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

Monday, December 1, 2014

Connecting Kids to Their Lives in a More Considered and Considerate Way

By Alex Zinnes, Friends School of Atlanta

I teach 7th and 8th grade World Studies at the Friends School of Atlanta.  This past summer, I co-facilitated Nobis World's trip to the Dominican Republic.  A major highlight for me was visiting a small, family-owned farm and seeing first-hand their cacao production. 

One of my favorite ways to connect kids to the content areas I teach as well as expose them to substantive topics of power, economics, labor practices, social justice, and global interdependence, is to examine product history.  Students have relationships with their material world in hugely visceral ways.  They also intuit issues of fairness and equity or injustice and inequity with a profound immediacy. 

In our unit on Latin America and the Caribbean, we look at our role as American consumers of bananas, cocaine, cut flowers, t-shirts, sugar, coffee, and cacao, the richly bitter ingredient that makes chocolate.  This year, Halloween landed on a Friday.  It seemed like an opportune time to introduce my students to a short mini-lesson leveraging my hands-on experience with Nobis about cacao production. 

I started off discussing very briefly about chocolate's history to place this product native to MesoAmerica in a global context.   Then I discussed the bittersweet reality of the cacao farmers who pick the ingredient that forms the basis of chocolate.

As it turns out, about 70% of the world's cacao is harvested in West Africa: Cote d'Ivoire and Ghana.  As an industry, cacao production is rife with abusive labor practices including particularly egregious uses of child labor and child trafficking.   While the chocolate industry has made incremental progress in taking meaningful action to address these concerns, it's safe to say that the vast majority of the industrial chocolate contains cacao picked by children or laborers who worked in oppressive conditions. See for more information.

Finally, I showed my students photos and videos taken from my experience on the small farm in the DR bringing to life the steps of transforming the goopy, white fresh cacao seedpods into the dark and richly fragrant toasted ones that are the key ingredient in chocolate.  Students saw our Dominican hosts cutting down the pods, drying the seeds on cloths spread in the strong sunlight, toasting them over a fire in a traditional rural outdoor kitchen "shed", lightly burning our fingers as we removed the papery skin from the seed pods, and taking turns pounding the seeds with a large, wooden mortar and pestle.  Our hosts then transformed the freshly pounded cacao pods into a redolent, spicy, and sweet drink the consistency of tea.  While I could bring the sights and sounds of the experience to my students, sadly, I could not document the smell!  It was heavenly!

There's nothing like incorporating eating into your lesson!  Students feel you taking care of them and connect to the content in an even deeper way.  While in the DR I purchased a pound or so of the toasted seed pods as well as several 8 inch long cylinders of the seeds pods after they had been pounded into a mashed consistency, the cacao fat having fully expressed in the process.   I let my students try the seed pods, most expressing repulsion at the strong, bitter taste.  And then the surprise, I brought out a thermos and pored each of them a few sips of the chocolate drink.  Before we drank, I said we needed to take a moment to reflect on all the chocolate they would consume that night and the nights to come as they indulged on Halloween candy and to think of the folks who picked the cacao that went into the Snickers and M&M's.  I reminded them that kids their age probably had a hand in picking the cacao.   We spent a moment in silence before we drank.    They enjoyed the complex flavors and the scents.  A student said, "This is probably the only ethical chocolate we will eat today."

And while I had them at this moment I made the pivot.  "I don't want you to feel guilty, necessarily, about the chocolate you'll get tonight, but I do want to raise your awareness.  Maybe next year you can encourage your family to only give out fair trade chocolate where everyone who had a hand in it was treated fairly."

My students nodded, knowing full well what fair trade meant.  "Won't that be more expensive?"  "Yeah, how much more?"  "Will people be willing to change what they do for the better if it means spending more money?"  "Would my family?"  "Would I?"

And then one more pivot.  I help coordinate a program called Street Meals to feed a lunch every week to 400 men who experience homelessness at a shelter in downtown Atlanta.  Every holiday season, my community goes all out to load up 500 backpacks with essentials and goodies.  I said to my students, "Listen, you all know about my backpack effort for Holiday Street Meals, right?  One thing you could do to reclaim all that bitter chocolate and give it some more sweetness is donate your leftovers to the guys at the shelter."  I eventually asked my whole school community to donate their leftovers and probably yielded over 100 pounds of candy!

This is what it looks like to create a mini-unit centered on Nobis Big Ideas one that gets kids thinking about themselves not as bit players in the world, but rather as central actors empowered with agency to make the world into a more just place.  This is how you leverage the experience of international travel into meaningful classroom learning opportunities that connect kids to their lives in a more considered and considerate way. 

