“Miss, miss,” two breathless girls panted
in the playground in London, “can we do global/local
laughed, wondering what the catch was–
great! We LOVE it!”
“Really? Why do you love it?” I asked, interested,
although harbouring suspicion typical of any teacher whose
students demonstrate exuberantly flagrant enthusiasm about “school
“Cuz it’s fun. You know, putting the world
together to make that thing…”
“Yeah, that. And writing letters to children in
Sweden and walking to the park and looking at the streets, ‘n
recently spent three months overseas investigating the
practicalities of implementing a global education initiative,
the Youth Millennium Project (YMP), in international classrooms
and curricula. I am interested in the potentiality of YMP’s
role in two key areas:
a sense of both local and global “community” in
the rights and responsibilities which accompany belonging
to local and global communities.
research methodology involved questionnaires, surveys,
videotaped interviews and observations. My two research
the Youth Millennium Project a viable global educational
program which can be realistically implemented in international
schools and curricula?
ii) Does participation
in the Youth Millennium Project foster, enhance or assist
in developing a sense of “global citizenship”?
Youth Millennium Project:
What is it?
The Youth Millennium Project (YMP) is a global
education non-profit organization based at the University
of British Columbia (UBC), housed in the Faculty of Education.
It works in partnership with UBC, UNICEF and a number
of other major organizations worldwide. YMP’s philosophical
structure is based on three guiding themes: The United
Nations’ Convention on the Rights of the Child;
the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human
Rights; and contemporary theory and practice in the area
of child participation.
Two UBC graduate students, Rebecca Slater and
Justine Wiltshire, founded YMP in 1999. They were motivated
by the results of a survey conducted in Vancouver schools
which indicated that 70% of youth felt overwhelmed by
world problems; and that young people believed they
make a difference because i) they felt that adults didn’t
listen to them/take them seriously, and ii) they felt
alone and isolated.
YMP was created to help youth realize that they
could make a difference through taking action in their
local communities, and by understanding how local action,
by extension, helps to make the world a better place.
A global youth network has been set up to facilitate
communication among youth in YMP projects thereby providing
participants with a “global community.” The
key purpose of the network is to demonstrate to youth
that they are not working in isolation, but with others,
world-wide, who share their hopes for positive change
in the world.
YMP was intended to be a one-year project to
help youth celebrate the advent of the new millennium.
But the eager and enormous impetus of youth and facilitators
from all over the world made it impossible to close down
the project! Now, four years later, YMP has over 20,000
youth in 80 different countries doing their
own community projects and communicating with each other
worldwide youth network.
YMP provides youth and teachers (and
other adult facilitators) with ideas and curriculum materials
to help them plan their projects for change. Youth are asked
to identify major world problems (e.g. war, poverty, environmental
degradation) and local problems (e.g. pollution, homelessness,
bullying) and to conceptually connect them (e.g. war with
bullying) to demonstrate how projects which address local
concerns also address global concerns. The scope for projects
and participation is infinite. A project can last for an
afternoon or continue for years. Once a group has decided
on a project and registered it with YMP, participants are
put in touch with companion groups around the world with
whom to communicate.
High Hopes Undone
with questionnaires, worksheets, a tidy timetable and
ambitious expectations, I returned to the school where
I had taught three years earlier. Many faces were familiar,
if slightly older. I knew the staff, the children,
the resources available, many of the parents, and my
way around the school.
I erroneously believed that this research project
would be a breeze. In fact, it was a rocky road along
which, through mistakes, I learned many things about being
a researcher, a teacher and, simply, a human being. In
essence, I learned the necessity of unraveling one’s
own motivations and expectations to free oneself to REALLY
see, REALLY hear, and REALLY learn.
I became discouraged during our first class together,
when I realized that the children didn’t know what “global” meant.
They didn’t know what the word “issues” meant.
The morphological unity of “global issues” seemed
an impossibly abstract and ambitious concept in which to
engage. Where does one begin talking about global issues
without the language or the fundamental knowledge of the
world needed to do so? I felt defeated already.
Whilst submerged in this distressed state, I learned
to my horror that the following week was mid-term break.
I would lose a week of research! I should have remembered
the school break, having taught in the UK system for two
and a half years, but in the midst of the unrelenting cascade
of last-minute minutiae (and not so minute minutiae) before
I had completely overlooked it.
