Vail Daily column: Student keeps life in perspective while traveling the world | VailDaily.com

Vail Daily column: Student keeps life in perspective while traveling the world

Sarah Cotton

With all of the misunderstandings about beliefs and cultures, it's rather refreshing to meet a local youth with an open mind and respect for diversity. Meet Sarah Cotton, Eagle River Youth Coalition's Youth Leader of the Month. She believes Muslims are misunderstood.

"People have a negative connotation about Muslim countries these days," Cotton said. "What we see in the news is radical Islam," she continued. "These nations are fluid and there are many different aspects to them."

Cotton is wise beyond her Gen-Z years. Cotton has been traveling and volunteering with the local nonprofit Children's Global Alliance for the last several years. Last summer, she served in Morocco as a student adviser, an honored leadership position that Children's Global Alliance doesn't dole out to just anyone.

Beads of Sweat

Reading one of Cotton's blog posts while she was teaching at the Abdasalam Saya Middle School, I truly am impressed with her insights.

"Doing this work I am left with treasures — Salsabbil's smiles, Taha's laugh, Fadewa's tender heart, Selma's diligence and countless other memories. This is what inspires me and has given me the drive to pour out my soul across the world. The reward I get seeing their progress is worth each bead of sweat, the late nights and every ounce of effort. Education is the foundation to opportunity and to help develop this core in my students is an honor."

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Cotton's benevolent contributions to Morocco contrast with my Gen-X journey to Morocco in search of a rug to bring home.

In 1995, during a tour of Europe, my husband and I somehow found ourselves in the heart of Morocco after a bumpy ride on the Marrakesh Express from Tangiers. I was uncomfortable with the drapey garb and middle of the night call to prayer. I was missing Spain. I wonder if I had been a Children's Global Alliance volunteer in my youth, would my lens have been broader?

Looking back on my narrow view, I envy Cotton. Especially today, when the media is feeding us a constant barrage of radical Islam and filling us with fear. Cotton is blessed with acceptance and reminds me of Malala Yousafzai's philosophy that education and acceptance is the gateway to a peaceful future.

When Cotton is not traveling for Children's Global Alliance, she is a star student at Battle Mountain High School, a member of the Huskies girls soccer squad and the senior class student council vice president. Sarah also joined ERYC's Youth Leaders Council this year. Looking ahead to the future, she aims to be a diplomat and plans to major in international studies at an eastern college.

Thank you, Cotton, for sharing your lens of cultural diversity and propensity to include and accept.

Carol Johnson is the community engagement coordinator for the Eagle River Youth Coalition, a local nonprofit that offers and supports collaborative prevention programs and services. ERYC tackles three main areas that affect the development of teens and adolescent youth, including substance abuse prevention, emotional wellness and mental health promotion as well as academic achievement. ERYC offers various levels of parenting education and trainings for community members. For more information, call 970-949-9250 or visit eagleyouth.org.