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Moving From Awe and Frustration to Transformation: One Educator Shares Her Experience

Emine, a teacher from Detriot, shares about her experience with Nobis World in the Dominican Republic on the Teaching Traveling Blog. This heartfelt sharing of her experience captures the passion that educators bring to their work and their commitment for making a positive impact in the world.

Emine pounding cocoa beans in preparation to make hot chocolate.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Consider Joining a Nobis World Program Next Summer

"For me, the most meaningful part of the Nobis World experience was connecting and sharing with other educators around deepening the global and social justice orientation into our classrooms." - Nobis World 2014 participant

Learn more about Nobis World and our summer 2015 professional development programs to:

Dominican Republic

Building Global Relationships, Understanding Global Poverty
July 23-30, 2015

Savannah, Ga. & The Lowcountry

Preserving African-American and Gullah-Geechee History
July 12-16, 2015

Below is a recording of the online info session where founder
and Executive Director, Christen Clougherty, goes over program details,
funding and scholarship opportunities, as well as answering questions
from attendees.

If you have additional questions, contact

Monday, October 20, 2014

Making Service-Learning Beneficial for the Giver and Receiver

By Francoise Heyden, Middle School Spanish Teacher at Carolina Friends School in Durham, North Carolina
What a gift this Nobis World service-learning trip to the Dominican Republic was!  And on so many levels!  This intense and powerful week immersed in cultural learning was well worth the effort of scraping together the funding for it!  The Nobis World program prepared us via carefully constructed e-learning to understand the historical background and social context of what we saw; once we were there, the program gave us plenty of tools for processing our experience with our colleagues; and the forum will stay open this academic year for discussion and sharing of materials.   Nonetheless, however well-prepared I thought I was, having traveled extensively in the past and dealt with issues of poverty in other places, I had to be on the island physically to appreciate the reality of the lives of the girls at the Mariposa Center for Girls in Cabarete.  The Nobis Big Ideas framework and various group activities helped me unpack what we experienced on our trips to the school and different communities and I enjoyed our group discussions as each teacher shared his or her impressions.  The intensity was both exhilarating and exhausting, making it challenging to provide the help we wanted to the school and to fully process how we would apply our service learning ideas to our own classrooms.  Ideally, we would have had a couple more days to spend time with the Mariposa teachers to see how to help them most effectively and to formulate our own plans for service learning once we returned home.   As a Spanish teacher at the Middle School level, I have lots of ideas for cultural exploration with my classes.  As someone very interested in promoting service learning at my school, I knew all about the challenges of engaging students (and staff, for that matter!) in meaningful community outreach.  While I did not find any easy answers to my questions, I did enjoy having the time to discuss and reflect on the plans I was starting to formulate.  They may not all be feasible for logistical reasons, but I am inspired to try supporting the Mariposa Center for Girls with lesson plans my students create to teach Dominican children’s stories (especially by Julia Alvarez) and with fund-raising.  More ambitious is a plan I have for an elective service class in which we would create a short documentary segment in the style of the Girl Rising stories about Alba Rosa, the eleven year old girl who teaches children in her neighborhood after attending Mariposa Center for Girls.

This amazing and thought-provoking trip strengthened my belief from working on a number of such school projects that service learning has to meet several criteria to make it meaningful for the givers and the receivers.  These include:  1)  a commitment to establishing a long-lasting relationship between schools (this requires deep listening to their needs, cultural sensitivity, and respect for their way of doing things), 2) personal contact, if not actually physically meeting each other or skyping, at least exchanging photos and letters, 3) solid understanding of how the center operates, what works well for them, what does not, good communication with the staff and parents, 4) assessment of the community resources, history, and relationship with, as well as support for the center, and 5) flexibility and patience as plans evolve.   The Nobis Global Action Model and program on the whole gave us a good foundation for elaborating our own school’s service learning projects by giving us a close-up view of helping address Dominican poverty through education at the Mariposa Center for Girls.

Monday, October 6, 2014

When You Start To See Home Differently

By Christen Clougherty
Nobis World teachers at the King-Tisdell Cottage

Nobis Project is based in Savannah, Georgia because that's were I call home. After college I wanted to live near the ocean, not too far from home (Durham, NC), in a smaller town were I could be engaged in community, and with a strong arts community. Savannah had all these things. My first introduction to Savannah was the movie, "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil." The film captured a magical city untouched by time. And that is what visitors see. My husband calls it, "the theme park called the South" and my four year old now expects all cities to have horse-drawn carriages.

Over the 13 years that I have lived in Savannah I have come to see its many sides. Some are hidden gems off the beaten path, but more are hidden stories of a past that many would rather be forgotten. One such place is on a nearby barrier island in South Carolina, Daufuskie Island. I was interested in visiting the tabby ruins of dwellings where enslaved people once lived on the island. But when I arrived I learned that they were closed off to the public. And by closed off, I mean they are inside a wealthy private gated community. When I told a friend about my unsuccessful trip, she said, "we like to hide our uncomfortable pasts." And she is right. But that is not the world I want to live in. It is only when we face ourselves and our shared histories that we begin to see our interconnectedness and even our interdependence.