Deflated, I went to visit a friend in Ireland during
the mid-term break. The distance (psychologically as well
as geographically), combined with our conversations (she,
too, is a teacher), helped me realize that I was attempting– under
the guise of “child participation”–to
develop decision-making, participatory, democratic practices
through a top-down “petty tyrant” style of
educational instruction. My anxieties about completing
the research on schedule and wanting a “product” to
show at the end of it had become the driving force in my
psyche as a facilitator/teacher.
I had arrived in London envisioning a successful
global education project which could be conceived, planned,
executed and completed in five weeks. Considering this
ambitious plan from the green-grey distance of Dublin,
it began to look absurdly akin to one of those frenetic
and culturally bereft ten-day world tours. I had fallen
into the trap of “results-oriented” teaching–the
antithesis of what I believe education is all about.
This “epiphany” did not provide a panacea
for my research, but it did instill within me a more developed
sense of “respectful” pedagogy; a pedagogy
which enabled me to value the under-valued knowledge of
children, and to learn from them how a global education
program might best be designed and implemented.
I tried to imagine how “global education” might actually appear to the students, and how it might become
meaningful to them. I thought about them, their situations (collectively and individually),
and how that might affect the way they perceived “the
world.” What is the (human) world, after all, but
a conglomeration of individuals (just like you and me)
and personal experiences in varying circumstances and environments?
This new approach shifted the balance of power between
myself and the students. It was no longer MY research project;
it was OUR (actually, THEIR) YMP project. The children
decided on a name for their group–SO SOLID KIDZ,
and we rolled up our sleeves for action.
The vast majority of children in the London school
where I conducted my research speak English as an additional
language (74%). Many have emigrated from poor and/or war-torn
countries. Many of their parents possess extremely limited
English; some parents are illiterate in any language. There
is a high percentage (about 34%) of children with “special
needs” challenges. They live in a socioeconomically-compromised
area of inner-city London, rife with gangs and “estate
problems” around racism, violence and crime. This
is the children’s point of entry.
||My country is so hot and
has around 50 beaches. And did you know chocolate came
from Ghanan? –Adu
Despite their disadvantages, however, there is rich
ethnic diversity and a powerful undercurrent of transcultural
interaction in the school. The children know each other
by name, hobbies, siblings, homes, families, rather than
by colour, ethnicity and citizenship status. Many of the
children speak two, three or four languages. Most have
highly developed survival skills (e.g. coping with severe
family trauma, caring for siblings, negotiating for parents
who don’t speak English, sharing their radically
different cultures with each other). These experiences
and situations bring with them a wealth of knowledge, skills
and abilities that are, in general, sadly, under-recognized
and under-valued in the educational system.
One day we discussed local problems.
The children cited rubbish in the streets, violence, drinking,
gangs, smashed cars, drugs. Then one boy from Ghana said, “Racism.” I
had suspected that this topic might come up. I asked him
what he meant by racism and he told me, “People not
liking other people because of their colour.” Then
I asked him for an example of a racist incident that he knew
of. He didn’t have an answer. Then another boy from
Somalia said, “Yeah, well there was this black
guy, yeah, killed, yeah, in AmBjorna in the 1960s, innit?” And
then a boy from India said, “Yeah, and my dad read
in the newspaper, yeah, that they beat up some guy in Camden
[another part of London], yeah, because he was black.” There
were a few additional recounts of racist violence, somewhat
removed from their locale. I was immensely interested, as
I had assumed they would have recounted local, or even personal,
experiences of racism.
I knew (from conversations with parents,
community leaders, school administration) that there were,
or at least had been up until recently, gangs–quite
often racist and violent–on the estates where these
children lived, but this fact didn’t enter into their
discussion. I wondered if perhaps racism was more acutely
perceived and identified at a later age? I wondered if the
local community had become more cohesive and that the local
racist violence had subsided? Was there hope for intercultural
understanding and friendship in vibrant communities such
as this one?
|Bangladesh is a very good place and
I like it.
