Saturday, July 14, 2018

Global Ed Summer Camp

All the linens were piled in the hall. There were last minute conversations, hugs, exchanges of contact info, bags loaded, and a rush for the school bus that would take you home (or at least to your connecting flight).  Was it the end of summer camp? Sort of – the iEARN conference felt like a Global Ed Summer Camp. 

Held in Winchester, Virginia on the campus of John Handley High School, with accommodations in the dorms at Shenandoah University, the 5-day International Conference and Youth Summibrought together 200 educators and 200 students from across the world to focus on Global Collaboration for Sustainable Development. Divided between educator and student tracks, workshop topics included the Sustainable Development Goals, Global Competence, World Peace, Virtual exchange, and many more global education initiatives.  Many of the sessions shared iEARN global collaboration projects that are already established or are launching this fall. 

Beyond the great ideas and resources, this intimate gathering offered the chance to get to know colleagues and inspirational youth who are equally passionate about integrating global experiences into educational practice. The days were designed with coffee breaks and common room meals to give everyone time to get to know one another and to find possibilities for new partnerships in the coming year. Culture night, the Taste of Virginia dinner, musical performances to begin morning sessions, and a day set aside for excursions celebrated both local and global culture. The warmth and care participants showed as old friends reunited and welcomed new friends to conversations are testimony to the power of classrooms collaborating virtually through iEARN connections. 

— Connie Rensink (@rensink_connie) July 9, 2018

I came to this conference because my friend Dr. Tonya Muro told me about it. She was a light and a leader in global education. Sadly, Tonya passed away suddenly in March, yet the vision and spirit of worldwide collaboration she embodied was seen, heard, and felt this week. Through it all the iEARN team welcomed, smiled, soothed, solved, laughed, coordinated, sang, danced, and hugged everyone too. They were awesome camp counselors! Congratulations to them for hosting an amazing event that modeled how to build intercultural community - I look forward to ‘camp’ next year!

PS. I will be sharing some of the terrific resources and projects I learned about in a post soon! If you can’t wait, check out my Periscope posts of speakers and sessions on Twitter @rensink_connie #iEARN2018 

Thursday, August 3, 2017

With Common Purpose, Age Doesn't Matter

On Tuesday, DPI/NGO  sponsored a briefing to foster intergenerational collaboration and solutions to reach the SDGs. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), otherwise known as the Global Goals, are a universal call to action to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure that all people enjoy peace and prosperity. The majority of the day was spent in smaller discussion forums about the specific goals of Planet, Health, Innovation, Poverty Gender Equality, and Employment. Many ideas were shared in these conversations, but the common thread was how to work in partnership across the ages. The following facts and ideas stood out. 

The world has 1.8 billion youth and yet by 2050 one fourth of the world's population will be over 60 years of age. Our world has a Youth bulge in the South and an Aging Society in the North. These generations don't operate as a binary. Both will have to work together to achieve the Global Goals. 

I am in my early 50's; not so old but not so young either. During this meeting, the youth and elders expressed that they share much in common including being overlooked, discriminated against, limited, and ignored. But they are also passionate, motivated, innovative, and thoughtful. The ages in between should examine if we are treating these generations with respect as resourceful and valuable partners or undervaluing their worth. We can build bridges of collaboration if we focus on the strengths each one brings. We can help shift the mindset of seeing them as passive recipients to active contributors and exchanging disregard for dignity. 
A couple of examples of intergenerational collaboration at its best:
  • Age in Place - College students agreed to complete a certain number of activities in exchange for housing with an elder. The older person is able to continue living in their home and the cost of living becomes more affordable for the student. 
  • Resolution Project funds and mentors young social entrepreneurs. Over 500 advisory council volunteers offer expertise, experience, and knowledge to support over 350 youth leaders in 66 countries. 
  • ESL/Citizenship Preparation - College students volunteer to help older immigrants and refugees prepare for their citizenship exams. 
Strategies for Success:
  • Use voice to amplify this issue and share it with friends, family, and in the community. 
  • Quality intergenerational solutions are intentional, reciprocal, and strengths based. Doing this means breaking down traditional attitudes and power structures, honoring the right to participate, and looking for ways to combine skills instead of focusing on deficits. 
  • Use real life stories to build human connections and empathy. Each generation needs to be needed by the other. 
  • Focus on common goals such as the SDGs Action Campaign and intentionally include multigenerational partners. 
  • Consider how solutions and innovation impact all generations and plan to support transitions when technology displaces workers. Build mutual mentorships so knowledge and technical skills are equally valued. 
  • Make a friend at least 2 generations away from yours. 

The day ended with participants making a commitment or pledge they would complete by the end of August. What will yours be?

