Author Archives: Patricia Shafer

Letters of Thanks

Patricia Shafer, February 5, 2016

Piet age 13_ZambiaIt’s always heartwarming to open letters from a young man or woman expressing gratitude. We just received a Thank You from Piet Ng’andu in Zambia and Monykong Mijak Dau in South Sudan.

Piet, in his second year at Zambia’s Copperbelt University, wishes everyone a successful 2016. He received his first annual scholarship from a donor connected with Mothering Across Continents at age 13. His update includes: “I love all my courses. Calculus has been interesting as it has a lot of applications in engineering . . . I have enjoyed principles of Statics and Dynamics, as well as Surveying and Engineering Ngor in South SudanDesign. I thank you for your support without which I would not have managed to achieve what I have so far. Faithfully, Piet.“

Monykong – a nephew of our Raising South Sudan project catalyst and former Lost Boy of Sudan Ngor Kur Mayol – finished high school, Nov. 14, 2015, at a boarding school in Uganda. Over the years, he received scholarship support from his uncle Ngor and a friend, supplemented by a foundation in Salisbury, NC, and several Mothering Across Continents catalysts and supporters. In his letter, he writes of God bringing sponsors into Monykong Dau 2016his life and feeling loved. Reflecting, Monykong writes: “Here in Africa . . . I have discovered the significant role education plays in building character, unearthing and developing human potential, for the collective benefit of both a particular nation and the world at large.”

The thanks from Monykong and Piet remind us, in turn, to appreciate everyone who invests in another person’s development – especially a child’s. Education opens eyes and reveals a world otherwise unknown.

My Story, Our Story, Their Story

Patricia Shafer, February 1, 2016

We’re finding that “My Story, Our Story, Their Story” is a great way to facilitate conversations about conflict and peace. Introducing it to a Global Leadership Academy (GLA) that we’re facilitating at Vance High School in Charlotte, NC, added a new layer of insight and meaning.
 
NewGen Peacebuilders Mini Workshop GLA at Vance HS_Stories Excercise (2)_Jan 2016Consultant and collaborator Jim Ruberg first introduced us to the “Stories” exercise when we were looking for an activity to include in the NewGen Peacebuilders program. Our goal was to engage participating students in the notion that we all have many stories about conflict and peace in common. But everyone has unique personal experiences that are important to share, too. We captured this idea in an interactive poster exercise with “My” in the center for the individual, “Our” representing community stories, and “Their” in reference to global events. Thanks to the generosity of an individual donor and Foundation funding, we’ve been able to adapt and transfer the materials from NewGen Peacebuilders into the Vance global leadership learning journey.
 
NewGen Peacebuilders Mini Workshop GLA at Vance HS (3)_Stories Exercise_Jan 2016As often happens at Vance, creativity shone through. Even though the poster title reads “Stories of Peace,” several students decided that you can’t talk about peace without recognizing the presence of conflict, and the two are diametrically opposed. So, they took a marker and drew a big, heavy line down the middle. They added a level of intense artistry to the poster that we had never seen before. The laminated poster is washable, so we could clean it and use it again. But we won’t. Instead, we’ll frame it as an example for everyone of an all-out, fully-engaged conversation about what it takes to be a peacebuilder.  
 
Thank you, Vance, for allowing us to support you, and in the process helping us have more fun.

Connecting Children to Self, One Another, and the World

Patricia Shafer, December 18, 2015

Lynda-Boozer-in-La-PazStepping Stones – Mexico catalyst Lynda Boozer is getting ready to lead a third youth arts and creativity camp at La Ciudad de Los Niños y Niñas (Boys and Girls Town) orphanage in La Paz, Baja, Mexico. What’s becoming an annual event gets us excited every December when we anticipate Lynda’s mid-January trip with supporting volunteers.