It is my house. –Karim
Within the school community, there is
a culture of children protecting the “weaker” or “meeker” children
and caring about each other in a deep, familial way (despite
the bickering typical of any groups of individuals). To work
with a classroom of children of African-, Asian-, Anglo-,
and Eastern European- heritage, and to witness their consideration
for each other, their united denouncement of racism and prejudice,
was an immensely instructive opportunity. Instead of having
its students humiliated
for achieving low marks on standardized national exams (results
are published in the newspapers to compare schools with each
other), the school should be showcased and celebrated for
its ethos of cooperation and equality.
||The sea in Nigeria is nice and I like
it very much. –Mohammed
the difficult circumstances of life many of these children
contend with on a daily basis, I assumed that they would
feel powerless, hopeless. However, when I asked the class
if they thought they “could make a difference,” if
they could “make the world a better place,” I
was surprised to see that seventeen out of twenty children
said ‘’Yes.” It seemed to me that what
was lacking was the means by which they could feel that
they could make a difference.
Is it possible for children to make the world
a better place: "Yeah…we could
tell the school council, so they go to parliament
and so they could talk to the mayor then the mayor
could think about what she wants to do and then
tell other people…" –Kalpana
Creating the World from the Inside Out
The children I worked with were of the world–Somalia,
Bangladesh, Poland, Turkey, Ghana, Zaire, Bosnia, Vietnam,
Kenya, India, Romania, China. I asked the children to educate
me and each other by sharing their stories, and to create
the “world” from the inside out. They revealed
some impressive knowledge–poverty and floods in Bangladesh,
war in Somalia, war in Bosnia, poverty in Ghana and Zaire,
drugs, crime, AIDS, environmental destruction. They did,
in fact, understand global issues; their knowledge had
not surfaced earlier because I had not invited their personal
experiences and understandings into the discussion.
“ What’s the point of having
war? People just gonna die.” –Scott
Once the children began to contribute whole-heartedly
to our conversations, I gained a deeper understanding of
the background experiences these children were working
from, and a better idea of how they
perceived the world. How they located themselves in it.
How it affected them. Many children identified closely
with countries of their heritages, labeled by others as “developing
countries.” The children found beauty in the world,
everywhere. Although they were aware of the hardships–war,
poverty, natural disasters–they chose to express
their general summations of the places in which they had
lived with pictures of smiling children eating sweets and
ice cream in Bangladesh, swimming in a river in India,
a pretty house in Zaire, rivers in Poland, beach huts in
|We had red ice cream and chewing
I realized that these children were not oblivious
to the horrors that exist in the world, rather they chose
to enjoy the beauty. They have the gift of
being able to see hope and possibility in spite of the
horror for which we adults are responsible. And is it not
through our children that we must invest our faith for
a better world?
Taking a Look at the Local
When I asked the London children questions about
their local community–what they liked and didn’t
like about it–their answers were immediate and several.
They did not like the rubbish on the streets, the gangs
fighting on the estates, the crime, the drugs, the prostitutes
working outside their buildings, all the traffic. But they
did like the people in their community, the shops, the
park, the school, the teachers. In an initial questionnaire,
the children were asked to discuss things they would like
to see improved around their community, their school and
the world. Two popular answers were “cleaner streets” and “a
better playground.” Thus, the children’s YMP
project formed around these two objectives.
an afternoon surveying the playground. The children
made sketches of what the playground was like and what
it could be like.
We walked to the local park, observing things in the
community along the way. We saw a smashed car, “loads
of rubbish” on the ground, “dog mess” all
over the sidewalk, needles and cars parked where they
shouldn’t be–all within two blocks.
discussed our observations the next day, and the children
decided that spending a morning or an afternoon cleaning
up the streets and making posters to tell people not to
throw their garbage on the ground and to clean up after
their dogs would be a good project for the community.
“[We’ve learned] that we should
keep our community tidy and treat our community nice.”
At this juncture, it was time for me to leave.
SO SOLID KIDZ’s “Project Playground” enterprise,
however, continues. They won the support of teachers who
had been interested in improving the playground, and they
won the backing of the school's administrators, who were
extremely supportive of the children’s initiative.
My research in London was, for me, an illuminating experience
of the educational process. I learned the value of deconstructing
prescribed learning, letting go of my expectations and
established timetables to watch children’s learning
take shape honestly and naturally within a curriculum of
shared interest and purpose.
“If [other children around the
world] do it like us, then other communities in other
countries would like it, too” –Scott
learned] how to help” –Husam
learned that if I go to college or university I can learn
about more things like this.” –Kavita
children make the world better?
“ Yeah…it’s a good thing to do. [It will make] people in the
world happy.” –Jamila
In the end, I left with a project just beginning.
was a different experience altogether.
