Measuring the Impact of a Global Education

1 October 2015

Transcript from October 1 Fall Reception remarks by Executive Director Jennifer Boyle.

Thank you all for coming. It is truly an honor to be here, and I am incredibly grateful for your commitment to Primary Source.

I would like to start tonight by sharing a quote from Maya Angelou: Jennifer Boyle

“Perhaps travel cannot prevent bigotry, but by demonstrating that all peoples cry, laugh, eat, worry, and die, it can introduce the idea that if we try and understand each other, we may even become friends.”

Since my arrival in June, I have been thinking a lot about impact and what we are trying to achieve. How do you measure the impact of a great teacher, a powerful lesson or an inspiring book? I have realized that impact may not be easy to quantify or measure in terms of shifts in norms, mindsets and behavior. But people can pinpoint defining moments and teachers that have shaped their worldview. At scale, these collective moments do create shifts in norms and mindsets. Over the past 26 years, Primary source has helped create countless inspirational moments and supported many “favorite teachers” and in so doing, has helped shape the lives and minds of thousands of students.

I did not benefit from Primary Source materials while I was a student, but when I think back on a moment that has defined who I am as a person, it links directly to the type of work that we do. Unfortunately, my big global moment did not come for me until I was a senior in college. I read Pedagogy of the Oppressed by Paulo Freire, in a class taught by a visiting professor from Rwanda. Not only was he from a different continent, but he had just fled Rwandan genocide with his family months earlier. I devoured the book and spent as much time as possible talking with him about his experiences, and about how to make systemic changes to combat oppression, racism, and genocide. In that experience, I found a passion inside me that I did not know existed. Although I can now look back on this experience and see its impact, at the time I did not understand how revolutionary it was. After all, I took this class in the spring of my senior year, and I was heading to Boston to start a job at Hill Holliday in advertising.

After I began working, I found myself reading more and more about Africa. I was fueled with a new passion to understand the world differently and challenge stereotypes. Fast-forward nearly a decade and I was the National Sales Manager for Warner Brothers television, on a “successful” career track. And yes, I liked my job, my coworkers, and my clients. But the spark ignited by my college professor simmered in my soul.

Eventually, I realized that my desire for global knowledge and cultural awareness could not be satisfied by a 2-week safari in Africa. One Friday afternoon I googled “Living in Africa”, and within 15 minutes I had found a volunteer organization that would allow me to move to Kenya for a year. In the height of my career, I quit my job and moved to a village in Mombasa Kenya with no plan for what I would do or where my life was headed. My life has never been the same since, and I am incredibly grateful for that.Jen Boyle

After spending a year in Kenya, where I launched a small micro finance bank, I was hired as the Executive Director of the Maranyundo Initiative and was tasked with building a boarding school for girls in Rwanda. I could hardly believe that I would have the opportunity to learn firsthand about the culture and the people that so inspired me in college.

The campus of my school in Rwanda is across the street from a Genocide Church – churches where primarily women and children went for refuge during the genocide. Rather than finding safety there, they were tortured and killed. Rwanda has preserved these churches as memorials, and when visiting them you find skulls, bones and, most difficult for me to see, the bloodied clothes and shoes of the victims strewn throughout. One day I went to visit this church and the National Genocide museum with our Rwandan Founder Senator Alosia Inyumba. She was the Minister of Gender and Family immediately following the genocide, and was responsible for finding homes for the orphans and for burying the dead. What a monumental task. While visiting the church and museum, Inyumba shared grim details with me about her post-genocide job and as we were leaving she said to me, “I want to take you to another important site to help you understand all of this better.” We proceeded to a prison to meet the perpetrators of the genocide. As we drove to the prison, she told me that I would love them and that they are beautiful people. I was confused. These are the same people who killed women and children in the church I just visited. It was impossible for me to believe I could get rid of the sadness and venom I felt, and it was even more difficult for me to understand how she could “love” the very people who were responsible for so much violence, death and destruction. 

Sure enough, she was right. I spent the afternoon talking with, singing with, and dancing with these prisoners – all of whom had killed people during the genocide. While I did not condone what they had done, the overwhelming emotion that I felt was love. Often people talk about Rwanda and forgiveness, and while this experience was the greatest lesson in forgiveness I have ever witnessed, it was not the most profound lesson of the day for me. What I realized is that knowledge, critical thinking, empathy, and understanding is paramount to successfully navigating through this world. For me, that afternoon with the prisoners was not about me forgiving them. Rather, it was about understanding them. It was about understanding the systematic oppression they experienced. It was about understanding the effects of poverty, and the lack of education and job opportunities. It was about seeing the complexity that exists in war and in day-to-day life. It was about humanity. And in humanity there is love.

The world is not black and white, or right and wrong. As citizens, we all need to be equipped with the skills and knowledge to understand complex issues. We need to learn about other cultures so we can celebrate the differences and recognize the overwhelming similarities that cut across race, culture, and religion.

As I think about the growing xenophobia in this country and around the world, and the divide between rich and poor, conservative and liberal - it is as if everyone is being forced to fit into a box and stay in that box. Like my day in Rwanda - where I had one perspective in the morning and a completely different perspective in the afternoon – the world will simply not fit in one box or another.

So when I reflect upon why I am here, I understand it is because of an inspiring teacher one semester in college. We want all students to have the same kinds of eye opening and inspiring educational experiences throughout their entire K-12 education. I can only imagine my life path had I experienced this type of learning in 1st grade!

Tonight, I stand before you humbled and proud because all of you are on the front lines of bringing these moments, these global perspectives to our children and to our community. For more than a quarter century, Primary Source has been bringing truth, knowledge, and awareness into our schools. We provide teachers and schools with the resources and skills they need to bring the world to life inside classrooms. All of you are working towards building a world where schools intentionally and strategically produce smart, knowledgeable, insightful, curious, empathetic, engaged global citizens. And while we are proud of our legacy and our work, we want to do more. We want global and cultural awareness to be the norm in every school system. We want to work with more schools and more teachers, so we can reach more students.

Primary Source is so much more than meets the eye. Many of you have taken classes with us. Many of you have also traveled with us to Asia, South America, Europe or Africa. We work with schools and organizations in so many ways: we create customized curriculum, we provide global competency assessments, we consult with schools on strategies for integrating global perspectives and themes. We can and want to work with schools, teachers, and organizations in a more dynamic way.  

Our work is more important than ever before economically, socially and politically. The global world is upon us and we need students prepared to thrive in it. Global and cultural awareness is not a nice to have. It is a need to have. In order to make this type of education the norm – we need your help. We need to get to a tipping point about the importance of a global education, and we need you to help us get there. We need all of you to act as ambassadors for global learning. Please spread the word about Primary Source in your communities and in your schools. If you are an educator, give us a call and let’s discuss how we can help you achieve or set your global goals. If you are a donor, tell your friends about our important work and encourage them to support us. Share our video with your friends, and post it on social media. Check out our library and resources for upcoming events, courses and free webinars.

We hope you will remain committed, active, ambassadors of our work. Thank you for supporting us and for joining us tonight.



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