Using Travel as a Tool to Discuss Social Justice

We have seen an increase in the number of educators and schools who want to use global programming as a way to discuss social justice issues, or as a way to give students a global perspective on current events and a charged political climate. We love this, and are very excited to collaborate with teachers to focus programs in line with their school’s or class’ curriculum. A good place to start is to understand what you’re trying to accomplish, and work to find which programs and community partners will allow for the most meaningful cross-cultural learning. Global programming lends a boost to any thematic curriculum if you can draw creative parallels and have a good understanding of your intended learning moments.

Expect the Unexpected

When I oversaw our programs in New Orleans, every program was different. We started working a few short months after the levees breached and the pumps failed, and we always had neighbours and experts and community partners supporting our students and contextualising their learning. I quickly realised that no two programs ended the same. We would work with the same service partners, visit the same restaurants, and stay in the same Base House, with the same Program Leaders, and at the end of every program, we would have a completely different “thesis” – our final discussions always ended with a different takeaway. I tracked backwards to figure out what we were doing wrong, wondering how to create more consistency. After two long, hot summers I realised what was happening – depending on whose house they worked on and who they met in the community, that would ultimately shape their takeaways. They were thinking critically about the contextual and socio-emotional experiences they had and came to their own conclusions. I started taking joy from these fresh endings and realising that they weren’t endings – that every time they discussed, explained, or referenced this New Orleans experience, their “thesis” would continue to evolve and inform their other social justice experiences.

Connecting Threads and Comparative Studies

Our programs discuss topics as varied as public health, access to education, reconciliation, migration, labor rights, environmental conservation, access to food and water, the rights of indigenous peoples, the impact of global warming, women’s issues, and urbanisation. We recently adopted the UN Sustainable Development Goals as our framework for service impact, and are currently aligning all of our programs and projects with the relevant global objections. Traveling to a location and having hands-on experience with these issues creates a platform to objectively understand and discuss the causes, the context, and the effects of these themes. Debriefs and open discussions allow a space for students to assert hypotheses, ask questions, and discuss these themes and learn more about where they stand with their understandings and personal standpoints. Many teachers take the extra step to make those connections to their own curricular frameworks, current events, and recent events at their schools. This is a huge value that teachers add to our programs, to make those direct connections to what is happening at home and allowing students to reflect with a new perspective on their own home environments.

By Lauren DeAngelis Alvarez (Director Of School Partnerships, USA)