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Moments from the Women's March

So many of the entries I’ve read over the last couple of days have defended or attacked women’s reasons for marching or focused on extreme demonstrators that cause the reader to disconnect. 
I honor and value each person’s call to speak his or her mind, and celebrate that we live in a country with that freedom. I simply want to share a few of the moments I experienced marching in Washington, D.C. and reflect on how we can move forward.

When I first learned about the march I felt compelled to go. In the past I may have supported at home or on social media. There were many reasons people traveled to D.C. Mine was to stand for women’s equality and human rights. This time I felt that I needed to take action to show my commitment.

Our group walked 2 miles from the stadium parking lot to the march because the Metro system was overloaded with people. We called it our march to the march. Along the way I noticed yard signs with different quotes by Martin Luther King Jr.  Later in the day I asked one of the local residents about the signs. He explained that one of the members of their neighborhood group offered the signs to neighbors via email. The woman had them printed and many put them in their yards for the inauguration. Most were about peace and love. One message I keep coming back to is “We must accept finite disappointment but never lose infinite hope.”

When we approached the rally area from the west it became apparent that we weren’t going to get anywhere close to the stage or even to hear the speeches. Moving further down toward the mall we realized that people were already spilling out of the areas that had been designated. What struck me was the volume of people and the congenial tone of the crowd. People were in good spirits, some chanting, pointing to and complimenting creative signs, talking to each other about where they had traveled from and why they were there, and being considerate in a jam-packed space. I’m not saying that none happened, but I didn’t witness any disrespectful interactions.

I saw several children with their families and applaud those parents who taught their children about our right to free speech. I don’t know these children’s names but they and their parents gave me permission to share their photos. Both messages resonated with me.

Because we couldn’t get close to the rally point, our group moved out onto the mall. We ended up next to a couple that had a radio and a bullhorn broadcasting the speeches. We followed them along and came to a point where people had created their own march route. I heard a policeman tell someone that this wasn’t the planned course but that we were welcome to walk there. I later learned that the masses had filled up the original march route to the point of immobility. We joined others to walk down Constitution Avenue moving at a snail’s pace.

Some activists atop a large truck were leading chants. “No more hate, no more fear, immigrants are welcome here!” “What does democracy look like? This is what democracy looks like!” gained large volumes from supporters. “Hey Ho Trump must go” brought less enthusiasm and some looks of frustration. There were some vulgar signs – there were some vulgar speeches – but overall the most powerful theme was taking a stand for what you believed in. My takeaway from this moment is that LOVE and HOPE are stronger than HATE and FEAR. Speaking out with a positive message invites others (and us) to listen so much more than attacking someone’s point of view. It’s OK to speak that positive message loudly – but let’s remember to listen too. We can be passionate and civil at the same time.

When rights are threatened, people wake up to what they took for granted. So what happens next?  Some will go home and be proud they did their part. It was a good first step.  For me it only affirmed my commitment to stay aware, to be an advocate when needed, and to take ACTION both in my community and the world.  I will strive to listen to different perspectives, seek collaboration, and work to make a difference where I can.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

A Tough Mind and a Tender Heart - Still True in 2017

Whether or not you practice the Christian faith or consider yourself a religious person, a study of Dr. Martin Luther King’s talks offers an insight into the social and political climate of the time he lived. Dr. King preached his sermon, A Tough Mind and a Tender Heart, in 1959 at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama. In admiration of his timeless insight, and simultaneous disappointment in our inability to learn from history, it is as relevant today as it was fifty-eight years ago.

Reverend King began his sermon with this scripture and built the case that we must have both a tough mind and a tender heart to have justice and grace in our world. He clarified why each of these traits are equally vital.

He described the tough mind as “incisive thinking, realistic appraisal, decisive judgment… that breaks through the crust of legends and myths, and sifts the true from the false.”  He observed that it takes effort to practice hard, solid thinking and many people don’t want to work that hard.

As evidence of soft mindedness, he cited the gullibility of people to be swayed by advertising and the biased written word of the press.  This has only been amplified. Advertising is embedded in every virtual interaction and targeted to personal purchasing habits. Our children have to have the ‘right’ shoes, jeans, and jewelry to be popular or cool.  Social media structures build echo chambers that shut out “the other” and opportunities to hear different perspectives. News sources are one-sided and focus on divisiveness to gain ratings. Quotes and actions are reported out of context, and when the truth is presented days later, another exciting story overshadows the correction. His words still ring true: “Our minds are constantly being invaded by legions of half-truths, prejudices, and false facts. One of the great needs of mankind is to be lifted above the morass of false propaganda.”

