Monday, September 7, 2015

Nobis World - Dominican Republic: Day Two – Friday, July 24, 2015

By Christine Varoutsos, Spanish Teacher at Potomac School

It's our first full day in the Dominican Republic, and we woke up feeling refreshed and excited to finally visit the Mariposa Center for Girls that we had read and heard so much about. After a short walk down Cabarete's beautiful beach, we arrived and were warmly embraced by the welcoming staff. The center itself was also very inviting. Classrooms that walk out to a baseball field, a basketball court, a pool, and a garden are spaces where the girls can feel safe while they learn and play. As the girls started to arrive and excitedly mingle with each other, it was easy to see why they love coming here each day. In morning circle, we joined the girls in song and dance. A few Nobis World participants were brave enough to dance in the center of the circle when the Mariposa girls picked them as part of their game. 

The girls then headed off to their day's activity- a Friday field trip to a nearby waterpark- and we were able to tour the facility and learn more about the growing role that the Mariposa Foundation plays in its local community. The most incredible part of the day was our walk through the local neighborhood- called el callejón- where we witnessed the extreme poverty in which the girls and their families live. Back at the center for lunch, the conversation centered on firsthand accounts of the complex relationship between Haitians and Dominicans in the DR today.

In the afternoon, we gathered around the table on the hotel patio that experiences the most fantastic ocean breezes to reflect on the day and start to tie our experiences into Nobis World's philosophy. Christen explained to us the five Nobis Big Ideas of Service Learning that will anchor our discussion work together this week: history, power, relationships, global citizenship, and cultural responsiveness. She also shared the inspiring Nobis Global Action Model, and a rich conversation around power and privilege ensued.  Particularly interesting was a discussion about our conversation earlier in the day with the two women of Haitian decent. As a group we talked about what may have been lost when someone from the center translated what they shared. Christen challenged us to reflect on the idea of who has the power to tell their story. The discussion continued as we relaxed over dinner across the street. Even though we all just met yesterday, sharing ideas with this group of teachers already feels comfortable and empowering. As I reflect on the day, I can't stop thinking about a quote that was beautifully and bilingually painted onto one of the center's walls: "Yo soy la fuerza más potente para cambiar el mundo." translated as "I am the world's most powerful force for change."

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Nobis World - Dominican Republic: Day One – Thursday, July 23, 2015

By Sarah Coste, The Potomac School, McLean, VA

At last... July 23rd is here!  Eleven teachers representing eight different schools joining Nobis World for a week-long service learning adventure in Cabarete, Dominican Republic. While we had informally "met each other" through various pre-trip community building activities, it was exciting to finally meet face to face to begin sharing our personal stories and professional interests.

After a quick stop at the grocery store to buy a few provisions, we began settling in at the wonderful Kite Beach Inn in Cabarete, a small laid back Caribbean beach village.  We sought temporary refuge from the 95 degree heat in our rooms to hydrate and unpack.  The best part of the day was gathering together beach-side for formal introductions and stage setting for the week to come.  Tropical breezes, kite surfers and Caribbean music provided an extraordinary backdrop for launching the interesting conversation to come.  After a warm welcome, Christen, Nobis World's founder and Executive Director, asked us to write down a hope and a fear for the week ahead.  Papers were collected and redistributed anonymously.  After introducing ourselves and learning about each other's connections to service learning, we shared the hope and fear. This part of the evening provided a great launch pad for relationship building.

After a delicious family-style dinner prepared by chef Freddie, we met our Mariposa hosts and trip coordinators, Erika and Sarah. Erika gave us a great overview of the Mariposa Center for Girls, describing program history and highlights.  She placed their work in the context of "The Girl Effect," a global movement based on the unique potential of adolescent girls to end poverty for themselves and the world.  She went on to say that Mariposa believes when you take a holistic approach to improving a girl’s life through education, health, safety, and opportunity, these changes have a ripple effect and a profound impact within communities. Sarah closed with the do's and don'ts of the DR, emphasizing our safety and well being.  After reviewing the next day's itinerary, we ended by writing a letter to our future selves, detailing our hopes and dreams and what we hoped to gain from the experience.  Christen said she would mail these to us in a month or so.  It will be interesting to compare the actual program impact to what we perceived it to be on day one.

