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.