He went on to talk about the fear of change and how people accept the status quo and try to preserve sameness. His context was that of segregation. Today’s context is globalization and the interdependence of local and global communities. Many cringe at the advancement of technology and international interaction.

He pointed to soft mindedness contributing to racial prejudice. He defined prejudice as pre-judging, based on fears, suspicion and misunderstandings.  He told of those who defended segregation because black people were behind academically, not recognizing that the system of segregation was the cause of that deficit. He spoke of leaders who made inflammatory statements that roused the fears and violence of the masses. What progress have we made?

But Dr. King went on to say, “Tough mindedness without tender heartedness is cold, and detached. There is nothing more tragic than to see a person who has risen to the disciplined heights of tough minded and has sunk to the passionless depths of hard heartedness.”

He said the hardhearted person never truly loves, but lives in isolation, never sharing another’s joy or sorrow. Ride a subway, go to a restaurant, look at the dinner table – how many people are talking to each other and how many are staring at their device? And studies say that despite virtual connectivity people still feel lonely.

He portrayed the hardhearted as self-centered and lacking compassion for others, not seeing the unfortunate. In our time, how many people are displaced and estranged? Do the homeless in our communities and refugees seeking sanctuary feel acceptance and support?

He depicted them as depersonalizing others as resources of industry, cogs in a wheel, a means to an end. As technology progresses, are workers being trained to work in new capacities? With an ever-growing gap in wealth, is income the dominating measure of success?

The prevailing issue he addressed then was segregation, and yet discrimination persists. He lamented that the soft minded would acquiesce to oppression. Today’s rhetoric normalizes hate speech and inequity. He reproached bitter individuals that would bring physical violence and hate in the name of a cause. And still police brutality and mass attacks like Orlando exist.  He exhorted his congregation that violence would only bring the repercussion of chaos. Our current social climate can only be proof.

Dr. King advocated for the use of non-violent resistance. He believed in achieving social change through symbolic protests, civil disobedience, economic or political noncooperation and peaceful insistence. Let us hope that the marches in Washington and around our country this week reflect these ideals.

Reverend King declared that the good life demands combining the toughness of the serpent with the tenderness of the dove. “To have serpent like qualities devoid of dove like qualities is to be passionless, mean and selfish. To have dove like qualities without serpent like qualities is to be sentimental, aimless, and empty. We must combine strongly marked antithesis.”

So what does this meshing of tough mind and tender heart look like in a modern world? I submit that it requires personal investigation, critical thinking, empathy, and civil discourse. Embracing the advantages of technology and progress while analyzing the impact on humanity. Listening to learn, not just to make our rebuttal. It means looking for commonalities and seeking solutions together, even when it’s uncomfortable. And to revisit his words, finding a ‘synthesis of love and justice which will lead us through life’s dark valleys and into sun-lit pathways of hope and fulfillment.”

I found this sermon thanks to pastor Andrew Stehlik's Friday blog  Prudent Simplicity 

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

#Hashtags for Hope: Snippets from the #SocialGoodSummit #2030Now

Hope - In a world where daily headlines bring news of hate, discrimination, and pain where do we look to find hope? The Social Good Summit was two days of nonstop speakers and panels highlighting social media's impact on social good initiatives around the world. The theme: Connecting Today. Creating Tomorrow. centers around the question “What type of world do I want to live in by the year 2030?” It was energizing, encouraging, and empowering. 

The following quotes from #2030Now are linked with amazing opportunities to make this a better world today. May you find something more to give you hope. 

I pledge to make the #GlobalGoals a reality 
and I tag ________to do the same. 
Richard Curtis

If you have a soapbox stand on it and scream!
Chelsea Handler

When something impossible (world hunger) seems ludicrous, we have to innovate to make it #notimpossible.
Mike Ebeling

What if we branded for good?

You don't have to worry about being ecological 
once you are logical.
Bertrand Piccard

Refugees are the same as other people. 
We all see the same sky. 
Zaynab Abdi

Sunday, September 18, 2016

From Activism to Action - 6 Next Steps

Many times the world's issues can seem overwhelming and impossible to solve. A common thread running through today's Social Good Summit (#2030Now) was an invitation to the general public to take an active part in achieving the Global Goals. Don't remember what those are? Read more here .

So what can you do? Here are six ideas shared today.

1. Richard Curtis started the day asking everyone to tweet a pledge to make the #globalgoals a reality and tag one person to do the same. He shared a global goals toolkit to make it easier to share the goals in your social media space. Others today reinforced that social media is our entrance to awareness and the first step to on the ground action.