Lynda launched Stepping Stones – Mexico via Mothering Across Continents after I bumped into her while I was on a whale watching trip. We met briefly one morning in the hotel.  A few days later, volunteer Jane Tanner took me to visit the children and staff at the orphanage. We all met again in
Charlotte, NC, after our respective returns.

Kids-paintingOn the January 2016 trip, Lynda and volunteers will again bring thoughtful creative activities and lots of joy as they work with 50 youth living at La Ciudad orphanage. The focus is always on using the arts, interactively, to build character and a sense of connection between the youth, the earth, and the local environment. The “padre” of the orphanage has said, “Even the energy you bring is a gift; it empowers our small staff and the children.”

Photo_Escuela Nueva_Girl with OrangesLynda and the Stepping Stones – Mexico project have inspired creation of sustainable food gardens and the dream of a large park space to (hopefully) be developed on an adjacent empty lot. For the past year, the project has also included daily lunch for 80 schoolchildren at Escuela Nueva Creación primary school on the edge of La Paz. (Just $50 sponsors one child’s lunch for a whole year.)

None of this would be possible without friends and strangers. Donations of all sizes are essential. This past year, a donation of more than $2,000 from students at East Mecklenburg High School under the guidance of the school’s Global Immersion Steering Team co-chair Martha Deiss was a real boost to the project. In the past few days, a Girl Scout troop leader inquired about directing a portion of profits from cookie sales.

We often think: how appropriate that Lynda named this project Stepping Stones . . . in January, there she will go again . . . putting in place a few more elements of this lovely act of relationship building between 130 children in Mexico and kind supporters in the US.

Want to help? Click here

Amazing Women: Grâce Françoise Nibizi

Patricia Shafer, November 16, 2015

Photo_Sacode_Grace Francoise NbiziOne of the beautiful surprise benefits of our work is the amazing women we meet, like Grâce Françoise Nibizi, from Burundi. Her story is so inspiring. We met her at the annual Opportunity Collaboration social impact conference in October. In follow-up, we are exploring a relationship with Grâce Françoise and the organization she leads – SaCoDe, which stands for Sante Communaute Developpement (“Promotion of Health for Community Development”).
 
Grâce Françoise was born the third of 10 children. At age 4, she was sent to live in an all-girls boarding school. Over the years, Grâce Françoise remained very close to and cared for her sick grandmother. She cared for her hospitalized grandmother while studying nursing. Later, while working as a young nurse in a public hospital, Grâce Françoise moved in with her single mother to help raise younger brothers and sisters.
 
Grâce Françoise married and gave birth to two sons. In 1993, the family moved to Kenya and while raising her sons, Grâce Françoise completed university degrees in International Business Management and Administration and International Business Communication. She also volunteered in Kenyan refugee camps.  
 
In 1997, Grâce Françoise returned to Burundi and held positions with Catholic Relief Services, United Nations organizations, and the European Union. In 2010, she created SaCoDe with a passionate commitment to help disadvantaged women raise their children in dignity.
 
Burundi_ Sacode-Cell phonesToday, Grâce Françoise oversees programs that use mobile phone SMS for reproductive health education; provide counseling in youth centers and public schools; and produce education and information videos, many of which focus on the needs of girls. Women in the ISUKU (“hygiene”) project learn to clean homes and offices in ways that prevent transfer of bacteria and promote wellness. Outstanding alumni are hired into hotels, cafes and offices in Burundi’s capital of Burundi_ Sacode-Hotel workersBujumbura. Through the TERINTAMBWE (“move forward”) project, rural women receive business management and financial tips via mobile phone SMS messages disseminated by representatives of village women’s associations.
 
Projects that blend humanitarian work with an entrepreneurial business sensibility is right in line with our philosophy at Mothering Across Continents. The world needs thoughtful women social innovators. We look forward to a continuing connection with Grâce Françoise. 