The Year 6 class I worked with was
located in one of the schools in Ystad, a picturesque small town on the southern
coast of Sweden. The students were well-prepared. Their classroom teacher and
arts teacher had been working with them on global and local issues, discussing
possible projects and participation in YMP.
When I arrived, the students (who had decided on
Y-Town PowerKidz for their name) were eager to tell me
what they had learned and discussed, and what they had
decided to do. They wanted to take up the YMP Challenge
2003: Education in Afghanistan. For their YMP project,
they excitedly told me, they would write and perform a
play about global and local issues that were important
Are youth changing the world through projects like
“Well, maybe not all the problems can be solved, but a lot of the problems,
I think.” –Vivienne
The Swedish school system has a tradition of facilitating
youth empowerment by encouraging children to participate
openly and freely in their education. Children learn from
a young age that their ideas are valued, and that their
questions and thoughts will be taken seriously by teachers
and other adults. Democratic mechanisms are set in place
for children to provide input on their school lives; and
an ideology of cooperation and strong ties to the community
is strong reinforced. Consequently, the children in this
Year 6 class possessed an academic, personal and social
capacity within which they were fully competent to take
on a global education project that looked outwards, into
“We learned about the world and how it is in other countries.
You have to take care of the world” –Michael
The Y-Town PowerKidz conceived, wrote and performed
a play, “Change the World.” Their play incorporated
themes of racism, environmental degradation, the plight
of children in Afghanistan, bullying and war. Many of the
roles in the play were adult characters, and it was interesting
to discover how these children perceived adults (often
parents) in a variety of situations. Interesting also,
was witnessing how the children drew on their own experiences
in the writing of their play. One boy, who had arrived
a year before from Bosnia, acted in a scene on war in which
he and his neighbour argue over the boundaries of their
farms. On the verge of becoming violent, they are stopped
by their daughters. In a scene about racism, the characters
of the mother and father strongly oppose their daughter
having an African friend. And in the scene about environmental
degradation, the characters behave with complete disregard
for the environment; years later, they find themselves
living in a toxic, filthy world.
“I’ve learned how other kids have it in the world…we have it
very good here in Sweden, but I can’t believe it when I saw it [the suffering
of children in other countries] the first time on TV, it is awful….” –Andreas
The children were adept at portraying problems amongst
youth, and in offering solutions, as evidenced in the bullying
scene. The scene imagines different outcomes in a situation
where the main character, a girl, is being bullied by two
other girls. Part way through the scene, a magician leaps
on stage and freezes the action, enabling the victim to
change the outcome. The bullied character chooses to speak
out against bullies and to share her feelings about being
bullied. It was a moving and provocative experience for
both the actors and the audience.
The girl who played the main character being bullied
had only recently arrived at the school. She had struggled,
like any child does (especially a child uprooted from a
place with a different culture, language, and understanding
of the world), to make the adjustment to her new school
role gave her a chance to speak in front of her peers,
and to be assertive; and she seemed to grow personally
through this experience. She was the first student to learn
all of her lines. Although initially in rehearsals she
was shy and quiet, her confidence and projection increased
dramatically by the day of the actual performances.
Do you think it's a good idea to write letters to
the students in Sweden?
“ If we don’t write them letters, they won’t know about us,
but if we write them we can learn things” –Kalpana
Do you think the mayor would
listen to kids?
“ No, but they could look at the advertisements on [our] posters and [read
our] leaflets…” –Kalpana
A. had emigrated from X. and joined
the class in Sweden at the beginning of the school year.
When the class was reading through the letters from the London
group, she noticed that there was a girl from X. “Look!” she
exclaimed. “We’re from the same country!” I
said, “Yes, W is from X, just like you.” Although W. was articulate and vibrant in both
spoken English and her first language, she was functionally
illiterate when it came to reading or writing in either language.
I suggested to A. that she record a cassette tape in their
shared first language, as an alternative to communicating
in English. She was thrilled and eager, asking me at every
opportunity over the next day or two when she could record
it, as she was ready with some notes she had made. It was
a serendipitous opportunity for two girls, sharing a language
and heritage, to communicate across countries via classroom
exchanges. So many possibilities arise when the world is
opened for children…
“I learned to think more of children around the world, not just me and
my friends.” –Stella
In addition to the play, the children
recorded, pressed and sold 250 CD copies of a song, raising
money for education for children in Afghanistan. The song
was written by two girls in the class with their music teacher.
