Understanding Charity, Justice and Solidarity through an Immersive Education Program
By Pastor Larry Fry
I had been frustrated for a long time in attempting to get my high school students’ hearts engaged within the confines of the regular religious studies classroom. I was looking for an international experience that would challenge and excite students, one that stressed education over charity, and would be affordable and safe. So, I was all ears when my pastor returned from a trip to El Salvador excited about the potential offered by that Christians for Peace in El Salvador. I wasn’t sure Canadian parents would be as enthusiastic, but we had 24 students sign up that first year! We have just returned from our third immersion program; it’s the best thing I have ever done for my students at Luther College High School.
The program exposes students to a variety of social justice issues impacting El Salvadoran youth such as gang violence, emigration, access to education, water, and food security. The program also offers the opportunity to investigate the potential impacts of metallic mining by Canadian companies, both through visits with agencies and through a rural stay with host families in Carasque, a community near the Honduran border in an area targeted for a gold mine. The rural stay is an important feature, as our hosts have helped us gain a much deeper, more personal understanding of what solidarity means for sustainable development.
Luther College High School students pose with one of their hosts and a young boy from Carasque, a community located on a mountain targeted by Pacific Rim for a potential mining development.
Upon return from the trip, students are required to apply their learning to an action project in their own community. Some students have gotten seriously involved with Amnesty International, while others are pursuing global, international, or development study majors at university. Last year’s class produced a video which was shown at the national Lutheran Church convention; that same convention adopted a social justice statement with regards to resource development. The video was produced to give local people of El Salvador a voice to tell their story.
The following are some of my students’ reflections upon returning home. They tell me that we have been successful in developing both their minds and hearts.
“This experience has taught me that I need to think about all the people who will be affected by my decisions.”
“Salvadorans stand up for their community against mining companies; I can stand up for my community and what I believe in.”
“Through this experience I have learned that others face the same things as my family (Myammar refugees). I felt I was not alone, but that these people have had to fight for their freedom as have my own people.”
“This course helped open my eyes to the many injustices in the world.”
“As an individual this trip did not make me a better student or a nicer person, but an educator, someone who will share personal experience and stories to raise awareness.”
“Whatever country we are learning about in class I am always able to make connections to El Salvador. I see history now as the stories and lives of real people.”
“I think about reality vs. illusion. Is my Canadian life an illusion or reality? Is the real world more like Canada or El Salvador? What’s really happening in the world?”
“Learning to share with honesty and empathy in a group is a worthy educational objective. Evening reflections taught me to interact with people beyond my little circle of friends about important, personal questions and topics.”
Pastor Larry Fry is an educator recently retired from Luther College High School (LCHS) in Regina. In the winter of 2014, his grade 12 religious studies students took part in an immersive global citizenship education program. This program, which culminated in an eight day trip to El Salvador, is an innovative example of how global education, justice, and solidarity can be integrated into the high school curriculum. LCHS was one of three Saskatchewan schools profiled in 2014 through SCIC’s Global Classrooms in the 306.
SCIC’s Global Citizenship Education Program provides lesson plans, professional development, and support for Saskatchewan educators who want to bring global citizenship education into their classrooms.