Thursday, May 7

Road Trip Presentations

We spent the past couple of weeks on three separate road trips, traveling around the country to deliver the presentations of learning that we created in Virginia. One van stretched from Atlanta to Boston, one covered the tri-state area in New York, and mine took on the Midwest: Louisville, Chicago, and Cleveland. We presented mostly to high school audiences, with crowds varying from a couple students to an entire auditorium full.

My presentation focused on our experience in South Africa, stressing the importance of interacting with the individuals behind the large global issues. Getting to know the people, I argued, does two things: first, it gives you a personal and tangible relationship to an issue, like AIDS, that can be overwhelming and vague judged by vast statistics alone. Secondly, it gives you a more nuanced understanding of complex issues; I learned just how deeply-rooted cultural stigmas are against AIDS in ways I could not have by merely studying the facts of the epidemic.

I wanted to relate this lesson to any community-based efforts, not just so far as another continent, but within your own community. To really bring my message home to students and peers, I made a really clear connection to our every-day lives. Thanks to Photoshop, I created a mock-Facebook profile of Sharon, an AIDS patient I met in South Africa.

For those of you not drawn into the Facebook craze, let me preface by saying that every single one of the 65 girls I graduated from high school with has a Facebook profile. Many log in multiple times each day, and pore over minute details of their friends’ lives. I’ve had my own Facebook for years, but coming back to the US, I was particularly struck by how deeply interested we are in our own little networks, while our awareness of someone like Sharon is near-zero. To highlight this paradox, and to perhaps urge those in my generation to invest a bit of their Facebook energy into global consciousness, I showed my audiences the profile.

Receptions were varied; some were quite curious about TBB and our experiences, and others less so. But the Facebook hook definitely drew the attention of people my age. It was undoubtedly valuable to go through the process of figuring out how to articulate what we’ve seen abroad and how to bring that back home. It was also fascinating to see a range of different high schools, my own all-girls experience being a very atypical one. We saw everything from an inner-city Chicago school to an all-boys’ Catholic sports powerhouse, as well as a middle school and a University. I also enjoyed the experience of seeing a part of the country I haven’t visited much.

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