The Banana-Leaf Ball
Deo - the main character in the book - leaves frantically with his family but soon finds himself alone and struggling to survive. The reader is never sure where Deo was fleeing from, but we know he makes it to the Lukole Refugee Camp in West Africa.
If you were forced to leave your home quickly what would you bring?
Deo's story in The Banana-Leaf Ball is based on a true story.
Benjamin had to flee his home country of Burundi in 1993 when conflict broke out. His journey to Lukole was much like Deo's. While he reunited with his father and some cousins in Lukole, his mother and sister did not survive.
It would be through an organization called Olympic Aid, now Right to Play, that Benjamin would work through his grief and start connecting with his new community.
Benjamin eventually made it back home. Understanding the power football has to bring kids together, he began coaching. He is now working for the very organization that renewed his life.
The Football Bridge
Professional football (soccer) is the most popular sport worldwide. Aside from the estimated 3.5 billion fans, the 2006 World Cup collected 30 billion viewers (accumulated viewing audience across multiple games).
Where communication and cultural differences create barriers, football forms bridges! The Banana-Leaf Ball by Katie Smith Milway is a poignant story that shows the power one sport can have to bring people together.
But, it's not the only story!
The Panyee FC in Thailand is another example. This 5 minute video shares the incredible ingenuity a group of young boys had to form their own football club and build their own pitch; on the water!
Finding What Unites Us
The Right To Play's mission is: "To protect, educate and empower children to rise above adversity using the power of play."
We all face adversity, it is one of many things that unite us all. While there are many ways to respond to adversity, maybe we should consider the power play can have to rise above it.
Author Kathryn Erskine grew up cross-culturally, splitting her developmental years between Europe, Africa, and North America. Like many Cross Cultural Kids (CCK's) - a person who has lived in or meaningfully interacted with two or more cultural environments for a significant period of time during developmental years - Kathryn had to re-establish a sense of belonging at each school and with each move. She had to cultivate her "we".
Have you ever considered that "we" is not possible without "me"?
This is one of the many reasons why we love, All of Us. The author starts and ends the book with "me". One little girl, all alone in the world, who introduces the collective possibilities of humankind.
Effective Global Citizenship
Another reason why we love this book, is because we feel it exemplifies our definition of global citizenship and supports our mission to unify school communities.
We believe you can be an effective or ineffective global citizen. It is because of this, we champion effective global citizenship, rather than global citizenship. Effective global citizenship requires three elements:
This last criteria may be the most challenging, but is also the most rewarding. It is through our willingness to learn from others that we become more effective. This requires vulnerability and empathy; skills not readily practiced and that cause discomfort.
The third, and most significant reason we will use and share, All of Us, is because of the vision carried through the story. Erskine's story presents a utopia of unity. She captures the possibility humanity has when we shift our perspective from a local "we" to a global "we".
I am sure Kathryn carries challenging memories of division and separation throughout her moves as a child. But, I would hasten to say, she also witnessed unlikely collectives providing a positive impact on this world. I am sure she has seen the potential in specific examples throughout her travels. It is through this lived experience, that All of Us carries an authentic and hopeful message.
Ultimately, whether you are a child or adult, this is a beautifully written and illustrated book that provokes greater unity and instills hope.
Cultured Kids boasts the potential for picture books to transform individuals, families, classrooms, and schools. We believe picture books are for all people, all ages, all stages.
The right picture book could simplify a message you have been trying to share with your staff, your classroom, or your children. Additionally, the introduction and discussion around picture books can be a refreshing change of pace.
It is with this in mind that we have created a book discussion and resource tool for school leaders, educators, and parents. Additionally, while I would encourage you to use this tool to insight change within your school, classroom, or home, I would also encourage you to reflect on your own personal development as well.
Are you fostering effective global citizenship in your students?
Cultured Kids believes there are three criteria to effective global citizenship:
If these key criteria are the identifiable characteristics for an effective global citizen, what are the elements needed to achieve them?
