When students learn about famous people who have made a positive difference, who have made “history,” they can be inspired. But sometimes, those kinds of people – world leaders, inventors, social activists – can seem larger than life, with powers beyond those of “ordinary” people. With all the seemingly intractable problems of the world, students can find themselves overwhelmed and disheartened.
With the increasing popularity of the blogosphere, “ordinary” people are beginning to document their own journeys of changing the world and trying to make it a better place. What a great learning opportunity for students! They can discover, day-by-day, the unfolding of someone’s journey – his challenges and triumphs, her dealings with daily obstacles and new adventures – over a period of time. Often, that journey includes more than just words on a screen; it may also include photos, audio, and video, which can enhance the experience even more.
One great example of an inspiring, empowering learning experience I recently discovered is Shawn Ahmed’s Uncultured.com. Upon hearing a speech by Jeffrey Sachs in 2006 (author of The End of Poverty) at Notre Dame, where Shawn was a graduate student, Shawn was so inspired by Dr. Sachs’ assertion that poverty can be ended in Shawn’s lifetime, that Shawn decided to travel to Bangladesh, a country with more than its share of the poor, and see what he could do to end poverty.
Shawn has been documenting his travels and self-funded efforts via his blog, as well as through pictures and video. In a recent video, Shawn went to a small rural village and asked some school children what they needed. He was able to buy them medicines and school supplies to last them awhile, and his total cost was about USD$70. Shawn’s tagline at the end of his videos is: “It doesn’t take much to make a difference. That’s kind of the point.”
Here is one person, with very few funds, doing what he can to make a positive difference for others, and he’s helping to change the world. And students can travel along with him.
Two other blogs that have documented the unique journeys of others as they seek to make a positive difference include Slow Travel and No Impact Man. Though their journeys are both over, their experiences can still be valuable.
Slow Travel chronicles the experiences of a couple who decided to travel around the world…without flying. They used all kinds of alternative transportation, from cargo ships to trains to buses to camels. And this unique mode of travel – as they put it – “the joy of slow and low-carbon travel” allowed them to really get to know the people, culture and landscape of the lands they traveled. In total, they traveled 381 days and more than 45,000 miles.
No Impact Man decided that he and his family were going to live for one year “without making any net impact on the environment.” NIM recorded his journey via a blog (as well as through a forthcoming book and film), and news of his family’s journey spread throughout the media and blogosphere. NIM’s year is up, but he still blogs about low- and no-impact issues.
When you’re looking for ways to engage your students in the “real world,” and inspire them to consider the power of the “ordinary” person, consider scouting out one or more blogs like these.
~ Marsha, Web Content/Community Manager
Photo credit: Shawn Ahmed