Workshops Connect Teachers to Global Peace-building Strategies

Portrait of a woman leaning against a tree

“…[A] powerful, deep, and extremely necessary discussion of global issues that are very relevant to us in this very moment.”

From Standing Rock to Yemen, youth and young adults seeking social change have been leaders in some of the world’s most notable movements.

The next major changemaker could be seated in a neighborhood classroom.

Helping young people connect global issues to their own lives is a key part of the mission of UW-Milwaukee’s Institute of World Affairs. Toward that end, the Institute hosted 40 teachers over the course of a six-week virtual summer workshop series that explored new ways to empower students through conflict resolution and a global spin on curriculum.

Fadia Thabet and Sophie Bouwsma of The Transformation Collaborative facilitated the workshop series, entitled “Addressing Injustice, Building Global Peace” and held virtually due to the COVID-19 pandemic. While many participants were from the Milwaukee area, some joined from other states—an advantage of the virtual format.

The six-week series was divided into three workshops consisting of two sessions each.

The first session of each workshop gave participants a chance to learn about different concepts and share their knowledge in small-group activities. Those concepts ranged from conflict mapping tools to self-identity exploration.

The second sessions featured guest speakers who have done related activism in the United States and abroad. These speakers included:

  • Dora Urujeni, a former parliament member in Rwanda and cofounder of Memos, an organization dedicated to genocide prevention education
  • Nancy Gallardo, a clean water advocate who has protested against pipeline projects at Standing Rock and in Michigan
  • Victoria Ibiwoye, the founder of OneAfricanChild Foundation, which addresses educational inequities through global citizenship education
  • Fabio Arnaldo Ayala, a former teacher who now works as a restorative practices consultant
  • Layth Raji, the president of Iraqi Youth Parliament and an advocate for women’s rights and youth political involvement

Although the workshops dealt with different topics, the importance of building relationships with students was at the heart of each one. Listening to students and involving them in the learning process is a great way to empower them, Ibiwoye said.

“Oftentimes when we think about the role of young people in education, we often think about young people being at the receiving end,” she said. “I think that mindset really needs to change. A lot of young people have unique experience, they have firsthand knowledge, they have skills. We should engage young people more as leaders and partners rather than as beneficiaries.”

The diverse experiences and backgrounds of the participating educators also enriched the programs.  From world language teachers to trauma specialists, participating educators brought unique perspectives and experiences to the conversations.   The workshop series also provided a forum for teachers to share global education resources that they have already implemented in their classrooms.

One of the global frameworks featured during the workshops is the United Nations (UN) Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), a group of 17 interrelated objectives that promote equality and environmentalism.

Incorporating the SDGs into the curriculum embodies a “think globally, act locally” mindset. Students can create a project using their own environments to tackle one of the 17 goals.

Take water. The fight for clean water might initially seem abstract to many students, but collecting water samples of a local stream or river localizes the issue, Gallardo said.

When youth and young adults learn how complex issues affect their own communities, they can persuade many other young people to get involved. The movement at Standing Rock exemplified that, she said.

“It sparks that fire that was needed, especially in a community that is so poor and has seen so much loss, their dignity and their land and everything,” Gallardo said. “For these youth to carry the flag and send that message really inspired many more youth to partake.

“It’s finding your voice. I think for kids, sometimes they feel like they don’t have a voice. They certainly do.”