We are excited to meet the members of the Mariposa community tomorrow and dive into what promises to be a unique and life changing experience.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Reflections on Facilitating Uncomfortable Conversations Around Race

By Christen Clougherty, Ph.D.

One of the goals of Nobis World programs is to engage in the deep work of reflecting on our personal perspectives of power, privilege and systems of oppression. A participant asked me recently why I, a white, middle class woman chooses to engage in this work. It took me a moment to reflect on where this calling comes from. And perhaps my pause was a little longer because of a challenging program that had ended just a few days before.

While I believe in the innate worth of every human being, I recognize that the power dynamics of society gives preferential treatment to certain individuals or groups, while withholding from another. My commitment to dismantling racism and fighting against systems of oppression stems from my middle and high school experiences at the Carolina Friends School. My schooling opened my eyes to see how inequity and injustices found throughout history continue today. Rather than preparing us to be agents of change when we became adults, my school challenged us to act now! Through a culture of activism, critical reflection, and questioning the status quo students were empowered to stand up against injustices. Knowing first hand what an impact this can have on students led me to found the Nobis Project and work with teachers. It is my hope that K-12 teachers all over the country may foster in their students a critical analysis of power, privilege, and systems of inequity while supporting students to take action. We must prepare our students for the world not as it is, but as it should be.

I continue to be committed to this work because I know people in my community and around the world who are oppressed by unjust systems and institutions. It has taken me many years to see how I am also oppressed by these same systems that afford me my white privilege. I have found no better phrasing to illustrate this than the Aboriginal quote, “If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.”

We often talk in our work about power. Nobis defines power as a social force. It is the degree of impact of a person, institution, or system has in relation to others’ beliefs, behaviors, or values. Power is not necessarily only defined as ‘power-over’, it is also the capacity to act or to prevent an action. In this way power can manifest as 'power with' and 'power within.' And it is the 'power with' that draws me to this work. Our shared fate calls me to respond to racial inequity and injustice.

This work is ongoing, and this work is never done. For many years I followed a pattern of reaching a breakthrough to a new awareness and then feeling, "ahh, I get it now." It wasn't until I attended the White Privilege Conference that I realized that this is life's work. It will never be done. My white privilege is complex and embedded in every nuance of my beliefs and my experiences. And my white privilege affords me the choice to take the day off and enjoy the privileges my race offers me; this luxury is not afforded to people of color.

Engaging in this critical self-reflection can be challenging and uncomfortable. And teaching or facilitating these critical conversations is scary, overwhelming, and imperfect. Nobis Project works with educators in building their skills in unpacking social issues, deepening understanding, and then taking action in their classrooms. We do this in our workshops and our Nobis World global service-learning programs. We model and are transparent with where we are on our own journey in this work. And I want to share with you my experience during our Savannah & The Lowcountry program this summer. The experience evoked powerful and emotional responses from participants. Responses varied greatly depending on the viewpoint each participant brought to the program. These emotional responses, long days, and various levels of privilege awareness among the participants made for a challenging dynamic to facilitate.

My skills were challenged this summer and I took missteps in addressing the conflicts that emerged. When the final participant left, I was left raw, confused, and alarmed that my actions left some participants feeling unsafe and unheard. I learned greatly from the experience and even more so from the participants about how to better facilitate in the future. And I am grateful for participants’ willingness to reflect with me on our experiences.

I learned that I was wrong in thinking that I should not speak up on behalf participants of color. Making room for participants of color to express their views was critical, but where I failed was in letting their voices be carried alone. I have power in being heard as a white person, and I can use that power in order to reinforce what was being said. I also learned that perhaps white participants can better hear a divergent perspective from me, a white facilitator - someone who shares their white privilege.

Additionally, I learned that sometimes those with privilege are not ready or willing to hear about how they benefit from systems of oppression. Privilege is characteristically invisible to those who have it, and discovering the wizard behind the curtain can cause cognitive dissonance that sends you reeling. I thought, in grave error, that I should try to keep the white participants as comfortable as possible to not lose them. I thought that if I held their hand through this process it would be of greater value because of the potential impact of having another person ready to engage in the ‘power with.’ And while this goal is admirable, I failed the group by spending more time working with those with privilege at the expense of those without. I perpetuated the oppression that I vowed to challenge.

