June 7, 2012
CONTACT: Gordon Ovenshine:
SRU’s McCollin ‘pays it forward’
SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. – Special education professor Michelle McCollin has been on a journey of self-discovery. Her voyage includes world travel, most recently to Nigeria, where she “paid it forward” by delivering 100 prescription eyeglasses and 40 pair of shoes to villagers. She lived in the Nigerian village for three weeks.
“There are no words in my cache that are inclusive, sufficient and comprehensive enough to define or explain the impact of this mission trip on my life,” she said.
McCollin visited the West African country from May 14-June 2 and said the mission trip awakened her spiritually and intellectually. Always a professor who thinks about educational opportunities, McCollin said she plans to share her photo diary with her SRU students to engage them in thinking globally about the teaching-learning process.
“I want them to consider stepping outside of their boundaries and limited paradigms to ‘pay it forward’ by giving back,” she said.
Officially the Federal Republic of Nigeria, the country has a population of 170 million people and achieved independence from Great Britain in 1960.
McCollin said she conceived of the trip several months ago, believing God had called her to lead a philanthropic effort benefiting Nigerians. Through Facebook and email contacts, McCollin collected 100 pair of glasses in a week. Then she agreed to deliver women’s and men’s shoes that had been gathered by a friend from New Castle, Michele Goodman.
McCollin’s international odyssey began in New York City. She boarded a flight from JFK to Madrid, Spain. After a layover, she flew to Lagos, Nigeria, and drove three hours to Ibadan, the largest city in Nigeria. From there, she traveled into one of the country’s villages.
McCollin said she wore traditional African clothing and assimilated as much as possible into the culture, experiencing a life epiphany.
“I have been on a journey of rediscovery, a journey of insight, a journey of finding my true authentic self,” McCollin said. “This rediscovery came on the heels of several undiagnosed, medical anomalies, which required me to take a medical leave of absence from the University. While undergoing many medical tests and assessments, God laid it upon my heart to go on a mission trip to Nigeria. Many of my friends and doctors felt it was not the best time for me to travel.”
Joining the village community, McCollin said, was surreal, like being “dropped into a dream.” The village had no running water, electricity or modern toilets.
“My accommodations consisted of a straw mat on the floor, of which I had the best sleep of my life,” she said. “Whatever issues and medical concerns wracked my body earlier in the semester all disappeared on that mat.”
McCollin said the experience was profound and life altering. She watched as women priests in the village awoke before dawn and swept the compound with brooms made with palm leaves. She watched mothers ready their children for school in pitch darkness, while other villagers walked to the well for water.
“I gained new insights into the adage, “It takes a whole village,’” McCollin said. “I had the opportunity to go on a mission trip where I brought vision to people who may have not had the opportunity for vision correction, and in turn received ‘new sight’ as to what it is to be authentically human and what those interactions look like, feel like and taste like.”
During her first week in the village, McCollin said she participated in what villagers call an “initiation of a lost one” ceremony.
The actual rites of the ceremonies are sacred, McCollin said. She was bathed in herbs, then painted and dressed in fine clothes. The entire village walked her barefoot through the streets and the local market to symbolize a reconnecting to the earth.
“I am a returned warrior, taken many moons ago across many seas, a returned daughter to her homeland,” McCollin said. “It is in the reclamation process that I gained new insights into not only humanity but also the power of my teaching, the power of my impact, the power of my voice,” she said. “It was one of those meditative times that I found God within myself. There is a symbolic door in Ghana at Cape Coast that reads ‘Door of No Return.’ Walking through the village with my fellow priests was reclamation that this lost one has returned and will never leave again.”
McCollin, who has traveled to five continents, said she felt at home in Nigeria and praised the people as authentic.
“I was totally embraced as one who has returned,” she said. “There were no negative sentiments toward any peoples. Their sense for daily survival and my return initiate was of paramount concern. Who has the time to hate when you have love in your heart?”
McCollin said she became temporarily sick with vomiting. She called out to the women at 2 a.m., and they all got up to help her bathe and put on fresh clothes.
“They woke up the chief priest and all the other adults in the village,” she recalled. “We all sat out in the compound. They wanted to make sure I was feeling better. No one went to bed until they were assured I was fine. I was moved by their kindness and their authentic humanity.”
McCollin, a vegan, ate everyday with people in the village. She ate jollof rice cooked with saffron and vegetables, egusi soup, which is made with okra and spinach, and pounded yam.
“To say that the three weeks in Nigeria were profound and life changing seems so limiting. The impact is still yet to be seen, but I know that I nor any of my students will ever be the same again,” she said.
McCollin, a Brooklyn, N.Y., native, received bachelors’ degrees in African American studies and international relations from Syracuse University, a master’s degree in early childhood and elementary education from Long Island University and a doctorate in special education from Southern University and A&M College. She joined SRU in 2004.