I. Identity Development
Identity is a complex topic. There are many facets to our identity and certainly not enough time in the school day, or year, to explore them. But, there are ways to support student identity development without having to dig into the complexities. Cultured Kids creates programs that will help students answer this question: Who Am I?
A recent article: Help Me Discover Who I Am, shares our approach to support identity development. Our primary goal is to increase learner self-curiosity! Our Art & Storytelling Book Club Curriculum provides a fun and engaging environment for learners to explore their identity and increase their sense of belonging.
Ultimately, we are interested in finding some foundational aspects of their identity to serve as a foundation while they continue to explore the fixed and fluid aspects of who they are over time. We are intent on developing a level of self-interest and self-curiosity to encourage lifelong learning about themselves.
We consider identity development the first step toward effective global citizenship. Without a true understanding of self you can still impact this world in a positive way, but we would argue, you will not be as effective and your impact not as grand.
The understanding and practice of empathy are necessary for effective collaboration and execution.
In 2012, Amos Winter, a mechanical engineering student at MIT, presented at TEDx Boston. In a short presentation Amos shared the impact of his Leveraged Freedom Chair (LFC). Empathy was the driving force behind this new innovation. By putting himself into the shoes of his target audience – wheelchair bound residents in rural Tanzania - he was able to create a functional, repairable, and affordable final product.
Empathy was also a key component to stakeholder collaboration. Amos could safely persevere through multiple iterations with colleagues, wheelchair users in Tanzania, local repair shops in Tanzania, and corporate partnerships, before reaching his final product.
Our learners have the potential to create a positive impact in this world right now. But, the effectiveness of their impact will depend on the level of empathy they provide one another. Sharing and executing new ideas requires vulnerability. If this vulnerability is not met with empathy, their potential will be disrupted.
Effective global citizenship will capitalize on learners’ individual strengths, but it will also challenge weaknesses. The willingness to accept personal discomfort for the sake of their impact will determine the level of effectiveness they will have in this world.
How do you create an environment where students willingly choose discomfort for the sake of impact?
You create a culture of belonging!
We define belonging as a learners ability to know and safely share their authentic self with others.
If they know who they are (identity) and can safely share with others (accomplished with empathy), then they will be more likely to share challenges, ask for help, or learn a new skill.
In addition, learners’ sense of belonging will expand their pool of collaborators, empower them to move forward, and remind them that their peer connections are not dependent on their success.
In a recent article: How To Bolster Belonging At Your School, writer Lindsay Lyons shares why belonging is so important and offers some practical ways to support your learners.
My own belonging journey has contributed to the passion I have for supporting student belonging. I know first-hand the challenges a child will face if they are unsure of who they are or where they fit in. I feel fortunate, as an adult, to have accepted the opportunity to explore who I am and to bravely share my true self with others.
While I still struggle with this sense of belonging, I am confident enough to lean into the discomfort personal and professional growth offers. Cultured Kids would not be here without them. I am certain I have had to endure more suffering to refine those areas of growth in my life, than enjoy the comfort of utilizing my existing strengths.
Effective global citizenship can be exhausting, disheartening, and at times, debilitating. However, as learners persevere through the challenges effective global citizenship offers, their identity, their community, and their impact will grow stronger.
As we continue to develop new programs, we will be considering the value self-awareness, self-confidence, and empathy have on our future leaders to be effective global citizens.
A Brief History of Empathy
Empathy is a rather new discovery and has evolved since its first introduction to the United States in the early 1900’s. The word empathy means “in-feeling”. The Greek “em” means “in” and the Greek “pathos” means “feeling.”
Upon its origination, it was characterized as a person’s ability to project their feelings into the world. In a Psychology Today article, Dr. Susan Lanzoni Ph.D., shares a couple of examples of this:
Like any newfound knowledge; time, technology, and curiosity, lead to improved understanding and additional discoveries. As we neared the mid-1900’s psychologists began to consider a person’s empathy for others; the ability to put themselves in others' shoes. Then, in the late 1900’s neuroscientists discovered mirror neurons. This added a new layer of interest and understanding about empathy.
