canfield tells us, “Take the risk to ask for whatever you need and want. If someone says no, you are no worse off than when you started. If someone says yes, you are a lot better off.”

Following Canfield’s principle can benefit us and others. This lesson was taught to me by a Grade 11 student in 2009. The result of her asking a question continues to make a positive difference in the lives of thousands of young people.

I had just had a survivor of the Blood Diamond Civil War in west Africa speak to my class in Canada. He had gone from being a child soldier to running several schools, primarily in Liberia. The students were clearly moved by his message.

Our school building was old and in need of replacement, so a beautiful new school was being built on the other side of our parking lot. Having become aware of the discrepancy between Canadian and African schools, a student approached me a few hours after our speaker left and said, “Mr. Chidiac, we’re getting a beautiful new school, with SMART Boards and the latest technology. What are they going to do with the chalkboards from this building?”

“I don’t know,” I said. “Why do you ask?”

“Would it be possible to send these chalkboards to our speaker’s schools in Africa?” she replied.

Having worked on aid projects, primarily in Africa, I was well aware that shipping fees are the greatest obstacle to getting materials where they’re needed. I was wise enough to put this knowledge to the side, however, and responded, “I don’t know. Let me send a few emails and find out.”

At that moment, it was like the heavens opened up with a resounding “Yes” to the student’s question. A local doctor already had an arrangement with a local business and the Rotary Club to send medical supplies to Liberia. They could see the value of the student’s request and agreed to help. As a result, more than 50 chalkboards arrived at our speaker’s schools in 2010.

The story didn’t end there, however. When the same student was in Grade 12, there were a number of school closures in our area and thus a surplus of textbooks. Again she asked me if we could ship them to Africa. Again the local business and the Rotary Club came on board and shipped a container of textbooks to Liberia.

Today, in a country where students are motivated to learn but school facilities are deplorable, a group of schools is well supplied with chalkboards and textbooks, and thousands of children get the education they deserve. None of this would have happened if a student had not simply asked a question.

This is my favourite story to tell students to this day, because it not only teaches the importance of asking, it empowers young people and demonstrates that they can make a difference right now.

It’s possible that the student’s suggestion may have proven to be impractical. Often our great ideas simply don’t work out. That’s not the point. Not asking is the same as being told no. But until we ask, we don’t know for sure that the answer will be no. The answer could be yes. We just need the courage to find out.

Applying this principle can make a tremendous difference in our lives and, as one student proved, make a positive difference in the lives of countless others. We just need to ask.

Gerry Chidiac is an award-winning high school teacher specializing in languages, genocide studies and work with at-risk students.

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