At the start of the week we craft a list of guidelines of how to work together. One of the things that often makes the list is 'ouch' statements. We challenge one another to speak up when a statement or action hurts yourself or others by saying 'ouch.' I see some eyes getting big when we talk about the possibility of someone 'calling you out' for saying the wrong thing. I'm a perfectionist by nature, and I am petrified of getting it wrong. But what I share with participants is that the moments of being 'called out' are a part of this work. It's what makes it uncomfortable, but it is what leads to growth. And I can say that once someone lets me know how I've 'ouched' them, as was the case this summer, I will never forget it. This discomfort provides a heightened sense of recall. Knowledge becomes understanding because the experience has been lived, and an emotional memory has been recorded.

As an educator I will not always get it right. Facilitating difficult conversations around race, privilege, and systems of oppression is challenging work. And it would be much easier to run away and close the door to future conversations. As a person with white privilege I am afforded this choice. But then who would benefit and who would lose? There can be no 'power with' if I don't show up to do the work, no matter how uncomfortable.

If you are looking to deepen your skills in engaging in difficult conversations in your classroom, here are few resources:

    1.    It’s Never Too Early to Talk About Race
    2.    Uncomfortable Conversations: Talking About Race In The Classroom
    3.    I, racist
    4.    White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard to Talk to White People About Racism

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Culture verus Wildlife: Gullah Descendants of Harris Neck, Georgia Seek Claim to their Land

Over 70 years ago the Gullah residents of Harris Neck, Georgia were abruptly ordered to leave their coastal property so that the U.S. military could use their land for training. Residents were given a promise that they could return after WWI ended, but instead the land was converted into the 2,762-acre Harris Neck National Wildlife Refuge.

Decades of legal battles have ensued and once more the Gullah descendants say "getting their land returned is needed to resurrect one of the last remaining Gullah communities in the U.S." Read more (2015 article, 1979 article) bout this battle between preservation of culture versus wildlife.

Former Harris Neck residents Mary Moran (right) and Olive Smith (center)
Photo credit SMN

Hundreds of adult wood storks gather on the tops of trees at the Harris Neck National Wildlife Refuge.
Stephen B. Morton/AP 

Monday, January 26, 2015

What to do (and what not to do) on a service learning project

Vanessa Ehler
Vanessa Ehler
Vanessa Ehler

Vanessa, a teacher from Brooklyn Friends School, shares about her experience with global service learning projects. She reflects on her experience with Nobis World in the Dominican Republic on the Wandering Educators blog. She shares that on the Nobis World program:

     ...we studied Nobis World's Global Service Learning Model. This model walked us through each crucial step toward a reciprocal and meaningful connecting with another community. We learned, eventually, that this connection with the community is the most important piece of Service Learning.

Read the full blog entry here.

There is still time to register for Nobis World and join us this summer in the Dominican Republic. Register today!

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Why global? (part two)

by Christen Clougherty

How do you bring the global into the classroom in a way that engages the students in meaningful global work that feels relevant to their experience? It was this challenge that prompted me to develop what is now the Nobis Global Action Model. This model offers students the opportunities to discover our global interconnectedness and interdependence. And it calls us, as global citizens, to recognize our shared fate and social responsibility to all people of the world.

Read more about the Nobis Global Action Model

One student said to me at the close of our project,
...when I was telling my family about the project they all wanted to know why we weren't focusing on things in our own community. And at first I didn't know how to respond. But now that it's all done, I told them that I have learned so much about how to work WITH a community in order to help them. And I can take all those skills and go and work with my community here." 
 Photo credit Imke Lass

Monday, December 15, 2014

Why global? (part one)

By Christen Clougherty
When I begin a global service-learning project in my classroom there is usually one student who questions why we are working with an international community when there is so much need here at home. They usually call up the phrase, "think global, act local." And yes, I believe firmly in acting locally. But we cannot solely focus on the local. We don't live in a bubble, sealed off from the world. Our actions at home have grand impacts on the wider world. And it is our responsibility to be aware of this. I remind students that the phrase calls us to think global too.  I ask them what they know about the country we are focusing on: about its history, its culture, its relationship with other nations. They shake their head and answer, "not much." I share that we will learn a lot about another place far from here and we will find out the ways that we are similar, that we are different, and the ways in which we are connected. I warn them that they are likely to learn a lot about themselves in this process. Something that is especially helpful to know when you later work in your own community. With a questioning glance, they usually take their seat and we begin....

Image Credit: Imke Lass