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The Journey of a Lifetime
By Stephan Anagnost 13-Oct-16
“Safari” in Swahili means a physical, personal, or spiritual journey on which one embarks with the intention of experiencing the path, with the support and encouragement of others, rather than the expectation of what awaits at the end. The journey is the destination. The Krakow Journey, now in its 9th year, is very much a community and personal safari in this sense. At Lincoln Community School in Accra, Ghana, we call what we offer a “Journey” because it is something that has a beginning but no real discernible end. For those who have participated, the experience has initiated a unique, meaningful, and powerful process in which all participants begin to explore the roots and consequences of hatred, bigotry, and racism in their own lives and in the world around them. We encourage them to embark on this Journey with the intention that, going forward, they will develop the tools and strength to make the necessary adjustments and improvements in their own lives, as well as globally. The physical journey takes participants to sites of oppression and resistance in Amsterdam, Berlin, and Krakow. The most powerful site visit along the way is to the Nazi death camps of Auschwitz-Birkenau in Poland, now a memorial site. Perhaps the most significant human element of the preparation is the opportunity for participants to meet and talk with survivors of the Holocaust. Participants come away from these discussions, which are usually organized at the home of one of the families taking part in the Journey, visibly affected and definitively changed. These personal encounters make the Journey more real and more human, touching both emotional chords and alerting participants to all that they still do not know about the power of hate. Since 2008, over 250 students, faculty, and parents from over 50 nationalities, and of various ethnicities and physical abilities have taken part in the Journey, making it a real community experience. It has been pursued in Vienna and Curaçao in many forms, where it migrated between 2012 and 2014, helping to raise the awareness of another generation of interested students, teachers, and parents. The current iteration of the Krakow Journey is embedded as the capstone service learning activity of the Lincoln Community School’s Human Rights Club. But this Journey is more than just a trip. Teaching, Learning, Thinking, & Reflecting The Journey is also a learning process, designed from the start to inform and challenge what we know and what we think we know about the root causes of hatred, the Holocaust, and other genocides in order to create a larger understanding of “the structural framework of hate and ignorance” and what can happen in any society and at any period in history when the fundamental concepts of the Enlightenment—reason, communication, cooperation, consensus, human rights, respect, and equality—become distorted, abused, and forgotten. As part of this process, we must accept that this period represents the greatest crime and suspension of human rights and fundamental freedoms humanity has ever known. Yet we must also recognize that such crimes and suspensions have taken place before and since. It becomes a platform from which other contemporary events can be viewed through a critical lens based on lessons learned from history, and it challenges participants to reflect upon a number of important questions. Has humanity failed to learn from its experiences of the past and continued to engage in ethnic cleansing and genocide? What lessons must we draw from these experiences, and how will we apply these lessons learned to our own lives? We ask ourselves to consider the extent to which there is such a thing as an “innocent bystander” when a crime is being committed. Could that be me? Am I courageous enough to speak truth to power? It is these sorts of provocative questions, which raise awareness and develop conscience, that participants are expected to reflect upon and translate into action. Ultimately, we challenge all participants to make connections between their own actions and beliefs and the world around them. Stimulating & Reinforcing Learning As a curriculum-based project and an activity sponsored by the Human Rights Club, preparation for the Journey is intense and demanding. True to the principles of CAS and Service Learning, it extends well beyond the classroom. A core element of the Journey is the Journal. Participants receive sets of thought-provoking or knowledge-building Journal prompts while preparing and participating in the Journey. At LCS, students also took part in organizing a school-wide painting project dedicated to raising awareness about the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Other activities included “wage discrimination bake sales” to highlight gender inequality and events aimed at raising awareness about the plight of child soldiers and child labor. These preparation activities are student-driven and designed to illustrate the importance of taking leadership and engaging in considered and thoughtful action. Reflecting, Empowering, “Bringing It Home” & Beyond An integral part of the Journey that never really ends are the “bringing it home,” activities that are designed and implemented by the participants themselves with the aim of sharing their experiences with others. In addition to forming the basis for Personal Projects & Extended Essays, perhaps even more significantly the experiences from the Journey have gone on to inform each participant’s classroom experiences and assessments. For many students, classroom learning becomes more focused and advanced, as their awareness and ability to analyze contemporary events has become sharper. For all, it would seem, learning is approached with greater enthusiasm.
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