Exceptional Teacher – Outstanding Contributions

Patricia Shafer, October 21, 2015

Photo_2015 Global Teacher PrizeIt’s official. We just nominated physics teacher Deb Semmler for the Global Teacher Prize, an annual $1 million award to an exceptional teacher who has made an outstanding contribution to the profession. This award recognizes an individual who practices innovative instruction, models excellence, encourages others to become teachers, achieves demonstrable student learning, and engages young people as global citizens.Deb Semmler-1

Over three-plus years we’ve come to know Deb and other teachers where she works – East Mecklenburg High School in Charlotte, NC, USA. We’ve had the honor of partnering with East Meck on a variety of programs, including Any1Can, The Global Class, and facilitation of a staff Global Immersion Learning Journey. We’ve witnessed “Eagle Pride” at this incredibly diverse, partial magnet IB school of 2,000 students. If we had the ability, we’d make the case for multiple awards spread far and wide to many teachers. So, why did we nominate Deb for an award that’s informally called the “Nobel Prize for Teaching”?

  • In an age when Science, Technology, Engineering, Math (STEM) education is a global need and opportunity, Deb is an Advanced Placement Physics teacher and co-founding member of East Meck’s National Academy Foundation (NAF) Academy of Engineering (AOE)
  • In 18 years of teaching, she’s coached 15 Science Olympiad teams that qualified for North Carolina statewide competitions, and since she’s been teaching IB diploma physics, East Meck’s overall score has increased dramatically and is now above the world average
  • Her spirit is about being “all in” for and “all about” students and teachers, always finding new ways to coach and mentor both
  • She’s a co-founder of the school’s Global Immersion Steering Team (GIST), which is ambitiously developing materials, frameworks and professional development experiences to incorporate global education in the classroom

Deb leads S4 discussion_Byimana_Gitarama_07-06-2015These are some of our “just the facts, ma’am” evidence of Deb’s teaching impact in the city of Charlotte . . . But we also nominated Deb for her growing impact on education around the world. In summer 2015, Deb accepted our invitation to travel to Rwanda and learn about challenges of and gaps in science and engineering education in East Africa. She worked alongside teachers at two all-girl’s secondary schools in remote, rural areas, visited eight rural public and private Deb teaches Noe and Amir_7-01-2015schools overall, and met with the Minister of Science Education. Now, she is building on this experience with Mothering Across Continents as lead project catalyst developing “Pivot Academy,” an approach to helping schools in even the most challenged communities to shift from teaching through textbook memorization to approaches that use the design cycle and hands-on experiments to solve problems: food/hunger, water/sanitation, and environment/sustainability.

Soccer for Everyone . . . Please.

Patricia Shafer, July 24, 2015

Creative-Players_D-AraujoInspired by the Charlotte Soccer Initiative, we’re deep in analyses of which US youth (geography, gender, race, ethnicity, household income) have (or don’t have) access. What a gift to meet Daniel Araujo of Creative Player Sports Foundation. He was born in Montevideo, Uruguay, to parents that didn’t finish elementary school. As he says, “The chance to play soccer saved me and gave me every opportunity.”
 
Today, Daniel’s a former professional soccer player; coach/consultant and FIFA agent; and co-creator of a youth soccer learning system and training methodology. He’s also Creative-Players_garageturning an overgrown lot next to a stone restoration business and warehouse into a proverbial “Field of Dreams.” The project is unfolding in Charlotte, on Wilkinson Boulevard, a road that Charlotte Magazine contributor Chuck McShane described this way: “Beyond uptown’s gleaming glass towers . . . Amid the industrial warehouses and barbed-wire fence lots filled with tractor-trailers, faded neon glows Creative-Players_garage2on the rusted signs of converted service stations, roadside motels, and drive-in restaurants.”
 
I was introduced to Daniel, thanks to Chase Saunders, attorney and Chair of the Charlotte Rotary Club’s participation in what’s being called the Charlotte Soccer Initiative. He kept saying, “This is a story of the American Dream, an entrepreneur’s dream, a dream for serving the community.”
 