In the Nobis World program, Savannah, Ga & The Lowcountry: Preserving African-American and Gullah-Geechee History, I am (along with many Savannahians) able to share with teachers from all over the country some of these other pasts, other presents, and we pondered over potential futures. 
During the five-day program held annually in July, we explore the preservation of African-American history and culture in Savannah and Georgia's coastal islands. Teachers experience the historic city of Savannah, with its stunning architecture and grand live oaks dripping with Spanish moss, as well as the lovely Lowcountry coastal landscape, with its expansive marshes and refreshing sea breezes. Through a service-learning project and cultural immersion, teachers learn how different museums and heritage organizations preserve the history of African-Americans in the Lowcountry. We learn quickly that there is much more to Savannah than is first apparent.

The program focuses on the themes of race, slavery, and the sense of place. We consider the impact of geography, environment, and diaspora on the development of community values and culture by looking at two different experiences: the urban environment of Savannah and the rural Gullah-Geechee culture on the barrier island Sapelo. The Gullah-Geechee culture is distinctive and found only in the Lowcountry: the Gullah-Geechee people are descended from formerly enslaved people, primarily from the East Coast of Africa. 

During this program we work with the King-Tisdell Cottage Foundation in a service-learning project. Exploring together ways to bring the museum into the classroom in meaningful and relevant ways for today's learners.

We invite teachers to join us in summer 2015. Visit our website for details:

And if you want to read more about the many sides to Savannah, check out the New York Times article that came out this past weekend: "Savannah, Both Sides."

I wonder what "uncomfortable pasts" are hidden in your town?

Monday, September 22, 2014

Where the heck is this school?

 Reflections by Jon DeGraff from Brooklyn Friends School
Jon attended the Nobis World - Dominican Republic program this summer where we worked with the Mariposa DR Foundation in a small Caribbean village situated on the rural, hilly north coast of the Dominican Republic (DR). Cabarete is home to two distinct and interdependent cultures. Cabarete’s breathtaking beaches and coastal sports attract a plethora of international visitors year-round.  And yet Cabarete is also home to a community of over 8,000 Dominican and Haitian men, women, and children who live in abject and extreme poverty.  These families struggle daily with hunger, lack of adequate health care, and inadequate education.  Mariposa DR Foundation works to unite these two seemingly divergent communities. Teachers in the Nobis World program worked with Mariposa DR Foundation and met with Cabarete community members including visits to a number of schools and visited with teachers and principals.

A group of us, all teachers from the States, visited a private school that Tuesday morning, and later in another part of town, we were in the barrio, Calle 6, on another school visit.
As we walked down a dirt road it led me to think that if it rains for too long here, these folks would be walking around ankle deep, more like sloshing around, for days in mud, dirt, and sewage. Yeah, it must really suck living here.

We went into a few homes of girls from Mariposa Foundation; all the while I was wondering: where the heck is this school that we've come to visit? The last home we stopped in, a home so dilapidated and deplorable that it questioned if our collective humanity made it to the modern era to allow people to live like this, stood at the end of a path. Inside, the roof and walls were so riddled with holes, polka dots of sunlight shining through, that it reminded me of a purposeful design pattern rather than reflecting the pervasive abject poverty of the barrio.

Behind us, at the opening of this short path, some volunteers from the Mariposa Foundation were setting up plastic chairs and one of them had 3 x 2 sized makeshift blackboard. Elementary school-aged children started to gather, congesting the alley and positioning the chairs. There was a buzz of what I soon recognized as anticipation.

Standing in the center of the setup of chairs and spirited souls stood Alva Rosa. Wearing a red tank top and pink skirt, she stood there in her bare feet, directing the unsettled little ones into chairs and then she took attendance. Behind her, propped into one of the chairs was the blackboard, with socks for erasers.

Hence, I found the school.

As chairs, and students and a chalkboard do not a school make, it took awhile for me to truly understand what I was witnessing. But when I finally did, it hit me to the core. Alva Rosa had taken it upon herself to take the lessons that she learned from Mariposa and teach them to the less privileged ones in her neighborhood. Without the support of adults, apparently disinterested adults, that were seated no more than 30 feet from her, it was fascinating to watch her command the moment, with such an authoritative presence, as it was clearly her school.

And oh, the punch line: Alva Rosa is only 11 years old!

Three bets!

