Empathy is one of the most important qualities a person can have. Without empathy, we are each an island. It is difficult to feel a deep connection with someone else when you can’t imagine yourself in her place. We may understand our connection intellectually, but true empathy means feeling a desperate humanness, a sympathy that compels us to act. I think experiencing different lifestyles at a young age teaches empathy early. When a child sees another child, she feels a kinship. I think this natural affinity dissipates as we age, unless we are taught that it’s right to feel, to care, and to have the desire to help.
Most of the volunteer opportunities I read about target adults over 18. It makes sense that they would—there are all kinds of difficulties to consider when you’re supervising minors overseas—but kids need these opportunities too. Experiencing volunteering during those formative years is so powerful, the potential for transformation so great, I wish we expected every child to venture out into the great beyond (chaperoned, of course). Empathy building is only the beginning. Child travelers learn about the real world. They see real problems. They learn to look beyond their noses. They become aware of the vast oceans of information of which they’re unaware. For all of these reasons and more, I was thrilled to stumble upon Global Explorers, an organization focused entirely on young student travelers.
Global Explorers is a non-profit organization with a holistic approach. Their programs, for kids from 14-18, converge on four core competencies: leadership, service, science, and culture. Their overarching goal is to promote responsible global citizenship. Global Explorers is partnered with the Girl Scouts and with Learning AFAR, the flagship program of the AFAR Foundation, bringing travel opportunities to low income students in the U.S.
The Global Explorer travel experience starts with a hands-on service project. The kids work together to help a local community with a project that demonstrates the value of hard work and gives them a sense of accomplishment. They experience how much they can help others by giving time and energy. The hands-on experience is supplemented with classroom lessons that reinforce the lessons learned in the field. Once the students return home, they work together to create a global citizenship project, using the skills they learned to enact positive change in their own communities.
I am inspired by Global Explorers’ big-picture approach. They recognize how hard it can be to feel empowered, even if you have worked on a volunteer project abroad. It’s a very different thing to imagine your own project, and to take action without a safety net. They are teaching these kids the power of passion, direction, focus, and perseverance. Imagining a world full of empowered Global Explorers volunteers fills me with hope for our future.