Today, empathy, like curiosity, is riddled with complexity. Social Psychologist C.Daniel Batson, an empathy researcher, explores eight different facets of empathy. His work, while interesting, is far too complex when it comes to our focus on school communities.
Why is this brief history of empathy important for school leaders?
Last week we shared an article, “Help Me Discover Who I Am", about the connection between learner identity development and curiosity. One of the three types of curiosity shared in this article is called empathic curiosity. Empathic curiosity motivates understanding about the thoughts and feelings of other people.
This is where empathy and curiosity collide.
Understanding and practicing empathic curiosity can help your learners be known. It is through this interest and questioning of one another’s thoughts and feelings that opportunities for authenticity and connection are created. However, empathic curiosity will not lead to authenticity and connection without empathy.
The above case is fictitious and uncommon in most school communities. In fact, it is uncommon in life. But, this is where Cultured Kids is making an impact. Within the provided case are the following steps:
However uncommon the outcomes, this scenario is widespread in American schools, especially in diverse metropolitan areas. It is not beholden to food, but is expressed through differences in clothing, areas of interest, customs celebrated, hair products used, languages spoken, and physical characteristics. If any one of the following steps was not executed the opportunity for connection would be lost, trust not established, and the sense of belonging diminished.
While it was Jasmine’s empathic curiosity that created the opportunity for connection, it was her practice of empathy that created the connection. Additionally, her ability to practice empathy required Haru’s vulnerability.
Empathy As A Bridge To Belonging
If vulnerability is present, empathy will be the bridge needed to establish trust. You can easily replace vulnerability with authenticity here. When your learners are confident and understand who they are, they can choose whether or not to share who they are with others. Choosing authenticity means risking physical or emotional harm (vulnerability).
The more your students choose authenticity and practice responding to authenticity with empathy, the more trust will prevail. From this place of trust an increased sense of belonging and greater school unity will follow.
Now, take a moment to transition from your internal perspective (your school community), to an external perspective (the world). Empathy...
Your ability to adopt and practice empathy as a school community will not only foster school unity, but will lay the foundation for your learners to succeed as effective global citizens.
Let's Build Bridges
Apathy is a lack of feeling; to not care. Apathy is the opposite of empathy. Ineffective global citizens will be apathetic. How will they cross the chasm? We need to build bridges of empathy.
While giving a speech at Northwestern In 2006, Barack Obama said, “As you go on in life, cultivating this quality of empathy will become harder, not easier. There’s no community service requirement in the real world; no one forcing you to care.”
Understanding that empathy development will become more challenging for learners as they age means that apathy will become easier. Cultured Kids does not exist to merely help kids understand and practice empathy, but to own it! We want empathy to be a part of each child’s way of life. We want children to lead with empathy and to be shielded from apathy.
Cultured Kids sees school communities as a microcosm of the world. This microcosm is not merely an institution to support children's' education, it is a potential model for what is possible to achieve in the world. By partnering with leaders who prioritize empathy, we are ensuring the next generation of world leaders have a chance at effective global citizenship.
Jacqueline Woodson is one of Cultured Kids’ favorite children’s book authors. I will openly claim a bias. However, regardless of our preferences, I do believe many children’s literature professionals would agree with me.
Woodson’s skill as a writer has proven itself through the extensive collection she has produced for all ages. Although, it is not her skill per se that causes us to use her literature in our programs and curricula.
Jacqueline Woodson’s work has a depth to it that is hard to find. Her soulful work reaches out of the book pages and grabs ahold of children’s hearts.
Cultured Kids uses literature as a tool to support positive identity development, empathy, and sense of belonging. We search for these themes in books. Our goal is not to teach children what they mean, but to help children internalize and exemplify them in their own lives. Woodson’s books transform the reader, and quite simply, expand our impact.