LEARNING AT HOME AND ABROAD
“I know about Peace thru Culture. I went to Costa Rica and learned about steam energy from the volcano. I am going to study engineering because I want to know how to make energy from steam.” - James, Benning Terrace Housing Community, Global Trek Costa Rica in 2009
If you ask Adriane Alfred, founder of Peace thru Culture, this testimonial from their website says everything about the goals of the organization. Alfred started the non-profit in 2006 to give under resourced kids a chance to learn about different cultures and life options they wouldn’t otherwise have the opportunity to experience. Working primarily with schools in Wards 5, 6, 7 and 8, PtC offers intercultural programming in DC as well as travel experiences to various countries in the Americas.
And the kicker: Through grants and donations, they’re able to offer this programming at a nominal fee—in some cases, even free of charge.
The learning begins at home with culture camps during the spring and summer breaks. Each camp is two weeks long, and campers ages 8-12 can expect a full day experience tailored to specific age groups. The mornings start with breakfast and a warm-up like yoga or reading. Activities to follow include journaling, cultural introduction, and classes in the art, music, dance, and cooking of various cultures (yes, with a chef!). Breakfast, lunch and snacks are provided in partnership with the free DC lunch program.
And how does a $25 price tag for a two-week camp strike you? This low registration fee puts an intercultural experience within reach for all students, expanding their outlooks and futures. “These kids have never been anywhere,” said Alfred. “By exposing them to different things, they will be able to make different choices.”
Peace thru Culture also promotes cultural learning through overseas trips. Destinations include Panama, Costa Rica, Peru, Canada (Quebec), Puerto Rico, Martinique and Argentina. With a maximum of sixteen participants on each trip, PtC creates meaningful, interactive experiences rather than mass onslaughts of tourists. In addition to the introduction to art and history that most programs offer, PtC also provides daily language instruction, cultural programming and immersion into local communities, as well as visits to areas of scientific/ecological interest.
SUSTAINABLE ME, SUSTAINABLE US
The group’s Sustainable Me! programming exposes participants to sustainable tourism (a subject Alfred teaches at George Mason University) and earth sciences. Costa Rica travelers, for example, visit sustainable farms in the mountains of Heredia and learn about energy production at the Miravalles volcano, site of the largest developed geothermal field in Costa Rica. They also spend part of a day with a local host family, sharing a meal with them and joining them in normal family activities.
Tours also have a service component, such as working with ADE (Association for Development through Education) in Costa Rica to help rebuild the community of Vera Blanca after the devastating 2009 earthquake.
Engaging local partners is important to Alfred. This not only provides students a more authentic introduction to the countries they visit, but also embodies sustainable tourism by ensuring that the resources go directly to the country visited rather than an external company.
Service and exposure to the community is key to the goal of the program: to show participants other cultures and ways of life. One of the most eye-opening tour segments has been the visit to the San Blas Islands in Panama, known locally as Kuna Yala.
“It’s real immersion for our students,” Alfred explained. “There’s no running water, they sleep in huts and get to spend time with Kuna youth. It’s real immersion.”
Despite the rough conditions, the kids love the program. “The experience gives them perspective,” said Alfred. “They realize they have more back home than they thought.”
About the Author: Tara Campbell is a DC-based writer of crossover science fiction. She’s lived in Germany and Austria, but never in a hut or next to a volcano.