The year was 2003 and I was working at the world’s largest international relocation company. At the time it was called Cendant Mobility – today it is called Cartus. I had left a career in international education to pursue one in international relocation and human resource consulting.
After the events of 9/11, I wondered what could I do to make this planet we temporarily occupy a more understanding and caring place. As I wrote in this blog posting, I started a volunteer program called the Global Education Initiative (GEI). GEI brought Cendant Mobility’s employees in Connecticut (USA) into classrooms in the regions to teach about cultures and other countries around the world. One of the most memorable GEI programs took place at the Consolidated School in New Fairfield, Connecticut (USA) in March 2003. While the program, meant to support the elementary school’s coursework on ancient Egypt, had been planned for months, the actual day we presented to forty eight second grade students was the day that the US bombed Iraq.
The irony did not go unnoticed.
My dear friend and colleague, Paula (an immigrant from Colombia) and I forged ahead, sharing our experiences in Cairo with the children. We told them about what it felt like to visit the pyramids at Giza, how we rode camels for the first time and how we saw incredible artifacts at the museum in Cairo. And we told them about the glorious Nile River.
Long before technology was being used on a daily basis in the classroom, we had arranged to have a video conference with one of our company’s providers in Cairo and two of the local children from her neighborhood. It was a beautiful experience at the time and especially poignant upon reflection. The photo above shows me and Paula with two of the children in the classroom in Connecticut (USA), who proudly held a sign greeting their new friends in Cairo. The group of children in Connecticut sang “It’s a Small World After All” to their new friends in Egypt. In return, the two girls sang a welcome song in Arabic.
I still feel emotional when I think about how our future lies in the hands of children all over the world. Despite the start of the war in Iraq, Paula and I wanted to be hopeful about the children we were exposing to another culture on that fateful day.
Fast forward to January 2011. Turn on your TV, internet, radio, mobile device – and the news is all about Egypt. Thousands of Egyptians are courageously demonstrating for democracy, marching and praying.
And what am I thinking about when I see this? I’m thinking about the children in that classroom in Connecticut, at 7 and 8 years old, who are now 15 and 16 years old. Are THEY interested in what is happening in Egypt? Do they think about the 2 children in Cairo that day, 7 year old Pasant and her 10 year old sister, Dina, who patiently answered their questions about whether there were crocodiles in the Nile River and what kind of clothes they wore to school? Are they now more caring American teenagers and future global citizens as a result of their interaction with these children in Cairo when they were in 2nd grade?
And I think about those two young girls from Cairo. Are their families out demonstrating? Have their families been injured? What does their future hold? What do they think of what is happening in their country and do they ever recall the children from Connecticut, perhaps the first Americans they ever “met”?
This experience reminds me of the seeds that we plant as educators. It is our responsibility and our joy to introduce new ideas, to share a new lens as a way of seeing the world, to create opportunities for inquiry, and to realize similarities across cultures as well as differences.
I hope that children like Annie, who had asked the two Egyptian students about the type of food that they ate, are carefully watching the story of Cairo in 2011 unfold and thinking about how it impacts the lives of Egyptians and the world. And I hope that Brandon, then a 7 year old boy, will still consider going to Egypt one day as he described in 2003 – that “he liked the presentation and it made him feel he wanted to go there.”
Hopefully this can happen for Brandon and all of the children involved in our training from seven years ago. I also hope that the movement taking place in Egypt will ultimately be one that will reflect the possibilities of the youth of 2003 and 2011.