This open-air school was not part of an initiative on the part of the Foundation. However, Alva Rosa was the fruit of the idea of Mariposa that laid fertile ground to nurture her “it,” her oomph, that special grit to create her own dynamic path in taking a stand to improve her community. I bet that she would hardly articulate what she does as playing an inspiring role in developing her community, or even comprehend the much bigger metaphor and potential that her actions represent. I would also bet that this impoverished, shoeless, “bossy” girl simply sees herself as someone who wants to be in charge of others and she created an attractive way to so. But lastly, I would bet that in a very short time, this little girl with her freckles, and her golden pigtails will understand her potential in an even more remarkable way than she does now. And then, watch out!

I shouldn’t have found it ironic that the mission of the Mariposa Foundation, mariposa, in incorporating the theme of the Girl Effect, an international movement to empower girls in poverty, should produce its own marvelous personification of the Butterfly Effect* in Alva Rosa.

*mariposa is butterfly in Spanish

Monday, September 8, 2014

Nobis World - Creating a Safe Place for Educators to Share Stories and Discuss Difficult Issues

by Debbie Bandy

                                                                        "Largest Slave Sale in Georgia History"

The Nobis World program, Savannah Ga & The Lowcountry: Preserving African-American & Gullah-Geechee Culture, created a safe place for educators from around the country to share our stories and discuss difficult issues. I want to remember these lessons in my own teaching.

One of the videos we watched before our trip was Slavery By Another Name, a PBS documentary.
“Slavery by Another Name is a 90-minute documentary that challenges one of Americans’ most cherished assumptions: the belief that slavery in this country ended with the Emancipation Proclamation. The film tells how even as chattel slavery came to an end in the South in 1865, thousands of African Americans were pulled back into forced labor with shocking force and brutality. It was a system in which men, often guilty of no crime at all, were arrested, compelled to work without pay, repeatedly bought and sold, and coerced to do the bidding of masters. Tolerated by both the North and South, forced labor lasted well into the 20th century.”

Before watching this video, I thought that slavery (though not prejudice and injustices) ended with the Emancipation Proclamation, and I was shocked by the brutality faced by black citizens, especially black men. This coercive system had a monetary incentive. No white landowner now wanted to pay wages to people that used to be property. That financial reason faded over time, but the practice of injustice towards black men became institutionalized, and most American (if they ever knew) forgot its origin. Black men were targeted for incarceration without cause, and the result continues to be disproportionate numbers of black men behind bars.

Modern targeting of black men by law enforcement was given a voice by one of the participants in the Nobis program in Savannah this summer. This man holds an administrative position in an elite Northern private school. As we were talking about power and privilege, he shared his discussion with his sons about how to interact with the police. I have had the same talk with my sons: always be respectful and tell the truth. His talk, however, included telling his sons to put their hands where they are clearly visible and make no sudden moves.

Then came the murder of Michael Brown this summer in Ferguson, MO. The police response could have been filmed in black and white; their methods were straight out of 1963 Birmingham. Some of the responses by white residents were, too. The brutality against black men seems to have no end point.

My experience with the Nobis World program challenged me to think differently when I watch the evening news. And I now ask myself, “What can I do as a white teacher in a predominately white, private school in Charleston, SC?” I have made two decisions at this point.  I joined the NAACP and have put a bumper sticker of my support for this organization on my car and will attend meetings to see what part I can play in the work in Charleston. I also want my 8th graders to work with the Avery Research Center ( in writing a guidebook for some of the many antebellum houses within a mile of our campus. Their research will include information about the builders of these houses: enslaved people with specific skills such as carpenters, ironworkers, and builders. We will also include research about the white plantation owners and merchants who financed these homes, but I hope my students will gain a fuller and deeper history of the area than they typically receive. It is only when we start having these discussions about power, history and relationships that we can begin to move forward in creating the change we wish to see.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Seeing the World for the First Time

“In a way we are always traveling. It's only that as the scenery becomes familiar we cease to give it the attention and gaping awe that was once bestowed upon it in heaping armfuls. We travel so that when we return "home" we can see ourselves in a new light, with new clarity, and with new questions.”
–Christen Clougherty, Nobis Project Founder and Executive Director

The Nobis Project is an educational non-profit organization based out of Savannah, GA but with a reach across the world. Our mission is to support youth, educational and community leaders in building skills to analyze issues that impact our society and take actions towards initiating positive change.

This summer we launched a new program, Nobis World, a professional development program for K-12 teachers to travel domestically or abroad to experience cultures different from their own. The goal of the Nobis World program is to expand teachers' knowledge and experiences and, in turn, enrich their students' learning and global awareness.

We have decided to share our experiences, our learning, and our hopes through this Nobis World blog. Here we will showcase highlights from our travels, the connections we bring back into our classrooms, and resources for educators to learn more about the various Nobis World program themes.

We hope that you will follow our blog and that the stories shared here about transformation, social justice, and our shared humanity will inspire you to travel with Nobis World and experience the power of “returning home” and seeing the world again for the first time.