When a global crisis strikes a region on Earth that doesn't have the resources to recover on its own, the international community comes together in an effort to rebuild the devastated region and provide assistance to those most affected. Similarly, this past month, high school students from across the United States came together at Concern Worldwide US' Global Concerns Classroom annual workshop to discuss how they would respond to the needs in the Horn of Africa, if they were in charge of rolling out emergency response programs.
Whether you have heard it on the news, read it in a newspaper, or are learning about it now for the first time, the extreme drought, poor harvests, and volatile food prices all contributed to a wide-reaching food crisis that reached famine levels in some parts of East Africa. Over 13 million people that depend on livestock and annual rains for their livelihood and survival suffered when rains failed for the second year in a row, killing pastures and huge numbers of livestock, and leaving them with no source of food or income.
During this year's Global Concerns Classroom Annual Workshop, high school students explored the underlying causes of the drastic devastation that the drought has caused in the region. The task given to the students was simple -- to create a proposal that would solve the drought crisis in an assigned country (Kenya, Ethiopia or Somalia) given a $5 million budget.
Solving a crisis such as drought and famine is quite daunting and not as easy as it may sound. However, as my group worked together, we quickly realized that the drought's catastrophic toll was a result of multiple, interconnected issues that were all preventable through one primary means: education. As the day went on, it became clear that education is not only a privilege for those fortunate enough to receive it, but also a powerful tool in the crusade against poverty.
This past summer, I was selected to go on a field visit to Kenya where I experienced first-hand Concern Worldwide's ongoing work in education in Nairobi and Kisumu. Located in Kenya's capital of Nairobi, the Mathare slum was where we visited several schools that are supported by Concern. Making your way through the hoards of children surrounding you, you stop to soak in the environment. Look to your left and you'll see house after house stacked on top of each other. Look in front of you and you'll see the bright orange uniforms of two schoolgirls flash before your eyes. Look down and you'll see a muddy road with patches of grass, plastic bags, and chicken droppings. Look up and you'll see antennas and telephone lines reaching for the blue sky above.
To say the least, the field visit to Kenya was inspiring and I was deeply touched by the motivation within each and every one of the students we met; not one child took his or her education for granted. Whenever I asked a student what he/she wanted to be when they grew up, the responses I always got were either doctor, lawyer, pilot, or engineer.
Over the course of the field visit, I seriously thought about my own education here in the U.S. and just how fortunate I am to grow up where education is a basic right. I think that the biggest message that students in the U.S. and around the world can benefit from is that education is an essential element in the fight against poverty and a path for those who seek brighter futures. When I asked what education meant to one student, 17 year-old Freddy James, he replied, "Education is the key to life -- it opens the door to success."
Seven thousand miles away in the U.S., Global Concerns Classroom is taking education to a whole new level. The GCC program has enabled me and my peers to explore issues of global poverty and to involve my entire school community in fundraising projects and awareness assemblies. Once you learn what people go through every day to survive in impoverished nations, it is hard not to see the world differently, whether it is being more grateful for all that you have or dedicating more of your time to making the changes you would like to see in your world.
I am disappointed that global issues are often neglected in high school curricula across the United States. We live in an extremely interconnected world -- just look at the 800 million people on Facebook! With the population of the world recently hitting 7 billion people, now more than ever, we need to think about the impact we have on the planet and the other people we share it with. With a growing population and continuous strain on available resources, our generation needs to be more globally minded than ever to meet the challenges and demands that we will all face in the near future.
International issues like poverty, HIV/AIDS, and hunger shouldn't be considered an extracurricular activity: it should be a required and core component of our high school education. Global crises like the famine in the Horn of Africa, flooding in Pakistan or the earthquake that hit Haiti in 2010 can sometimes seem too far away to be real or just too big to do anything that would make a difference. The answer to 'why you should care' isn't simple; I can tell you from my own experience that the more you learn about poverty and global issues, the less overwhelming it feels to take action and the more gratifying it feels to make a difference.
In the end, it doesn't matter if the difference you make is big or small. What is most important is that you see the world through a much wider lens where all people, whether they live in poverty or not, have the same needs and rights to basic necessities as you and me. Once you do, it's harder to not want to help people in need and see their progress as also your own.