Creating Human(itarian) Beings: The Importance of the World Scholars Program on Impressionable Young Minds

GabbyBy Gabriella Santelli-Lindsay (Assistant Principal)

While being interviewed for our annual World Scholars Program ‘recap’ video, I was asked a few very interesting questions that brought me back to South Africa and reminded me how much I as an adult learned by traveling abroad to the Motherland. The question that I enjoyed answering the most (despite disliking being on camera and being beyond nervous that I would stumble over my words) was a question that is seemingly quite innocuous, but does have many more layers than one would initially think. The question was; why is it important that children get the opportunity to travel outside the United States?

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The simple and obvious answers would be: to get more exposure, to understand the strengths and challenges of other places and how those strengths and challenges impact the United States, to be able to understand the world and gain a larger world view, to help others, and the list goes on. Something that may not come to mind immediately, and something that certainly was not the first thing to come to my mind, is to gain confidence, independence, competence, and the social skills necessary to move throughout the world as a global citizen. During the fourteen whirlwind days we spent traveling, touring, volunteering and learning our students grew immeasurably.

IMG_2723Now, as some of my adult colleagues might lament, each student grew at a different rate and we all had our share of challenges in regards to discipline and management, but all the students, from our youngest ‘student’ who was a mere 6 month old baby to our oldest students who were preparing to enter the seventh grade, each and every one of them were shaped and molded in (happily) irreversible ways. From the moment we boarded the bus en route to the airport and one student confided in me that he had never been on an airplane before, I knew this trip was going to be different from any trip I had ever taken before. This small admission of trepidation brought us closer (well, it made me feel closer to him at any rate) and it sparked a fondness in me for this child that I would not have experienced had we not joined together on this adventure.

As the days progressed, I learned so many things about our students. I learned about their fears, their triumphs, the things that made them happy and the people and places that made up their childhood. As students chatted happily on the treacherous ferry ride to Robben Island (the island which houses the famed prison of the same name where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned) about this musician and that TV show, I wondered what they would make of being on an island that was used primarily to incarcerate hundreds of political prisoners, everyday people who stood up and spoke out about the injustices around them. Needless to say, we were all changed that afternoon. On the return trip, students spoke about the feelings they had standing in Nelson Mandela’s cell, walking through the dining halls, restrooms and recreation spaces that Mandela frequented during his eighteen years of captivity. IMG_2718That evening they reflected about how they would have felt if they were in the same situation and despite the abysmal conditions that the imprisoned at Robben Island endured, they voiced that they would have still spoken out against apartheid even if it meant having to spend time at Robben Island.  From conversations about who had the newest gadgets and the coolest shoes to conversations about being freedom fighters and being desireful to follow in the footsteps of a cultural and political icon, our students began peeling back and discarding the ‘I’ and began to don the robes and responsibilities of the collective ‘We’.

As an administrator, a teacher and as a parent, it is so uplifting to see the changes that our students are making. It is fascinating to see the growth and development as they advance by leaps and bounds. Their experiences are molding them into budding intellectuals and political activists. The World Scholars Program does more than provide students with the opportunity to travel abroad. It teaches them to become critical thinkers, independent young men and women, collectively conscientious humanitarians. It teaches them to evolve into the people who will be leading tomorrow’s businesses and government programs and will pave the way for a new generation, a new society wherein VLA students will strive to correct the errors of our ways and create a humbler, more introspective, more peaceful and safer world. I am proud to have had the honor of teaching the World Scholars Program Class of 2013 and journeying with them on a path to self-discovery and political action in South Africa. Amandla!

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3 thoughts on “Creating Human(itarian) Beings: The Importance of the World Scholars Program on Impressionable Young Minds

  1. A LUTA CONTINUA…

    Thank you, Gabriella, for a gorgeous reminder of how beautiful South Africa is, and how meaningful the people and their history can be to us here in America. They can certainly “unfold” us. I’m sure rather than molded, your students were unfolded.

    I went to South Africa expressly because a friend and colleague asked me go and teach clinical medicine techniques to doctors and other practitioners in remote areas. I fell in love with the people. Period. They had no political agenda. All they had was enough of whatever was needed to survive–especially love, faith and hope. They were a happy people. In fact, they fed me. That made them happy. Happy people make people happy.

    After a couple months of teaching, my friend took me to see Soweto, Cape Town, and Johannesburg. Walking through the Women’s Jail and Building Number 4 was an experience like no other I’ve had. I felt the history of political imprisonment and mistreatment in South Africa. It was remarkable to me that a country could memorialize and reincorporate its oppressive past by building the foundation of its Constitutional Court and Constitutional Hall upon the bricks and walls of its old prisons.

