“There could be no creativity without the curiosity that moves us and sets us patiently impatient before a world that we did not make, to add to it something of our own making.” —Paulo Freire
Every communication I receive from Joseph Hindogbae “Hindo” Kposowa begins the same way: “Dear Aunty Jeni.” It started almost a year ago, just before TakingITGlobal and Promethean worked to send him from his rural region of Bumpe, Sierra Leone to Lagos, Nigeria to be part of the Education Fast Forward (EFF5) Online Debate, “From Learners’ Voice To Global Peace.” It is no small thing to be considered family in Sierra Leone, and I honestly feel as connected to Hindo as I have to any student who crossed the threshold of my classroom over the 19 years I taught teenagers.
My connection to the Kposowa family began in 2010 through my work for the World Leadership School, when a high school sophomore at the Berkeley Carroll School in Brooklyn asked me to help her make connections in Sierra Leone. She had the vision of bringing former child soldiers to a United Nations Student Conference in New York; after reading Ishmael Beah’s A Long Way Gone, she was deeply concerned by child soldiers’ lack of voice and agency in such arenas.
Two months later, I met Hindo’s sister Sarah Culberson at the National Association of Independent Schools’ People of Color Conference in San Diego. Director of Service Learning at the Oakwood School (California) and co-founder of the Kposowa Foundation, Sarah was speaking on the biography A Princess Found, which chronicles her life as an adopted multi-racial child and her eventual discovery that her biological father was Sierra Leonean royalty. I approached Sarah after her presentation–would she be willing to help create a connection between the Berkeley Carroll School and Bumpe, where her father was the high school principal and her uncle the regional chief?
Two years later, I find myself amazed by how far we’ve come–not just in educating young New Yorkers about life in Sierra Leone, but in a partnership which is bringing new educational opportunities to Bumpe High School’s students and teachers as well. We were not able to bring students from Sierra Leone to Brooklyn because of U.S. visa challenges (go figure), but BCS student leader Elena Hirsch wrote grant applications, held major fundraising events, and raised enough money to offer a significant scholarship for local amputees to attend Bumpe High School, as well as supporting local programming around AIDS awareness and prevention in the broader Bumpe community. In November, 2011, Elena presented on her experiences at the Global Education Conference “GlobalEdCon” with me and BCS’s Head of Upper School Suzanne Fogarty (click here to launch the full recording).
I wrote in November about the importance of thinking about benefits on the “other side” of any global partnership, and there is no case where I’m more aware of that responsibility than in my work with Hindo. He demonstrates Freire’s “patient impatience” in his uncanny eye for my live presence on Facebook and Skype, as well as texting to my phone occasionally, so few days pass without a greeting from him. Having just graduated from university in Freetown, Hindo has returned to Bumpe and is now in his first year teaching History and Government at Bumpe High School, where his father Joe Konia Kposowa is principal. Hindo knows he has been fortunate; he knows how much it means to have the education he does, and he has returned to Bumpe to help lead his community forward. He will also be entering law school this month because, and I quote, “There is no justice in my community!”
Recently, Hindo shared his project for a TakingITGlobal professional development e-course he participated in on Environmental Stewardship, with instructor Deanna Del Vecchio. Thanks to the generosity of donors, TIG is currently able to offer scholarships to young teachers across the developing world, and I have encouraged Hindo to get his colleagues involved as well. Deanna told me, “Hindo’s eagerness to learn impressed me, as did his commitment to bettering his community through education. He developed an excellent final project that successfully applied the course concepts to needs in his own community, and spoke eloquently to express his ideas and opinions.” He asked my advice on the project, in which he wants to develop awareness and action around environmental stewardship and waste disposal in Bumpe, but he didn’t really need my help–he already thinks like a leader and a teacher at only 23. I encourage all readers to watch Hindo’s project film, to learn more about his plans and community support, and to visit Hindo’s Give for Youth project page to support this young visionary.
Just as I discovered a way to create constructive change through working with teenagers in Costa Rica and the United States, so Hindo represents an opportunity to do the same. I don’t want to shape Bumpe–I want to support Hindo’s growth as a leader and teacher. By offering him encouragement, support, and access to strategic global partners, I hope to empower him to believe in himself and his vision of change for his community. And Hindo, in turn, is providing incredibly powerful, authentic experiences for young people in North American classrooms.
When people speak of needing to allow students to “construct rather than consume knowledge,” my mind always goes to both Hindo and Elena. Over the years, the knowledge that young leaders sit in my classroom has driven the majority of my practice, both inside the classroom and now in my work with teachers. In fact, the knowledge that teachers have the opportunity to affect change through our students is what gets me up every morning to do this work, what keeps me hopeful about humanity’s future in spite of our heartbreaking present.
And there are millions of potential Hindos and Elenas sitting in classrooms around the world, ready to create change. We just have to provide an environment which empowers them to believe in their own best solutions to the world’s most pressing problems.