Helen Keller once said, “I am only one; but still I am one. I cannot do everything , but still I can do something.” Add to that the words of Mahatma Gandhi, “In a gentle way, you can shake the world,” and you have a recipe for service learning right in your classroom.
Global awareness and service learning have become popular terms in the school community because they offer opportunities for hands-on learning. Many provinces now embrace service learning as part of the curriculum. In Manitoba, for instance, the Social Studies curriculum for Grade One specifies that students explore different ways of cooperating, communicating and solving problems in order to live and work together with others. By Grade 3 this includes “The World around Me” with students studying the world around them and learning that although all people have the same basic needs, they have different ways of meeting those needs. The Grade 7 Social Studies curriculum in Manitoba includes “Global Quality of Life”: Students examine environmental, social, and cultural factors that affect quality of life for people in Canada and other places in the world. This study includes a focus on concepts related to universal human rights, diverse cultural perspectives, citizenship and democracy, identity, and discrimination.
Students examine the role of international agencies and global cooperation, the relationship between wealth, resources, and power, as well as the impact of their personal actions on quality of life for people in other places.
In her book The Complete Guide to Service Learning, Proven, Practical Ways to Engage Students in Civic Responsibility, Academic Curriculum, & Social Action, Cathy Berger Kaye states that students participating in service learning show improvements in academic achievement, career preparation, feelings of self-efficacy, behaviour, attendance and civic engagement.
Canadian child activist Craig Kielburger, author of the book Free The Children, says, “We so often feel powerless to do anything about the many problems in the world around us. We are so often left to wonder whether one person can possibly make a difference. Mother Teresa said yes we can. Her life was resounding proof that it is possible.” Kielberger was only twelve years old when he embarked on what would become a life of campaigning against child labour and making a real difference in the world. And while not many of us are such radical change makers, we can still “shake the world gently,” opening the eyes of our students to help make a difference in the world.
Start by using books to share stories of how positive change can be achieved. Mimi’s Village and How Basic Health Care Transformed It by Katie Smith Milway (Kids Can Press) is a story about a village in Kenya where Mimi’s sister gets sick from drinking the water. At the health clinic, a nurse teaches her how to take simple precautions and how vaccinations may help. The gentle story, illustrated by Eugenie Fernades, is complemented with back page information on “how you can help,” including donation and website information.
A more basic story about how we can help each other is Alma Fullerton’s A Good Trade (Pajama Press)—a story of how children have to haul water in a Ugandan village, and how an aid worker helps by giving Kato a pair of shoes.
Another child activist, who calls himself an “underage overachiever” is Bilaa Rajan. He started fundraising at age four and hasn’t looked back since. He is now UNICEF’s child representative for Canada and has produced a practical guide for schools and children on planning your own fund, and awareness raising activities. His book Making Change is published by Orca Books.
When I wrote my own two books on global awareness, My Librarian is a Camel, How Books Are Brought to Children Around the World and My School in the Rain Forest, How Children Attend School Around the World, I was amazed and impressed to see how the students with whom I shared these books wanted to reach out to help children who have little or no resources. “Can we send them books?” kids asked. “Do they need paper and pencils?” Subsequently I added contact information on my website and facilitated connections between schools across North America and schools in developing countries.
One of my favourite books on service learning is One Hen, also written by Katie Smith Milway. This is the beautifully told story of Kojo in Ghana, whose mother borrows a little bit of money from a community fund. This allows Kojo to buy one hen. One hen lays one egg, and then another and another—eggs that can be sold and money that can be saved until another hen can be bought. In this simple format, the story shows how one can work, save and expand, how the ripple effect reaches not only the immediate family but the village and beyond. In the back of the book is information on the real Kojo and on how the reader can help by making a small loan. The book has led to the creation of onehen.org, a fabulous site with activities and challenges for schools to extend a microloan to someone in need.
Kids Can Press also has expanded upon their global books by creating a website for educators and kids that enhances each book with information, videos and activities. Check out: citizenkidcentral.com.
Micro lending is a great way to introduce students to lending a helping hand to others around the world. Even with a small amount, say $25, students can have a direct impact on helping to alleviate poverty. And the best part is that it is a loan. The money is paid back and can be reinvested. This truly is a gift that keeps on giving.
Perhaps the best known micro lending organization is KIVA (kiva.org). I have been extending micro loans, ranging from $25 to $100, for many years. Since the borrower pays back the loan, I reinvest the money as it accumulates in my account. My pay back rate has been 100%. I have now lent money to 31 people or groups in countries like Cambodia, Kenya, Honduras and Samoa. These people needed money to put a new tin roof over their heads, or to buy a goat for milk. Sometimes a mother needs a sewing machine so that she can start a small business, or a man needs a motorbike which will enable him to get a better job to provide for his children.
Micro loans treat all those involved with dignity and respect. Does your $25 really make a difference? Travel writer Bob Harris decided to explore that question. Hired by Forbes to review some of the most luxurious accommodations on Earth, and then inspired by a chance encounter in Dubai with the impoverished workers whose backbreaking jobs create such opulence, he had an epiphany: he would turn his own good fortune into an effort to make their lives better. He found his way to Kiva.org. After making hundreds of microloans online, Bob wanted to see the results first hand. In his book The International Bank of Bob he travels from Peru and Bosnia to Rwanda and Cambodia, introducing some enterprising people, highlighting day-to-day life in much of the world that we never see. Told with humor and compassion, the book brings the world to our doorstep, and makes clear that each of us can make it better.
You can join me in my children’s book lovers’ team on Kiva: kiva.org/team/childrens_book_ lovers. KIVA has added a section just for schools, making it easy for you to become a KIVA classroom or school and join the many schools that are already using micro lending to make the world a better place, by shaking it gently.
• Free The Children, Craig Kielburger, Harper, ISBN 9780060930653
• Me to We, Craig Kielburger, Fireside Books, ISBN 9780743294515
• The World Needs Your Kids, Craig Kielburger, Graystone, ISBN 9781553655862
• The Complete Guide to Service Learning, Proven, Practical Ways to Engage Students in Civic Responsibility, Academic Curriculum, & Social Action, Book with CD-ROM by Cathryn Berger Kaye, M.A., ISBN 978- 1-57542-345-6
• Mimi’s Village by Katie Smith Milway, Kids Can Press, ISBN 978-1- 55453-722-8
• A Good Trade, Alma Fullerton, Pajama Press, ISBN 978-0-9869495-9-3
• Making Change, Bilaal Rajan, Orca Books, ISBN 978-1-55469-001-5
• My Librarian is a Camel, Margriet Ruurs, Boyds Mills Press, ISBN 978- 1-59078-093-0
• My School in the Rain Forest, Margriet Ruurs, ISBN 978-1-59078-601-7
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Margriet Ruurs is the author of 28 books for children. She conducts author presentations in schools around the country. www.margrietruurs.com
This article is from Canadian Teacher Magazine’s Sept/Oct 2013 issue.