And so he was right . . . When you arrive at Creative Player Sports on Wilkinson Blvd., you then drive through a broad passageway with an imposing warehouse on the left, dump trucks on the right, and a bright, beautiful green patch behind – the area’s only soccer pitch. Enter a less imposing secondary warehouse behind the first, and it might as well be a visit to Emerald City – an enormous patch of artificial turf marks out the area for indoor soccer play. To the left: the display case with memorabilia and a framed letter from a young girl expressing thanks in bold colors and proclaiming: “Soccer Rocks.” From this location, Daniel and Creative Player Sports are managing soccer play, training, coaching, life skills classes, and side classes to engage moms and create a feeling of community.
 
According to data reported by Forbes, ESPN and Sports Illustrated, the writer of the letter (thanks to Daniel) is a statistical anomaly. Across the US, the sport that the world often calls “the Beautiful Game” is generally hard to access if you live in an urban setting, are Hispanic or African-American, and are a girl. Even if you know about and are interested in soccer, you will likely begin to play at a later age, have few opportunities to play competitively, and leave the game after middle school due to the under-development of the sport in public schools operating on restricted athletic and extra-curricular budgets. While soccer seems inexpensive (All you need is a ball, right?), the all-in costs of competitive soccer are out of reach for many youth – a heartbreaking reality for newcomers, refugees and immigrants – many of whom may come from countries where soccer is a passion. According to Daniel, the average cost for playing soccer in Charlotte at a “pay for play” club starts with a yearly fee that ranges from $350 to $1,750 not including tournament fees, equipment, shoes or clothes.
 
Photo_PeacePassers from Concacaf Match_July 2015Is this little gem of a facility created out of nothing the answer? Of course not, it’s just one foundational piece of the puzzle that is conceived of as the Charlotte Soccer Initiative. But it’s enough to spark our imagination at Mothering Across Continents . . . What if we connect Daniel with Candace Murray, founder of nonprofit PeacePassers, a network model designed to inspire schools and community groups to collect gently-used soccer equipment and donate it where there is a need? What if civic leaders see, objectively, based on data, the economic development and poverty alleviation value of more facilities like Daniel’s? What if the next time a report comes out on the “most soccer-friendly cities in the US,” one of them is in the Southeast?

Daniel Araujo FOX News playSee Daniel’s interview on FOX 46 Charlotte!

Click image to watch.

From Knowledge Comes Beauty

Patricia Shafer, July 20, 2015

Daphrose-Receives-Any1Can“From Knowledge Comes Beauty” reads a hand-painted T-shirt, a gift to a high school merit scholar in Rwanda, originally painted by a student in the US . . . Why? Did the US student who painted the T-shirt believe deep down inside that there is a connection between knowledge and beauty? Does the recipient, Daphrose, now feel a sense of connection with a young person thousands of miles away that she may never meet?

T-Shirts-MwikoScholarsWe will likely never know the true answers. However, when Mothering Across Continents special projects coordinator Elizabeth Peacock packed her luggage and more than 20 hand-painted T-shirts for a trip to Rwanda, she wondered what magic might be created. T-shirts, she reminded us, have become a global medium of expression, especially for youth. Likewise – hearts, peace signs, flowers and books are images that translate well across many cultures. The languages of love, compassion and quality education are bridge-builders.  

Yet, Elizabeth’s bearing of T-shirt gifts had an even bigger purpose. Three years ago, she led an enormous T-shirt painting exercise across middle and high schools in Charlotte, North Carolina. After workshops learning about seven global issues (poverty, education/illiteracy, hunger, water/infrastructure, environment, conflict/peace, and intolerance), students were invited to paint a white T-shirt in a way that expressed what he or she had learned about what can be done to address one issue. Schools and students raised money to participate. The funds were designated to help build a school in South Sudan. The school, Nyarweng Primary, is operating today.
Sensoria
Then what? What becomes of the T-shirts? First, they toured Charlotte, including an installation of 2,000 T-shirts at the annual Sensoria Arts Festival at Central Piedmont Community College. The exhibit was called “Any1Can” – a theme carried on each of the T-shirts and reminder that Any1Can Promote Education, Any1Can Teach Tolerance, Any1Can Stop Hunger, Any1Can . . .

