I've always known I would help change the world in some way, but I was never able to narrow it down to just one cause. Last summer, I went to Africa and met the beautiful young men and women of the Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village, a haven for traumatized teenage orphans of Rwanda's 1994 genocide. That village, started a little over two years ago by the hard work of just a few good people, has already changed the lives of 300 of Rwanda's 1.2-million orphans. The kids at the ASYV have a hope for their future and want to make Rwanda a better place.

I've always known I would help change the world in some way, but I was never able to narrow it down to just one cause. Last summer, I went to Africa and met the beautiful young men and women of the Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village, a haven for traumatized teenage orphans of Rwanda's 1994 genocide. That village, started a little over two years ago by the hard work of just a few good people, has already changed the lives of 300 of Rwanda's 1.2-million orphans. The kids at the ASYV have a hope for their future and want to make Rwanda a better place.

My travels helped reveal Africa as my passion. When I learned that the seventh-graders at Bexley Middle School were studying a unit on Africa, I e-mailed principal Harley Williams and asked if I could speak to the students. Teacher Natalie Mroz e-mailed me back to tell me she'd love it if I would talk to her classes about Africa. Bexley schools always welcomes back alumni with stories to tell.

I rebelled in middle school and high school, but my rebellions were different from the other teens in my class. Sure, I listened to some punk rock and wore black for a while. But I didn't hate my parents, I didn't drink and I didn't smoke. Instead I duct-taped the word "UNFAIR" to my book bag to protest the departure of a teacher and worked with my best friend on an assembly to educate the middle school about the offensive misuse of the words "gay" and "retarded." In high school, I wrote a letter to the school board about my frustration with the English program and its decision not to re-hire one of my favorite teachers. I helped a friend start a social advocacy club, and I tried to establish a gay-straight alliance. Bexley schools did not stifle my voice.

This did not mean, however, that my attempts to effect change worked. Most of the time, things stayed the same, despite my best efforts. I kept trying though, with the support of my teachers and friends. Still, I was discouraged by my lack of success and began to worry that so few seemed committed to correcting injustice and improving our world.

After graduating from Bexley High School in June 2008, I enrolled in a gap-year program and traveled to six different countries, including three in Africa. My trip to Rwanda was an awakening -- I met people who wanted to change the world: the founders of the Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village who give hope to the kids who live there. These kids are the future of Rwanda and a powerful symbol for Africa's renewal.

Bexley schools gave me an early start to campaigning and committing to causes, and I'll continue to share my passion with everyone I meet. As I learned from Margaret Mead, "never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has." To learn more about the Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village and make a donation, visit http://agahozo-shalom.org/.

A 2008 graduate of Bexley High School, Maddie Fireman currently attends Ohio State University. Her blog is http://maddiefireman.typepad.com/maddie.