Global Education in a Local Context

779f973c8590689ae4af87ca447468fcThis week we honored the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., civil rights leader, activist, preacher and hero whose actions, words and beliefs inspired millions of people when he was alive, and continue to do so today. One of my sons works in a public K-8 school in Denver as a playground and leadership coach for the national organization Playworks. When reflecting on the importance of honoring Dr. King with a national holiday, he asked himself the following question: is a day off the best way to honor Dr. King?

The question made me think. King fought hard for equal access to education for all children, regardless of race, class, or religion. He valued the kind of diversity that is still rare today, and believed that hope for the world lay in people of all types coming together and sharing their lives. Schools are places that can support that vision of unity, and Playworks is one organization that is working to move King’s dream forward. The Playworks coaches who bring the spirit of cooperation — solving problems through serious play, teamwork, and fun — to public schools all over the nation, therefore, spend their day “off” in other kinds of communal service projects. All around the MLK_IMAGEnation, they join people who honor Dr. King’s legacy by serving their communities, a movement that calls for a National Day of Service in place of a day off. Other people choose to assert their civil rights and honor Dr. King by taking part in marches and rallies for causes important to them. Some choose art as an expression of their respect, seeing movies like Selma or the plays about King’s time in history such as All the Way and The Great Society which recently played at Seattle Repertory Theatre.

These tributes and this time to reflect on what Dr. King stood for —  the importance of putting actions behind words — inspire me to think about how global education can be played out on a local level. I am asked this question often in my work: Why do we traipse all over the globe when there are so many issues to deal with close at hand?

The answer is that I do not see these things as mutually exclusive. We need active, engaged citizens at all levels. Although I will always advocate for the transformative power of meaningful experiences in other countries, I see equal value in working in your own neighborhood. Getting involved in local communities with a global focus is a wonderful way to expand your mind, learn about another culture, share your experience, and work together with other people in service of this planet we all share. All areas of the country are becoming increasingly global, providing excellent opportunities to explore the world within your city boundaries.

Here in Seattle, many people participated in the National Day of Service — including Mayor Murray (pictured doing trail work with the Nature Consortium)

Here in Seattle, for instance, there are a number of organizations working to have a global impact. We have huge organizations like the Gates Foundation, which takes on global health issues, as well as many small neighborhood organizations like the Refugee Women’s Alliance, which helps newcomers escape horrors in their home countries. Some choose to focus on youth education and leadership, like Global Visionaries and One World Now. Others, such as the Horn of Africa Foundation, serve particular cultural groups. There are also organizations that emphasize adult education such as the World Affairs Council and Global Washington, which host speakers, develop curriculum, and put on conferences.

Lakeside students during a service project at Makah Indian Reservation

Lakeside students during a service project at Makah Indian Reservation

Our schools, elementary, secondary, college and universities, public and private, are also wonderful resources for global-local connections. On any given day, you can hear a lecture, attend a performance, visit a museum, or take a class with a global focus. Universities bring visiting scholars who love meeting local people and sharing their culture, language and stories. The Humphrey Fellowship program at the University of Washington, is one such program. Last year, our family had the wonderful opportunity to meet and get to know public service professionals from Morocco, Pakistan, and Egypt who were part of the program. Many universities across the country have comparable programs.

As violence erupts in many parts of the world due to tensions born of ignorance and bigotry such as the recent attacks in France and Nigeria, it becomes more and more important to get involved in your local-global community. Get to know your neighbors, listen to their stories and help out where you can. Each of these connections is an opportunity to increase understanding and inspire action. Make Dr. King proud.

Student Journey Series: Kennedy Leavens

Each month, the Student Journeys Series will feature a guest blog post by a former student of Vicki’s. They’ll write about how their lives have been shaped though their global education experiences.

My start in Peru wasn’t terribly auspicious. After a long flight, an overnight layover, a dreamlike dawn flight into the mountains and a long windy bus ride, I stepped onto the pavement in our new town — the first place I’d visited outside the United States — the town I would later call home. I promptly passed out on the sidewalk.

Needless to say, I don’t remember much about my first day of the three-week trip that my classmates and I took to Peru, led by Vicki Weeks, in 2001.

imageI remember the rest like it was yesterday. On that trip, I got hooked on the Andes. At the time, I didn’t realize I was getting hooked. I missed home and my high school boyfriend. But after we returned to the U.S., my desire to go back to the Andes grew. I daydreamed about hiking to Incan ruins on stunning mountaintops, shelling peas with women in the courtyard, and playing with kids in the plaza. The smell of eucalyptus wood smoke sent me into a reverie. I fondly recalled how my classmates and I took showers every three days and washed our own clothes in the morning sunshine, standing at the sink in the flower-filled patio of the guesthouse where we stayed (years later, I learned that we did such a terrible job washing our clothes that the women who worked at the guesthouse washed them over again after we left for the day – but my daydream was unaffected).image

To scratch my Peru itch, I ended up doing all my research projects for school on Peru. I went to college and took so many classes on Latin America studies that I ended up with a major in it. And when I graduated, as my roommates went off to medical school, law school and the D.C. NGO circuit, the only thing that really sounded interesting was going back to the Andes.

So I did.

Vicki connected me with her nephew, who lived in the town we had visited. He had been involved with a non-profit that had a project connecting women weavers to the tourist market. That project sounded pretty good to me, so I merrily headed down to volunteer. I told him I would stay four months, and then I planned to return to the U.S, get a “real job”, and start my life.

k at Entrega Douglas Hackney 2008 www.givingpicturesI didn’t realize at the time that I WAS starting my life. I fell deeper in love with the town and my life there as time went on. Four months passed, then a year. The project I’d been volunteering with folded, so my colleagues and I started a non-profit, Awamaki, to continue our work with the weavers. My second year passed, then my third. I was running Awamaki, and the project was growing quickly.

I was living my daydreams. I regularly hiked the stunning mountains in the mornings before work. I knew all the kids in the plaza. My work took me to remote villages filled with the scent of woodsmoke. I spent many, many hours washing my own clothes. I won’t even tell you how infrequently I showered. Life was good (except for the part about the clothes; that got old fast).

k meeting with womenFour years later, I was 26, managing six employees and a $200,000 budget. As Awamaki matured, I realized that I needed some real skills to run the organization. I applied to graduate school in Nonprofit Management and moved to the U.S. to go to school. After a few years of back and forth, I now live most of the year in Washington State, running Awamaki’s operations in the U.S. and working remotely with our in-country staff. Awamaki is still growing. We now work with 150 women, helping them start and run their own businesses. Their woven and knit products are in retail stores across the U.S. I am my own boss, working for a cause I’m passionate about, and visiting my town in Peru a few times per year to work with our staff, see our impact, visit with the women, and stay with dear friends. I am still glad I never got one of those “real jobs.”

That first trip started it all for me, and I carry that trip with me every day. I had some phenomenal teachers over the course of my education, but there isn’t any class or book that could have set the course of my life the way that that the experience of being in Peru did. At Awamaki, we occasionally host students that visit our projects, stay in homestays, and sometimes even lend a hand for a few days. There are a lot of criticisms of global travel programs, and I have witnessed a number of so-called “service” projects that served no one. But when I look at the students that come to visit us, with their gadgets and their loud English and their short attention spans—I know that their experience is planting seeds that will change them in ways they cannot imagine.

2001 Lakeside trip to Peru: Before

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2001 Lakeside trip to Peru: After