2. Chelsea Handler encouraged you to be willing to learn and willing to have your opinion change. She went on to say that it's a waste of time to be a passerby. You won't leave an impression and you're not making an impression. If you have a soapbox, stand on it and scream! Right now she wants you to Rock the Vote.

3. Here's a three for one. The Google Social Good Team developed an app One Today to give "philanthrateens" and other socially minded friends an accessible and affordable way to make a difference. As part of today's launch they gave audience members $17 to donate on the app.  From time to time they also change the 'I'm feeling lucky' engine search to 'I'm feeling generous' to fund specific crises. And last but not least, through YouTube for Good they have developed an embedded linking system to make donations to nonprofits easier and Google covers the credit card fees related to donations. 

4. GSMA, The United Nations, And Project Everyone collaborated to launch the SDG in Action app, which shares information on the Global Goals, offers local actions you can be a part of, or you can create your own actions and invite others to join you.  

5. In the #BlackLivesMatter panelist Luvvie Ajayi asked white allies to to become white accomplices by witnessing black/police interactions and by donating to organizations that are doing the work to change our systems. 

6. And for those of you with a story to tell, David Nabarro invited anyone to create a 3-5 minute video describing some of the immediate problems and solutions relevant to the Global Goals in your community. This collaboration platform will build connections between civil society and governments. 

Clearly there is much more to be done. 
What will you do? 

Thursday, August 25, 2016

How Many Effing Stories Does it Take?

I'm here to share a story - Yes ANOTHER story, because I hope and I pray that this can make another person's struggle real enough for political leaders and powerful advocates to bring about coordinated change and make our world more human.

Last Friday the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) sponsored a special event with the overarching theme One Humanity to call recognition to World Humanitarian Day.  Held in the UN General Assembly with a star studded lineup including Natalie Dormer (Game of Thrones), Leslie Odom Jr. (Hamilton), Alisan Porter (The Voice),  Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (author Americanah), Yasmine Al Massri and Mohammad Assaf (actress and singer), the evening promised an entertaining program guaranteed to bring high profile recognition.

Yet with all this star power, at the center of this program was the heartfelt story of a Syrian refugee family. Hala Kamil is the mother of 4 children, Sara, Farah,  Mohammed, and Helen, ages 7-15 years old. The account of their transition from surviving in Allepo as freedom fighters to seeking refugee status in Turkey to settlement in Germany is told in the Frontline report Children of Syria. I watched the entire episode early last week. The excerpts shared Friday were well selected but couldn't cover each moment that touched me earlier.

As an advocate, educator, and mother, my heart wrenched as Farah flinched at the sound of missile fire, Sara told about collecting red ribbons to help her father make bombs, Mohammed said goodbye to his neighborhood, and Helen refused to cover her hair in her new German home.

As a woman and wife I shed tears as Hala made the difficult decision to leave Syria for her children's future, and explained why her phone with pictures of her husband (taken by ISIS and presumed dead) and her life in Syria, had become her life.

On this evening in New York, in a country far removed from the horrors her family faced, Hala took another courageous step, to beseech the leaders of our world to take action to end the attack on civilians in Syria.

Here are three points that called to me:

  • Two hundred seventy-five thousand men, women and children are under siege, and two million are living in fear of besiegement. They cry out, but they are met with silence. The world does not hear them. Instead, the world hears the echoes of gunshots and explosions, tormented by images of knife-wielding terrorists killing in the name of Islam. Well, not in our name. Not in my name.
  • I do not agree with those out there who say that there are two worlds—one for the political decision-makers, and one for those who bear the consequences of their decisions. We who suffer those consequences must have some bearings on the actions, or lack of action, of the powerful.
  • Make your voices heard. I call upon you not to give up and not to regard us as helpless victims being ushered by the powers of destiny alone forever deprived of self-determination. We may have lost our homes, but we have not lost our ability to change this world, for it is the only world we have.

You can watch her complete speech here:

And on this evening, her children joined her onstage for a standing ovation. A standing ovation for the terrors of their life, for their struggle, for their pain, and for their future. They stood awkwardly, seeking out each other's gaze and shifting their feet. How is a child supposed to respond when their story is there for the world to see? I was uncomfortable with them.  

There are over 60 Million refugees in the world. Every minute 24 people are displaced and half of them are children.  These astronomical numbers are hard to fathom which may be why nations aren't fulfilling their quota commitments to accept refugees and why there seems to be a stalemate on efforts to prevent, negotiate, and end the crises that are the cause. 

But while these astronomical numbers are hard to fathom, it is even harder to accept that these are 24 lives, 24 stories, 24 futures at stake. EVERY. MINUTE.   

So today I'm here to share a story. May this one be the call for action locally and globally that rewrites the future for our world. 

Something More YOU can do today: