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Friday, May 17, 2024

Column: A world of difference

Not long ago, several student-teachers at the UC Davis School of Education came together to found an organization dedicated to improving the schools of the poorer countries of the world. And so after class, in the back corner of the ASUCD Coffee House inside the Memorial Union, the International Teacher Cooperation was born.

As decided by the founding members, the ITC has two fundamental, closely related goals. One, to identify the specific educational needs of teachers and students on the ground in the developing parts of the world, and to fundraise very achievable amounts to meet those needs.

Two, to educate people back here in America about the challenges faced by children in school – or not in school – and growing up in countries such as Liberia, Bolivia and Afghanistan. The greater that awareness grows, the easier it is to accomplish our first goal.

There is no doubt that the citizens of the United States, with our tremendous wealth and worldwide influence, have a very substantial ability to effect change in the Third World. There are enormous obstacles to lifting millions of people thousands of miles away out of poverty, but the right combination of wisdom and idealism can make a world of difference.

Thus the ITC has formulated both short- and long-term plans for achieving our objectives. In the long-term, we seek to spotlight different countries and educational concerns around the world, with an unfortunately endless number of poor communities having living standards very far below our own and desperately in need of aid.

But in the short-term we have an upcoming event on June 1, from 6 to 8 p.m. in 202 Wellman. Rona Popal, executive director of the Afghan Coalition and an expert on that country, will be speaking on the issues facing teachers in Afghanistan and how we can help them help children. Of course, the event is free and open to the public.

As we hope to educate the community with Ms. Popal’s appearance, we also have set a modest fundraising target of $750 by June 30. On campus, in the town of Davis and in the other communities in which we teach, we will be doing everything we can to gather a little money for our fellow teachers.

 Some might argue that California’s educational institutions require all the money they can get, and therefore we should put our own interests ahead of international ones. ITC co-founder Ryan Sonneville sees it differently.  

“[Our problems] should not mean that we turn our backs on teachers who are facing incredible challenges elsewhere,” Sonneville said. “The basic principle of solidarity requires that we stand with educators and students beyond our immediate locale. Teachers in Afghanistan face difficulties each and every day that should not go unheard.”

Even better, Sonneville pointed out that our goal of $750 would go a very long way in Afghanistan. Such an amount would pay for half of a teacher’s annual salary, giving enormous benefits to others at a very small cost to us and similarly stimulating their local economy.

And yet, the steep rise in tuition costs and the recession may make the normally generous more reluctant, while all the concentration on the harsh cuts to higher education might make our efforts at building awareness all the more difficult. But if we are short in time and money, I am reminded of Luke, chapter 21, verses one through four, in which Jesus reminds us of what real charity is.

“When he looked up he saw some wealthy people putting their offerings into the treasury and he noticed a poor widow putting in two small coins. He said, ‘I tell you truly, this poor widow put in more than all the rest; for those others have all made offerings from their surplus wealth, but she, from her poverty, has offered her whole livelihood.'”

As hard as our times may be, it only makes charity all the more meaningful.

What would it say about a community that – mired in a poor economy and grappling with severe problems funding its own teachers – finds the money to assist educators and students we will never meet, living 7,500 miles away and about as different from us as two peoples can be?

“Building relationships with teachers elsewhere, and helping air concerns and problems that teachers in other parts of the world deal with, helps us as a university body as well as a community,” Sonneville said.

Along with parents, teachers are the architects of society. If we hope to build a better world the best place to start is in the classroom. I strongly encourage you to take a little of your time on June 1 to learn about learning in Afghanistan. It’s a small investment for a big return.

An even smaller investment for an even bigger return would be e-mailing ROB OLSON at rwolson@ucdavis.edu.

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