Sharing the podium with the widow of the slain civil rights activist Medgar Evers, Jon Daniel McKiever predicted that his Ole Miss graduating class would become peacemakers, healers, builders, creators and bridge builders.
“Those, who through some simple act and inspired by the experiences of these four years, will make the world a better place for even a single individual,” McKiever said in his class president address at the 2013 University of Mississippi commencement ceremonies.
McKiever plans to do just that. He hopes someday to help provide clean water to the world. However, he will first go to Morocco to make the world a better place for Moroccan children.
McKiever, the son of Dr. Randy McKiever of Monticello, has joined the Peace Corps and will be leaving for Morocco in January to work as a youth and community development volunteer for the Ministry of Youth, a division of the Moroccan government.
As a youth and community development volunteer, McKiever will tutor Moroccan children, lead after-school programs such as sports and drama, and in the spring and summer, he will lead a day camp, teaching English and character-building skills, such as sharing and teamwork.
For the older kids, he will help them with goal-setting, resume-writing and job interview skills, or maybe help them get on track to go to college.
“I’m focusing on the youth,” he said, “but, in Morocco, it is so family-oriented the parents won’t trust the volunteer to do activities with their kids, unless they know them really well.”
So, in his spare time, McKiever will be leading a lot of community development activities.
“I’ll talk to the local people, find out their needs and base projects around their needs,” he said.
For example, if a community has a food shortage, he will help them grow a community garden to provide them with a food source.
McKiever’s ultimate goal is to be a part of providing clean water to the world.
“Oil is a big issue now but when I get older it’s going to be water,” McKiever said. “I want to be involved in international water policy, specifically desalinating water from the ocean to give it to people for free. Whatever I do, it’s somehow going to be in the pursuit of international water policy. Whether that’s through diplomacy or private sector water desalination, I don’t know but that’s my goal.
“What I would like to do,” he said, “is work with a company that does water desalination and sells it to foreign governments so they can get clean water to their people; but through the revenue that is generated, create a candidacy program where we select third-world countries where the (desalination) technology can be installed for free. It’s a big dream. I’ve just got to figure out how to get there.”
McKiever, who grew up in Jonesboro and spent his summers and many weekends in Monticello, doesn’t like “settling” — it makes him nervous. Therefore, he has chosen a path far different than the path chosen by his high school classmates in Jonesboro.
“They all made a promise: they were all going to go to the University of Arkansas, then to med school or law school or whatever graduate school in Little Rock, then go back to Jonesboro, get married, join the country club and live there forever,” McKiever said. “That sounded horrific to me.”
So, McKiever decided to go to Ole Miss where he was accepted into the Lott Leadership Institute and majored in public policy leadership.
Because the Lott Institute funded study trips abroad, McKiever got the opportunity to go to Jordan where he studied water policy and middle eastern politics and to South Africa where he studied Apartheid and human rights issues.
The first trip was to South Africa, the summer after his freshman year in college.
While in South Africa, he went to an AIDS haven for children who have AIDS and have been abandoned or taken from their parents due to abuse or neglect.
Their stories were heartbreaking. “I heard one story that almost brought me to tears,” McKiever said. “The belief in South Africa is if you sleep with a virgin, it gets rid of AIDS. With that mentality, there was the story of a dad who had raped his 8-year-old daughter because he thought it would get rid of AIDS.”
The father transmitted AIDS to his daughter and the South African government took her away from the family and took her to the haven.
When McKiever left South Africa, he wanted to do something for those children. He started a fundraiser called the AIDS for AIDS benefit dinner. The dinner raised $1,500, which is more than $10,000 in South African currency. The proceeds from the fundraiser went to South Africa to the AIDS haven.
That fundraiser became a sustainable fundraiser, raising $1,900 the following year.
After the second fundraiser, McKiever was asked to go back to South Africa to conduct an assessment to see how the money was allocated and if it helped the children.
“While I was there we got to see the same kids and saw that they were doing a lot better,” McKiever said. “They had food and you could tell they were being cared for and bathed.”
Because their food sources were limited, McKiever and the group of students who traveled with him to South Africa helped the children plant a community garden, so that they would have a continued source of food.
“It’s a humbling experience helping somebody who doesn’t have anything,” McKiever said. “You don’t need recognition for doing something good. It makes me happy at the end of the day knowing I worked really hard doing something that will benefit someone’s life.”