Tuesday, November 16, 2010

project justice - days 4, 5 & beyond

When I talk to people about this justice week that I had imagined for my middle school students, it sounds like a risky proposition, even to me.  How was I going to expose these children to social justice in a way that didn't go too far or not far enough?  Would they really find an issue they were passionate about?  Would they comprehend the difference between justice and charity?  Would they complete a project?  Would they follow-up?  Would their hearts and minds be changed? for a day? for a week? for a lifetime?

I can't measure how they changed, but I can tell you what I saw.  I saw struggles with jumping to a solution before understanding the problem.  I saw anger at the way things are.  I saw stereotypes broken down.  I saw passion, commitment and the dawning of comprehension.  I heard ideas and saw projects that changed me (click here for the complete list of justice projects).

One project in particular was a video for Falling Whistles: A Campaign for Peace in the Congo.  I had never heard of this organization, but one of my students had seen their video a month ago and when it came time to pick a project, she knew exactly what she wanted to do.  The kids working on this project disappeared into a room for a day and a half and produced this video.

Project Justice: Falling Whistles from Kim Wilkens on Vimeo.

The first time they showed it to me, I was stunned - by their interpretation and by the stats they shared.  The next day, I didn't believe it.  45,000 killed in a month?  Biggest war of your generation?  Are you sure?   Yes, they were.  I started researching online.  There's not much to find.  I went to fallingwhistles.com and they tell a compelling story, but was it really real?  Even so, I wanted to buy a whistle to show my support for the students, but they were sold out.  I happened to click on the Tour dates and noticed they would be in Richmond this past Sunday.  I couldn't pass up the opportunity to find out more, so I went.

When I got there, I felt a little like a party crasher and also old.  I met some of the interns and shared my story.  I saw a large room filling up with high school students that were part of a human rights and history club.  I heard Yves and Sean share their stories.  They were compelling, frightening, engaging, inspiring, passionate and humbling.  I bought a whistle and I changed a little more.

But now that I'm wearing the whistle, what do I say?  My brain still can't cope with the reality - it's searching for other answers.  There are precious few answers to be found along the information highway, but something is definitely not right in the Congo. 
  • "no humanitarian crisis generates so little attention per million corpses, or such a pathetic international response" - Nicholas Kristof (NYTimes)
  • Congo's war without end (Globe)
  • Smartphones Caught up in Congo War Controversy (CBS)
  • Raped women used as pawns in Congo War (CNN)
  • The US blinks, and children will suffer (Huffington Post)
I had no idea!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

project justice - days 2 & 3

Yesterday morning, the students heard from the Family Support Coordinator of the local International Rescue Committee and visited Computers4Kids in the afternoon.   Today we had our last speaker, the Lead Organizer from IMPACT.  She really helped the students gain a deeper understanding of the difference between charity and justice. 

It has been a whirlwind of activity and lots of information to absorb, but the students eagerly brainstormed possible education and advocacy projects to work on and were busy all afternoon making plans.  The energy and passion of these youth is inspiring and a little overwhelming. 

Everyone we encountered along the way made comments about how impressed they were with these kids and their ability to grasp complex concepts and be so engaged.  While I also think this is a special group of kids, I know they can't be the only ones with this potential and it makes me wonder why we, as society, have such a difficult time appreciating the input, perspectives and contributions of our youth.  I know I've certainly been aggravated by the idea of anyone not taking these kids seriously.

Monday, November 08, 2010

project justice - day 1

I have been so excited about the opportunity I've been given to pull together a week long immersion experience for my middle school students that focuses on local social justice issues.  We just completed our first day which included a field trip to The Haven at First and Market, a day shelter for the homeless, and speakers from The International Rescue Committee.  I'm taking it as good omen that we bumped into Tom Shadyac on the way into the Haven and that he wanted to speak to the kids about this project.  I myself was a little star struck and couldn't seem to put the camera down.  Luckily, the kids put it all into perspective and I've posted some of their comments @ Opening Our Eyes to Homelessness.