    The court sits on the site of an old high-security prison that housed thousands of political dissidents and prisoners of all races – including Gandhi. And outside the chambers, built upon the old prison bricks is a display in neon letters that reads: “A LUTA CONTINUA” or “THE STRUGGLE CONTINUES.”

    My first instinct was to think, “NO! The struggle must not continue. It needs to end. Let’s not be reminded of this junk anymore.” But, then, I remembered the monuments to Cecil Rhodes (the great exploiter of Africa) and Jan Smuts (the architect of apartheid) standing tall and plentifully around South Africa, and remain unabashed and must taunt of past oppression. And while my instinct was “We need to tear this stuff down,” I saw South Africa change through its transition and reconciliation process and it showed me that we cannot hide our troubled pasts, but must commemorate how we have failed–and use that memory to inspire future action.

    Instead of demolishing the statue of Cecil Rhodes in the University of Cape Town’s Upper Campus, a plaque noting his role in crafting the mining labor and land exploitation that haunts South Africa provides a more nuanced and educational experience than leaving the monument as is or than having nothing present at all. A LUTA CONTINUA.

    Our journeys must not mold us, rather “unfold” us–especially our students. Thank you.

  2. Thank you Dr. Martinez, I like your use of the word ‘unfold’ and yes, this journey did indeed do just that. Not just for the students but also for the adults. Even for those of us who had already been to the Motherland at some point in our lives, the experience of South Africa was once again eye-opening. For people who have never experienced any country in Africa to think that all of Africa is alike they are sorely mistaken. I wish there was a way to show people in a lasting and meaningful way that there is more to Africa, and the rich and diverse countries therein, than what the perceived ‘Americanized’ vision shows us.
    Yes, the struggle does continue. Even though apartheid is ‘over’ from our perspective, it seemed like the remnants of it were still alive and thriving. Housing is still segregated, it is clear for whom certain jobs are reserved, the education and healthcare systems are still strikingly unequal, the list goes on. While no one wishes for strife or turmoil, I am hopeful that the people of South Africa continue to fight for equitable treatment, equitable opportunities, equitable access to resources. I am hopeful that this generation of ‘free-borns’ (a term we learned on the trip that refers to those born post-apartheid) are able to see that despite the legal cessation of apartheid, that there are still many things to continue to press on for, many more things to continue striving and struggling for. I hope that they (and we as a global collective) do not bask in the glow of the ‘end of an era’ and relax into complacency, but rather continue to demand equity in the face of continued oppression. Thank you for your inspiring words and continued support of our blog.

    • Gabriella: Your eloquence and goodness is reason why you are the Vice President there Village Leadership Academy. Congratulations and continued blessings and success be to you and your wonderful staff there.

      And thank you for your heartfelt response. I hope you can tell that I love students and education, and I respect teachers very, very much. I have come to “learn” (no pun intended) there is no profession more noble than that of teacher, for you guys truly make student dreams become reality. In this regard, I also critique–especially peak performers, and I believe in the values and character of our country, America…
      which is why I write with reason and not solely for approbation.

      Take for example, your sentence: “I wish there was a way to show people in a lasting and meaningful way that there is more to Africa, and the rich and diverse countries therein, than what the perceived ‘Americanized’ vision shows us.” While I’m not exactly sure what you’re referring to, I believe
      our current president is right: “America should no longer be the police of the world; should not assist nations of the world; should, in fact, keep our nose out of everyone’s business.” And what America formerly believed were “Just Wars”–when rogue governments beat-up and killed their own people…or infringed on their neighbors–perhaps America will no longer be called Imperialist.

      Unfortunately, though, it was that very “Americanized” vision that took me to Liberia some 20 years ago…
      where my heart was captured by the love of the Liberian people. Yes, I served them, but they did more for me than I could ever do for them. I came back to America a changed person, a new man, a better doctor,
      a more humble servant of Christ, and even my girlfriends enjoyed me more. Africa, Liberia, and the people
      of Liberia changed my life, living, being, and doing.

      Gabriella, perhaps Liberia was a bit better for me having gone there. But it was Rick who was much better because of Liberia being in me. We, Americans, need not feel guilty for anything. It’s not that we have done
      anything negative, or that we are indifferent. We don’t travel to foreign countries to feel sorry for others or feel better about ourselves. We go to meet our brothers and sisters, and to communicate and understand each other in whatever ways we can. We touch one another. And this helps to grow our love, faith and hope in one another and in ourselves. This is a travel experience you and your students bring home and share as a lifetime gift here in America.

      Imagine, Gabriella: Africa isn’t that poor, after all, for they gave the rich nation of America the greatest gift of
      all…the growth of love, faith and hope.

      Take care and enjoy your blessings, –Rick

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