LEARN, LEAD GLOBALLY
“I like to know what’s going on in the world,” said Khadijah, a student from McKinley Technology High School. That’s what attracted her to the DC Summer Institute, a six-week international affairs program organized by Global Kids’ Washington, DC Program.
A New York and DC-based organization, Global Kids gives youth from underserved areas the knowledge, skills and experiences they need to succeed in school and become leaders in their communities and the world.
The Summer Institute, said Wida Amir, director of Global Kids DC, “connects the disconnected young people to the best of what Washington has to offer.”
Most DC-area participants are from Wards 7 and 8, where high school graduation rates are below 50 percent. The overall graduation rate for Global Kids participants, on the other hand, is 99 percent.
Khadijah was looking for a program where she could meet new people and travel—and the Institute is delivering. Talking with Australian students at the Australian Embassy has been one of the highlights so far, she said, as has getting to know the other students in the program too.
“The people in the program make it what it is,” she said.
Although she isn’t looking forward to the long plane trip ahead, Khadijah is eager for the opportunity to see South Africa firsthand and “get past stereotypical ideas of what a place might be like.”
MINIONS AND DRAGONS
Wait, wait, hold up: South Africa?
Yes! The capstone experience of the GK (Global Kids) DC Summer Institute is an international service-learning project. This year, fifteen students will travel to South Africa in early August to partner with organizations such as SA-Yes Youth Mentoring, a program that assists young people aging out of children’s homes and transitioning to independence. Additional areas the Summer Institute cohort intends to explore are racial and economic justice and LGBTQ rights.
But hang on, I’m so excited about South Africa I’m getting ahead of myself again. Let’s back up even further.
Each summer, 25-30 DC-area teens participate in the Institute. Students normally find the program via its partnership with the Marion Barry Youth Leadership Institute, a program of the DC Department of Employment Services. The Summer Institute is classified as a job site in the District’s Summer Youth Employment Program, which means participants don’t have to choose between earning money now and preparing for a global career in the future.
Most mornings in the program start with a discussion of current events, followed by games and activities introducing central concepts and issues in international affairs. On a June afternoon, students engaged in a lively discussion about the history of the black and LGBTQ rights movements, inspired by a “Democracy Now” headline and buzz about a petition to replace the Confederate flag with a rainbow flag.
After that, a boisterous game about trade and globalism: The Incredible Minions battled the Black Dragons to be the first to identify the company, and countries of origin and manufacture of products such as iPhones, Air Jordans, and Beat headphones. Turns out these kids are as good at tracing global manufacturing paths as they are at picking awesome team names.
SERVICE AND STOWAWAYS
Other Global Kids program features include guest speakers from organizations such as the State Department and World Bank, and field trips to visit embassies, Capitol Hill, or companies like KPMG.
Kela, a Summer Institute participant from Benjamin Banneker High School, went into the program with specific goals.
“I wanted to work on my communication skills,” she said. “And leadership skills. And foreign policy.”
Listening to State Department employees inspired Kela, who can now imagine a similarly “nomadic” future.
The DC-based portion of the program lasts four to five weeks, followed by a one- to two-week overseas service-learning project—all costs included.
“Normally we’re able to raise funds to send eight to ten participants overseas,” said Amir. “But this year, thanks to a grant from the Department of Employment Services, we’re able to send fifteen.”
At the mention of South Africa, Kela breaks into a wide smile. She’s eager to explore the country’s traditions, culture and history. Her family and community are excited for her as well, raising funds for personal expenses and offering to come with her in her suitcase.
“It’s helpful to learn about what’s outside your own neighborhood,” she said. “(The GK Summer Institute) opens your mind so you can make connections with other communities.”
Tara Campbell is a DC-based writer of crossover science fiction. She would love to join the South Africa-bound party in Kela’s suitcase.