Recycling, Redeeming, and Contributing to a Better Tomorrow

Tuesday, September 30, 2008 | posted by Global Playground News |
Last school year, the Saints Felicitas and Perpetua School in San Marino, California recycled more than 11,000 containers in a school-wide recycling campaign. The purpose of this recycling campaign, however, was not to conserve energy or to save natural resources for a greener planet but rather to help children in developing countries. By redeeming the containers for approximately $560 and donating the money to Global Playground, the students nevertheless contributed to a better tomorrow.

The school-wide recycling campaign arose after the student ecology commissioner and her faculty advisor decided to put an end to the thousands of plastic containers that went unrecycled at the school in previous years. "Everyone pitched in to the campaign," said Laura Schmidt, a fourth-grade teacher. "The school set up recycling bins in classrooms and near lunch benches; students advertised the campaign; maintenance staff and student council members collected the containers; and parents took the containers to the local grocery store for redemption. The whole process was extremely well run."

The campaign was so well run that a wider recycling campaign was even launched. Before Thanksgiving, the school had a "Recycling Bonanza" day when students could bring in as many aluminum cans and plastic bottles from home as they could manage. More than 1500 containers were brought to school that day or nearly six containers per student. "That single day of recycling alone raised about $75 for Global Playground," said Ms. Schmidt. "It was a great way for the kids to give to others in an age-appropriate and manageable way. One of my students even went beyond what he could manage to bring to school. After realizing he couldn't bring all of his bags of bottles and cans to school, he decided to recycle them himself and instead bring the proceeds to school."

The school's principal and teachers chose Global Playground as the beneficiary of the recycling campaign because they wanted to teach the students about the importance of furthering a mission and helping others well beyond their local communities. "With Global Playground's tangible goal of building schools in developing countries and promoting equal education for all, it seemed a perfect fit for the recycling campaign," said Ms. Schmidt. "Seeing pictures of Global Playground's school in Uganda being constructed and the children who would benefit from the school really brought Global Playground's mission to life and drove the campaign."

In conjunction with the recycling campaign, Ms. Schmidt's fourth-grade class researched and learned about Uganda's educational system for two weeks. The two weeks of study culminated in Ms. Schmidt's fourth graders creating posters and giving oral presentations about Uganda to the other students in the school. Their posters and presentations largely focused on the inequalities between their own educational experience and the educational experience of their peers in Uganda. For example, the students noted that in sharp contrast to the hundreds of dollars worth of school supplies and materials they each receive, the students in Uganda barely even have pencils and paper.

During their presentations, the students also suggested ideas for eliminating the inequalities they highlighted. "So here's how you can help," they said. "Pray for those less fortunate than you. Be thankful for what you have and don't waste. Be aware of the lack of education in Uganda and other problems in the world and how we as a world can change them. Donate to Global Playground and other organizations by recycling at home and at school." To encourage their peers to heed the last piece of advice, one group of students made a poster of the Ugandan flag--a crane in a white circle on a field of black, yellow, and red stripes--and then held it proudly while urging their classmates to action: "Please bring in your bottles, so we can help the people in Uganda who live on less than a dollar a day!"

In the end, the children realized that receiving an education at all let alone attending a well-funded school is a tremendous privilege. More importantly, the recycling campaign encouraged them to become activists for a better tomorrow. In essays Ms. Schmidt's students wrote about Uganda, several students hoped that in the future they could effect change in Uganda and other developing countries so that every child in the world could have an opportunity to attend school.

-Doug Smith in collaboration with Laura Schmidt

The Brooklyn Bridge to Uganda

Tuesday, September 16, 2008 | posted by Global Playground News |
This past year, Becca Sacra, a teacher at P.S. 261 in Brooklyn, New York and a Global Playground volunteer, proposed building another Brooklyn Bridge. Rather than merely spanning Brooklyn and Manhattan, this bridge would span more than 7000 miles and connect her third-grade students with the students at Global Playground's school in Buwasa, Uganda. While the original Brooklyn Bridge was described as the "eighth wonder of the world" when it was built, how would her students and the Ugandan students describe each other? What would each learn, and what similarities or differences would each notice?