Some have been set aside, almost museum-like, to be untouched, and only replicated through social enterprise products available in the Mothering Across Continents store. Special gifts have been made of others – the group that Elizabeth just took to students in Rwanda, for example. And another group have been looked at, not as T-shirts to wear per se, but as accidental canvases to be upcycled into purses, bags and backpacks – a potential social enterprise to help fund more education projects.

But I digress . . . I’ve started to share the material and potential marketing impact of these T-shirts, which is easy to do, because we’re often told that T-shirts are a powerful and affordable marketing opportunity. Practically speaking, that may be true. But speaking with purpose, what matters more is that students in the US were introduced to the idea of global issues and the idea that Any1Can make a difference; they were asked to react through art; and their thoughts are being conveyed as gifts half-way around the world. Coming full-circle: “From Knowledge Comes Beauty.”

Global Teacher Travel Opens Hearts and Minds

Patricia Shafer, July 10, 2015

Photo_Costa Rica_Teacher with Fruit 2_July 2015Our program The Global Class helps US schools connect with the world in unexpected ways. Great sentiments and photos are emerging from teachers who just returned from a “Food, Sustainability, Peace” trip to Costa Rica. Seven of these teachers are from East Mecklenburg, a public high school in Charlotte, North Carolina, that has embarked on a three-year Global Immersion Journey. One of the first big “Aha” moments of this facilitated journey was the leadership team’s realization that there had never been a group international trip for East Meck teachers. They agreed on Costa Rica as the first opportunity.
 
Of course, a trip like this means thousands of photos and memories. But global education facilitator Carina Cordero, who guided the trip, suggests that the traditional Costa Rican greeting of “Pura Vida!” (pure Photo_Costa Rica_Fruit Photo 1_July 2015life) captures the essence. And there is definitely a peaceful feeling that comes through in some of the photos of fresh food. As the 2015-16 school year nears, these teachers will spend a full day reflecting and planning how to incorporate trip insights into lesson plans. East Meck has a 2015-16 goal of 50% of students experiencing a deep dive education experience on the global theme of “Food, Sustainability, Peace.”Photo_Costa Rica_Teacher 3_Jonathan Janus with Vegegtables_July 2015
 
Meanwhile, it’s a summary from Jonathan Janus, who teaches 9th grade English and AP Human Geography, that inspires us at Mothering Across Continents and The Global Class: “It is easy to use global lingo and throw in global concepts at a shallow level. However, the ultimate goal of global education is to change the way students look at the world and live in the world. Three stories struck me as valuable lessons of the importance of facing challenges and overcoming them, lessons that I can apply. The first was the struggle of an organic coffee farmer to be a good steward of his land while trying to make money to support his family. Another was the scarred face of a Nicaraguan boy at a rural school whose poignant story captured our hearts, a reminder that Photo_Costa Rica_Artisanal Fishing Village_July 2015immigration is not just a 1st world problem. The third story was the local fishermen who spent years taking on big business and ended up preserving a beautiful and rapidly shrinking way of life. These stories would have remained untold without the opportunity for us to witness them firsthand. This trip and others like it are essential to forming global teachers and global classrooms.”

