By Rosie Bradbury
Students arrived at the George Washington University Funger Hall on Tuesday morning, tired from daylight savings time but excited for another day of panelists, presentations, and persuasion. After an hour of icebreakers and identifying global issues by a single photo, students then chose two NGO presentations to attend, such as Amnesty International, Bread for the City, Building Tomorrow, and Girls on the Run.
In each ‘breakout session’, representatives from local and international NGOs explained the work they do, why it matters, and how students can get involved. In the meeting on Girls on the Run, students answered prompts related to adolescent wellness. Erika Undeland described the NGO presentations as “quintessentially GIN” because they’re about addressing global issues and what students can do.
Next were student presentations, where groups of two or three led discussions on global issues, ranging from race in the classroom, to the effects of war, to the Zika Virus. In a presentation on investments, WIS junior Andrew Richardson encouraged microfinance as “giving [women in poverty] the chance to start their own business, [giving] them income…. [and] empower(s) them”.
In examining gender issues, WIS students Pauline Sow, Wendy Wang, and Julia van der Helm tackled the interconnectedness of culture with practices harmful to women’s health or individual rights. Another presentation from a Roots and Shoots club at a participating school added an interactive element: they instructed students to write down a goal to change either the world or themselves on a paper dove, which were later collected and their picture sent to the Jane Goodall Institute.
After a lunch of Jimmy Johns sandwiches, students checked back into Global Villages to discuss the conference so far. They then proceed to two key-note speeches: one by Will Villota on nature conservation, and one by Daniella Zalcman on her work as a photojournalist in Uganda and Canada. The former speaker utilised technology to his advantage, incorporating texting surveys to encourage student participation.
The second speaker, although using a more traditional format, equally captivated students. She explained the challenges of finding sources in Uganda when anti-homosexuality laws were being passed, and her struggle as a Westerner “pointing the finger” when her culture’s legacy of colonization was what had caused the problem. Zalcman also explained the residential school system in Canada, a systematic oppression of First Nations until the 1980s that led to health problems within communities and a judicial process where minorities “had to itemize their trauma”.
This spotlight on a forgotten period in history shocked many students, including one student who asked the speaker why they hadn’t heard of this human rights abuse before. Both speakers offered a unique story, and so the last few hours of the conference encapsulated the mission of GIN: informative, global, and engaging.
Written by students at WIS