With the belief that teaching cross-cultural awareness is becoming increasingly important in our ever-more interconnected world, Ms. Becca (as she is known to her students) wanted to take advantage of her trip to Uganda. She proposed videotaping her students in class 3-315 talking about their lives and asking students at Global Playground's school in Uganda about theirs. Class 3-315 responded eagerly to Ms. Becca's proposal; the students brainstormed their questions for homework and then the next day in class practiced asking their questions.

When the videotape began to roll, the children were definitely not camera-shy! They asked:

What kinds of food do you eat?
What games do you play?
Who are you friends with?
What do you want to be when you grow up?
What do you do for fun?
What do you learn about?
Do you feel special about yourself?

The children were also eager to share their hopes and dreams for their futures and their personal stories. "I have a mama, a papa, and a little sister," said one child. Another said, "Here is my school. We love to play outside to get out all of our energies!" By the end of the day, the children were squirming with excitement about how the Ugandan children would respond.

Ms. Becca premiered the video this past January in Uganda under the shade of tropical trees and with the assistance of a laptop. "The Ugandan children were completely enthralled. They had never seen a movie before, let alone the ethnic diversity of our fabulous cast of characters!" said Ms. Becca. "More than just the children were interested. Adults also gathered around, poking their heads above the mesmerized crowd of children."

In addition to the ethnic diversity of Ms. Becca's class and the movie itself, the Ugandan students were amazed by America's schools. "They could not believe the incredible resources available in the classroom," said Ms. Becca. "To get a sense of what they must have been feeling, you would have to imagine looking at America's classrooms through the eyes of a child who has no electricity or running water and knows nothing other than walking more than six miles to arrive at a school with open windows and a dirt floor." Although this cross-cultural exchange in part highlighted the abundance in America, it also served as a reminder of how much people throughout this world have in common. "Well, maybe with the exception of homework," said Ms. Becca. One of her students, Shakiem, said to the Ugandan students, "I don't like homework. Do you like homework?" The answer from the Ugandan students: a resounding "Mmmm . . . Yes!"

Ms. Becca also spent time videotaping the Ugandan students. "No, we have no TV, but we love football and volleyball," said one student. "We do not have jump ropes, but we love to jump with these," another student said while holding tied-together banana fibers. And despite their poverty, the children have high hopes for the future. Many dream of becoming drivers, police officers, nurses, teachers, doctors, and lawyers.

When class 3-315 viewed the video of the Ugandan students, they were as fascinated as their peers in Uganda had been. Students instantly noticed that all of the girls had short hair and wondered why this was so. "I learned that they don't have as many toys to play with, but they still have fun," said Mya. "If you think about it," said Pace, "you don't need a lot of stuff to play most of my favorite recess games. . . . You just need other kids!"

The video of the Ugandan students also led to more questions from her students, prompted interesting discussions, and spurred Ms. Becca's students to action. "Where do they go to the bathroom and how do they take showers?" Angus wanted to know. "This spurred a discussion about the availability of water in America and the need to not take water for granted," recalled Ms. Becca. After learning from one Ugandan student that his entire village could not afford a single soccer ball, class 3-315 immediately became problem solvers and started developing fundraising ideas.

By merely videotaping students in Brooklyn and in Uganda, the traditional boundaries of distance were momentarily erased. Students in both places were able to see and hear what other children sound like in their learning environments. This sort of cross-cultural exchange is exactly what Global Playground hopes to achieve when it builds a virtual playground that will connect its students around the world. By connecting people, even with a virtual bridge, peace and understanding become a real possibility.

- Doug Smith in collaboration with Becca Sacra

To view excerpts from the cross-cultural exchange between Ms. Becca's students and the students in Uganda, click here. You may also contact Ms. Becca at becca.sacra@theglobalplayground.org.

A Fundraiser of Olympic Proportions

Tuesday, September 16, 2008 | posted by Global Playground News |
On a sunny Saturday afternoon in late April, the Bologna Center of Johns Hopkins University's Graduate School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) hosted an unconventional fundraiser for Global Playground: a mock Olympiad. While competition in the events of this Olympiad would more likely be found outside Global Playground's schools than in Beijing's Water Cube or Bird's Nest, these games nonetheless exemplified the Olympic spirit by blending sport with culture and education.

