26 September 2007

A Class Can Change the World

Thus far, Lyrique Tragedy Reviews has been a platform for reviews, interviews, and literary topics. It is, after all, the point of the site. But limiting the scope of topics on a site dedicated to intellectual, intelligent thought and topics seems anathema to the original purpose. Often have I wanted to post something of interest, but hesitated because of the stringent guidelines I’ve placed on the post topics here. I intend to begin including more wide ranging subject matter, while maintaining the original intent of the site. I hope you’ll enjoy the additions! So when will they start? Why, no better time than the present, friends…

A Class Can Change the World…

One of the universities I teach at instituted the Learning Communities program for the incoming humanities freshmen a few years ago. Last semester I was appointed Service Learning Coordinator for the learning community I was teaching in, and for various reasons it proved to be more difficult that any of us thought it should have been. After an entire semester of deliberation, and many projects proposed and shot down, we came up with what we believed would be an appropriate project for the students in our particular community to participate in and learn from.

Because our community functioned under the theme of world cultures (many of the students plan to be international business majors), the challenge was finding a project that allowed our students to make a difference on the world stage. Not an easy task. We settled on a World Conflict Symposium aimed to educate the community on conflicts abroad that may not be widely covered in the local (and in some cases, national) news. The students researched three areas: Burma, Sudan, and the Zapatista movement in Mexico. In their research they were to find the origins of the conflicts, the human toll, international involvement, and ways that people could help locally.

The presentations were adequate, and the turn out was less than favorable, but the majority of the students indicated that they learned a great deal from the project which, in itself, is a victory. Just the other day one of the students involved in the symposium approached me on campus to tell me how much of an impact our project actually had.

It turns out that this student had interviewed a fellow student and friend about his refugee status and his home, which happened to be Sudan. The student hadn’t been home, or seen his family, in over 10 years, and doubted that he would ever be able to return. Financially, it was no small feat to get back to Sudan, and he had no resources to do so. After listening to this young man’s circumstances, our student offered up some suggestions for aid and fundraisers to help him get back home. She had done a good deal of research on the region and ways individuals can help, and gave him some viable options that he didn’t know he had.

Following their conversation, the young man took her suggestions and raised enough money to travel back home to Sudan where he found his village and his family. It took him a few weeks to get there and find his town, but he did and stayed for most of his summer. The experience changed his life. He told my student about the sickness and the need for a higher education in his town, and how he wants to be a part of that after graduation. He intends to go back and do health work and educate the town. He thanked my student for her conversation with him that inspired him to gather the resources to go back, and she, in turn, felt compelled to share that gratitude with myself and the other faculty members in the Learning Community. My student was awed that something she and her classmates did could lead to the improvement of the lives of people across the world, and could inspire someone else to make a difference.

The rewards of being a teacher, on any level, are often not monetary. I have always believed that teachers don’t become so for the money alone, but something deeper drives them to stand in front of a class and challenge students to think critically and be the best people they can be—whether they are teaching first graders how to add, or graduate students how to navigate the competitive world of theory. That kind of dedication rarely gets rewarded in a tangible way. Even my student’s thanks were too much. I’m an educator, and that’s my job. Hearing this story from her, I tried very hard to not get misty eyed from seeing the immense pride and good faith this student had. I merely handed her the tools. She put them to work. And the moments like that remind me in a very palpable way that educating people can change the world in a profoundly better way.

~Dawn Papuga


Brad (aka sickpup) said...

Great story Dawn, it reminds me of some of the great people I have the pleasure of working with everyday who were not American citizens when they arrived but strived to be.

One such person is trying desperately to get his family and friends out of war torn Lebanon before something tragic happens.

Sadly, he cannot go home for fear of never being able to return to the USA. He has not seen his family in decades, only speaks with them via phone.

Anonymous said...

Dawn, that made me misty-eyed just reading it. Thanks for sharing the story and for giving your students the opportunity to do meaningful projects like that.

Susan said...

Sorry, that was me (anonymous). Too quick on the draw! Hope all is well! Susan

D.M. Papuga said...

Brad--It's hard to help friends and co-workers in those situations. Unfortunately, we can't anticipate the actions of foreign countries, or federal agencies dealing with immigration. I had two friends in college who went home to visit famly in Greece, who were forced to stay and enlist in the greek military because they held dual citizenship. I do hope your friend finds a way to help his family, though.

Susan--thank you for your kind comments! I'm glad I could share it with you.