Exploring the World and Using Their Voices

How do people around the world use their “voices” to make a difference and what can we do here at home? Inspired by a recent visit from Kennedy Odede, the founder of Chapin’s sister school in Kenya, The Kibera School for Girls, and Chapin’s theme of the year, Our Future Our Voices, Class 6 students in Lisa Moy’s History class recently completed global current events research to find out!

In an exercise that allowed them to practice critical thinking skills, each student selected a country they were interested in learning more about from the 196 independent countries listed in their World Affairs Scholastic magazine. After learning about statistics like gross domestic product per capita, life expectancy and literacy rates, and the clues these numbers can give us about a country’s quality of life, the students got to work. They collected statistics about their chosen countries and, using critical thinking skills, such as understanding perspective and identifying causes and effects, deduced how these might affect the lives of those living there. For instance, a low literacy rate might mean poor school systems and infrastructure and a low GDP might mean a struggling economy, which in turn would impact a family’s daily life in many ways.                                                                                                     

With a strong background in their country’s history and citizens’ way of life, each student next selected a current news topic from their country, learned more about it and investigated how people are using their voices to make a positive change. Finally, they made personal connections to their own lives and thought of creative ways to use their own voices to make a difference in their NYC communities, the wider United States, and the world!

After carefully organizing their research into visually interesting and compelling PowerPoint slideshows, the students put their oral presentation skills to the test by sharing their findings with their classmates. This resulted in dynamic conversations about world affairs, activism, and action steps they can take to make a positive impact.

For example, students Gabi and Eleonore (students could work independently or with a partner) researched the country of Venezuela. After sharing information on the country’s history, geography and culture, the partners explained that the citizens of Venezuela are currently struggling from a lack of food and other resources, due in large part to the nation’s heavy reliance on just one export… oil. When the price of oil went down, the entire nation suffered.

This shortage of food, they noted, has had a dramatic effect on Venezuelan children’s educations. Some students faint or become ill during school due to hunger, and most teachers cannot report to work regularly as they spend most of their days waiting in long lines for food. “We are lucky in New York City to have easy access to many different resources, but we often take it for granted,” Gabi added.

Ms. Moy explained to the students that relying on only one export can be dangerous for a country’s well-being. “I want you girls to think like leaders and come up with some solutions to this problem” she said. “They could take advantage of other natural resources and begin trading them instead,” one student answered. “They could focus more on livestock and agriculture,” added another. “They could try to increase the literacy rate so that people are able to do jobs other than drilling oil,” said a third.

To continue, Eleonore explained her ideas for helping to make a difference in her own community. “While Venezuelan families survive on corn and whatever other crops they can get, Americans [throw out] around 50% of their food annually. Studies have shown that Americans waste about $160 billion worth of food each year. I have decided to try to empower myself and encourage all of you to waste less food,” she said.

Another student, Evan, presented her research on Nauru, a small island nation in Micronesia (a subregion of Oceania in the western Pacific Ocean) that is only 8 square miles big and has a population of around 13,000

The indigenous people of Nauru, and all of Oceania, are currently fighting to extend their rights in their home countries, Evan explained. Simultaneously, they are working together to fight the effects of global warming, which is damaging the delicate balance of the region’s coral reef ecosystems and contributing to major droughts.

Evan went on to share the personal connections she made to this issue. The conditions in Nauru reminded her of they way indigenous people in the United States have been treated. It also brought to her mind the efforts Chapin has been making recently to cut down on waste in the Gordon Room, from eliminating plastic utensils and takeout containers to introducing a brand new garbage sorting system. “To make a better future, I will speak up about issues to my school community and to my family and find ways in my daily life that I can help protect the environment,” she noted.

Through these informative presentations, the curious Middle School students learned more about countries and current events from all corners of the world including Tibet, the United Kingdom, Iran, and the Netherlands. “This project inspired me to speak up for myself and use my voice because maybe I can and will make a difference,” one student offered. Some other highlights from these presentations include the following:

One student shared a personal connection she had made after interviewing a family friend from Afghanistan. “When I asked him about child labor and poverty levels there, he said that the last time he [visited] in 2015 about 80% of people living there were under the poverty line. He also told me about some of the jobs that were common for children.” This student related this information to what she had learned about child labor in American history.

Another student shared her takeaways after studying the drug addiction problem affecting Estonia. “Drugs are very addictive, just like sugar. When I was younger, I tried ice cream and then I wanted it all the time. It took a lot of willpower to stop. There are many everyday addictions that many people don’t [know that] they have. When you realize you have the addiction, it makes you realize how hard it is not to give in. This has inspired me to help organizations that educate young people about drug prevention.”

Learning more about the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict inspired another student to use her voice to spread messages of peace. “While it is vitally important to have different opinions and beliefs – because that is what contributes to diversity (…) – I will tell people that they need to remember that we are all one human race and that most of us want the same goal… peace.” Her research has inspired her to continue learning, traveling, and being a good friend. “If I learn about problems happening right now, I can do my best to prevent them when I am an adult. Experiencing different races and cultures [through travel] is a great way to learn and understand why people believe what they do. I can [also] brighten someone’s day by complimenting them or simply smiling.”

Clearly, these stories of struggle, protest, and activism struck a chord with the Middle School students, encouraging them to use their voices for good in their neighborhoods and beyond. In the astute words of one Class 6 student, “If you have the opportunity to have a good education, like we all have, I think it’s important to use that education to make a positive difference.”