The games--held in Parco Talon on the outskirts of Bologna, Italy--featured more than one hundred SAIS students competing in team events on behalf of little-known countries such as Vanuatu in the South Pacific. Spirited competition ensued from the outset. In the games' first event, Team Guatemala showcased its athletic abilities with a resounding victory in the egg-spoon relay, advancing its unscrambled "baton" beyond the finish line dozens of egg-lengths ahead of the nearest competitor. "The outcome was never in doubt," declared Guatemala's Rob Miller. "And criticism that our egg spent less time on a spoon than it did bouncing along the ground was uncalled for. Egg intact, we crossed the line first. Should Team Cyprus lodge a formal protest, we'll fight it to the bitter end."

Other events included a three-legged race, which left more than a few students sprawled across the grass; skin-blistering battles of tug-o'-war; intercontinental dodgeball; and a bat spin relay with a "twist." Amidst these "formal" events, impromptu wrestling matches and egg tosses broke out while a motley band of musicians strummed guitars and hummed tunes. Spectators, most of them local Italians who thought they were only out for a leisurely day at the park, grew in number throughout the afternoon, reaching their peak during the fiercely competitive dodgeball tournament.

Ultimately, the purpose of all this madness was not mere folly. "These Olympic games took advantage of my classmates' penchant for having fun and making positive contributions to the global community," said Edward Branagan, a Global Playground board member and one of a handful of organizers for the Olympics. "And what a contribution the SAIS students made to Global Playground! With each participant paying a ten-euro entry fee, these games raised more than $1600, or nearly ten percent of the funds needed to help Global Playground build a new, five-room middle school for the children of Cambodia's Koh Khel village."

More than the mock Olympiad links Global Playground and the Bologna Center, which was founded in 1955 to educate future leaders to reach beyond national boundaries and biases. Both entities share an objective of promoting cross-cultural understanding and believe that the answers to the world's myriad problems lie in education. The latter is particularly true in Cambodia. Hampered by years of civil war and the extermination of its teachers and educated elite during the late 1970s, Cambodia remains a land where quality education is a rarity. The country is heavily dependent on foreign aid and will only break the cycle of dependence after developing an educated, empowered populace.

At the end of the day, the 2008 Bologna Center Olympic Games were a smashing success. Buoyed by the perfect weather and a beautiful setting, students escaped their books and the claustrophobic porticos of central Bologna for an afternoon of fresh air and physical exertion. Bruises and blisters notwithstanding, the physical activity did everyone good, including the children in Cambodia. Although Team India officially won the gold, narrowly besting Team Guatemala, a SAIS student summed up the games nicely when announcing the results: "Congratulations! You're all winners. And so are the kids of Cambodia."

- Ryker Labbee

Global Playground Unveils Its Third Project: A New Library in Thailand

Sunday, September 07, 2008 | posted by Doug Bunch |

With the Cambodian school project more than sixty percent complete, Global Playground announces its third project. In conjunction with the Samsara Foundation, Global Playground will build a $13,385 library for an existing school in northern Thailand.

In May 2007, board members Doug Bunch and Edward Branagan met with the executive director of Samsara -- a NGO based in Chiang Mai, Thailand -- to learn about educational issues in Thailand and to discuss potential projects. They learned that although southern and central Thailand have experienced relatively high levels of educational development, the northern and eastern regions have lagged far behind in comparison. Enhancing access to education for children in those regions is now a key goal for both the Thai government and Global Playground.

With the support of local communities and the Thai Ministry of Education, Samsara has built educational infrastructure, such as dormitories and libraries. It has also cultivated relationships with more than one hundred public schools in the Mae Hong Song province of northern Thailand. According to Edward Branagan, "The close, well-established, and extensive relationship that Samsara has with the Thai Ministry of Education and the local hill-tribe communities, along with its proven track record, make it an ideal partnering organization for Global Playground."

The library will benefit the "hill-tribe" communities, or ethnic minority groups, which predominantly populate northern Thailand, and whose children remain at school throughout the week given the long distances that they must travel to attend school. "With the opening of the library, children will be able to pull a book down from the shelves, place it on a table, and sit down to discover a whole new world," said Doug Bunch. "It will be great that these children will have a place to continue their studying and learning after normal school hours."

Construction of the library will begin in early November and is expected to be completed by February 2009. Global Playground intends to visit the project site in early January 2009 and hopes that shortly thereafter the library can be used as a platform to initiate cross-cultural communications among children in Thailand, Cambodia, Uganda, and wherever Global Playground goes next!

Learn more about the Thailand project here.