The music tracks were written by an internationally renowned
songwriter, musician and producer, who also recorded and
produced the CD. The girls sang the lead vocals and then
the entire class squashed themselves into the studio to sing
background vocals. The song, “Show Me The Happiness,” contemplates
harsh conditions in the world, and invites people to work
together so that “maybe the world can be what we want
it to be.”
So many people all around
me lost in war and poverty.
So many children going hungry without a home or family.
SHOW ME THE HAPPINESS, JUST LET ME SEE,
WHY CAN’T THE WORLD, BE LIKE IT SHOULD BE,
IF WE BELIEVE, MAYBE THE WORLD CAN BE,
LIKE WE WANT IT TO BE.
I look around me and I wonder does it have to be this
People fighting, people dying, longing for a brighter
SHOW ME THE HAPPINESS….
We can love and help each other, we can make it day
if we only get together, listen to me when I say:
SHOW ME THE HAPPINESS….
Video (3 minutes)
|music video - sound only -
use with slow internet (modem)
|use with fast internet
local radio station interviewed the two girls who co-wrote
the song. A newspaper reporter came to the classroom to
interview the children and take their picture. News of
their accomplishments appeared in the paper the following
day in a feature article. The adults in the community were
genuinely impressed with what Y-Town PowerKidz had done.
Everyone, of course, loved the song and the CD. However,
perhaps it was the fact that the children had initiated
and accomplished their YMP projects out of a spirit of
generosity and compassion that touched everyone the most.
||“I’m so happy – it’s
[making the CD for the YMP project] the greatest thing
I’ve ever done!”
What do you think about writing to other students
around the world?
“[We can] see how they live and what they think about YMP and faults of
the world, like war.”
“[The YMP project is] the most wonderful thing I ever did in my whole
children did not simply learn about the lives of children
in war-ravaged Afghanistan; nor did they simply study about
the many problems in the world. They learned about trying
to understand from a different perspective; they learned
about critical and creative thinking to solve problems;
and they learned about reaching out to help instead of
snapping shut a text book. The Y-Town PowerKidz kids know
that the few hundred dollars they raised is not going to
solve the problems in Afghanistan. But they also know that “making
a difference” is not about money: it is about compassion
“[Now] everybody thinks more about other children in the world.”
Is writing to other children in the world helpful?
“You can see if they [other youth around the world] also want to make the
world better.” –Pernilla
The mandate of Youth Millennium Project is to encourage,
support and build upon children’s ideas, experiences
and decisions. As educators, we need to ask ourselves: “How
can we involve our students in co-creating a curriculum
that includes their wisdom and engages their capacity for
In the end, this research journey surpassed anything
I had imagined. I learned how social justice, intercultural
understanding, and critical thinking about local and global
issues can become the
curriculum. I learned that by letting
go of my expectations, both as a teacher and a researcher,
and allowing children’s knowledge, experiences, and
passions to shape our shared projects, a new approach to
teaching arises. I learned, through SO SOLID KIDZ and Y-Town
PowerKidz that children possess the raw, strong energy
and hope needed to effect positive change in the world.
And thousands of youth–in India, in Tanzania, in
Sri Lanka, Argentina, Germany, Taiwan, Malawi, and about
demonstrating that they can “make a difference” through
their YMP projects. Youth, indeed, embody the vision and
potential to bring about a future world we often dare not
even dream possible in these troubled times.
“It can change the world, if everybody helps.” –Bjorn
information on the Youth Millennium Project,
please visit the websites:
www.ympworld.org / www.peacechalleng.org
Shelley Jones is currently a Master’s
student at the University of British Columbia at the Centre
for the Study
of Curriculum and Instruction. Her interests are in the areas
of global literacy and power in multi-lingual communities,
the implementation and evaluation of family literacy programs
worldwide, and peace-building and intercultural understanding
through transnational communication among youth. Shelley
will begin her doctoral program in the Department of Language
and Literacy Education in September, 2003; her research will
build upon the work she is currently doing for her Master’s
thesis, “Global Eyes: A Different Spin of the World”.
Shelley is also the Director of Research and Education for
the Youth Millennium Project (YMP). She will be working with
children, teachers and faculty in South African schools and
universities that are partnering institutions for YMP’s
PEACE CHALLENGE 2003/2004 project.