Beautiful moments are easy to find in Rwanda

Flowers-at-IWE-RwandaPatricia Shafer, July 6, 2015

With open eyes, beautiful moments are easy to find in Rwanda. That’s often a surprise to first-time visitors. Stories and images of the 1994 genocide from news reels and memoirs are many people’s only reference points. So, we’ve been moved by the distinctly different email updates that we’re receiving from Mothering Across Continents-supported volunteers who are in Rwanda right now. Beautiful flowers, a high school girl sitting under Gashora-girl-readinga tree reading, a stroll up a cobblestone pathway. All are reminders that nature’s artistry, opportunities to quietly reflect, and a sense of connection are available around the world. So are examples of aspiration and leadership. A visit to Gashora Girls Academy, not far from the capital of Kigali, inspired US Physics teacher Deb Semmler’s breathless end-of-day reflection: “WOW! . . . Gashora is 3.2 miles down a dirt road on the edge of a beautiful lake. The Deb-and-girls-Rwandastudents run the school. They make decisions on how the school operates, and they have pride. The three girls that we talked and walked around the school with have big dreams and are high achievers . . . We talked about the summer leadership program they are part of. This summer, 123 girls from around the world (50 from the US and Canada) are spending three weeks learning about leadership and girl power.” As Deb has commented more than once on her experience in Rwanda, “A great day in Africa.”

Science Education for Girls in Rwanda

It’s been awhile since we posted a blog on our website. Physics teacher Deb Semmler’s trip to Rwanda makes it worth starting up again. Through Mothering Across Continents, she is guest teaching and providing professional development training for physics, chemistry and biology teachers for nearly three weeks. It’s her first trip to Africa.
 
Deb-Semmler-Rwanda-2015I’m at an all-girls high school that we call “Biyimana” for short. The school, managed by nuns, was founded in 1955 with the first class graduation in 1959. The school is very well-established and they raise cows to provide fresh milk for the students, as well as chickens for eggs, pigs, and rabbits to sell to provide beef for students. They have large gardens that provide fruits and vegetables for the students, including carrots, beets, and bananas. They seem fully self-supporting and have men who tend to the livestock and gardens. Nobody wants for food here, and there is no food desert as far as I can tell. I see fresh fruit and vegetable at every meal and available along the “road” as we drive to and from the school.  I drank warm fresh milk for the first time ever at lunch (so far, so good, not sick).
 
The teachers use questioning and have students individually go to the board, do the work, and explain each step of a problem or question to the others. They use science note booking for taking notes and doing problems (two separate books). The students’ notebook are impeccable, using ink and rulers to draw. They don’t make mistakes and have perfect handwriting.
 
One morning, I did professional development training with 2 biology teachers, 2 chemistry teachers and one physics teacher. We started with the hydrophilic bead that I had left in water overnight . . . with the coin that is invisible when there is no excess water and visible with excess water due to light refraction in the air space.
 
Science-students-RwandaI made a short presentation using the projector on the newest research on how people learn, not by reading and rereading but by testing themselves overtime. That led me to show them how we use “foldables” so students can take notes and test their knowledge over time.  The teachers separated into subject groups and made their own. One bio teacher one a foldable of fungi. The other made one on the difference between DNA and RNA. The chemistry teachers made one on acids and bases. I worked with the physics teacher on some of the physics specific material (FCI and graphing diagnostic) and computer documents that I am sharing. I showed the chemistry teacher the acid/base pH PhEt interactive lab that shows the same thing as doing an actual lab. We did a pH lab with the NaOH and pH paper I brought and transmission of disease lab.
 
Achievement-class-RwandaThe chemistry teacher asked if I could make the electrolytic cell lab he had in his notes, using a battery and two conducting probes. We made it work with the conductivity tester I brought, and he used it in his classroom along with the pH paper test with salt (NaCl), pure water and a strong base (NaOH). The students did the tests and shared results. These are excellent teachers. They just need resources! Sometimes language is a barrier, so it’s been suggested that students write notes to our students at East Mecklenburg High, and our students write back.  I also asked how we could bring 6 to 10 visiting teachers and students here, and transfer them from the hotel to the school along the rough road. transfer many. The answer is to rent a state operated bus and driver.
 
This is why I am here! These teachers, like most I know, love their students and work very hard to help them be successful.  The headmistress watched the whole physics class and was very happy to see the students engaged.