You may have seen (or even taken) photographs of children setting off on their first day of the year—sometimes eagerly, sometimes not so much. I recall moments like these well from my years as an educator and as a parent of school-aged children. I still find myself hoping and praying that schools will continue to give young people plenty of opportunities to learn about God’s world and to use their God-given creativity, abilities, and potential to make a real and important difference.
So you can imagine the deep joy I felt when I heard about a Grade 11 geography class in Hamilton, Ontario that was challenging themselves to look at the faces of suffering, poverty and hopelessness, and make a positive difference for those in need.
Twenty four students were in a class at Guido de Brès Christian High School, a Christian school that serves the Canadian and United Reformed communities. Their class was called “Forces of Nature - Physical Processes and Disasters,” and involved students exploring how the earth’s physical processes affect humans. Laurie Koning, their teacher, has connections with Sarah Huizing, an administrator at the Canadian Reformed World Relief Fund (CRWRF), and arranged for her to talk to her class about disaster response. Sarah also talked with Laurie about a World Renew opportunity for educators to visit Guatemala. When Laurie emailed me about this trip, our discussions led to World Renew getting involved in their class project.
Laurie wanted to give her students an interactive, engaging learning experience to teach them about the drought and famine in South Sudan. It was clear that they wanted to dive deeper than just the facts and figures. Like many teachers in North America, Laurie had been learning about the teaching method of “project based learning (PBL).” Project based learning allows students to grow in their knowledge and skills by spending an intensive time on a dynamic project that interacts with a real-world problem, question, or challenge—and the process is largely self-motivated. Really, PBL often taps into the students’ desire to make a tangible difference.
“Project Based Learning allows you to walk alongside the students to encourage their ability and potential,” explained Laurie. “So as a teacher, you feel more like a facilitator learning alongside them and helping them to ask the right questions.”
As a way of bringing in real-world experience from the field, Laurie arranged for Jackie Koster, World Renew’s Associate Director of Disaster Response and Rehabilitation, to come to talk with the students. Jackie had originally recommended South Sudan as a focus topic of the project and she has a wealth of experience in the field, so she brought a powerful firsthand perspective of international disaster response.
"Education is different now. Students today are more aware—not just in their minds, but in their HEARTS. And they honestly believe (and rightly so!) that they can do something important, lasting and helpful, because they HONESTLY want to."
When I heard about Jackie’s visit to Guido de Brès Christian High School, I was encouraged and inspired by the class’ enthusiastic response. She said that they listened attentively as they learned about the many hardships and issues facing the people of South Sudan—mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers—people beloved by God, just like them. In South Sudan, World Renew’s work includes providing life-saving assistance to families struggling with hunger and malnutrition due to the conditions of famine and drought. (Learn more about World Renew’s work in South Sudan here).
After Jackie’s visit, Laurie asked the students: what are you going to do about the situation in South Sudan? In earlier years, students may have expected to write a test, or maybe even write an essay. Education is different now. Students today are more aware—not just in their minds, but in their HEARTS. And they honestly believe (and rightly so!) that they can do something important, lasting and helpful, because they HONESTLY want to. And off they went!
The students sprung into action—they researched, talked, prayed, thought, collaborated, made stuff and sold stuff (bracelets and picture books, are just some examples). These students passionately shared what they had learned about South Sudan with friends, family members, and other people outside of the classroom, inspiring people to get involved in helping God’s children in need. Through their fundraising efforts, they raised over $3,000 for both World Renew and the Canadian Reformed World Relief Fund—funds that will help bring hope and help to refugees.
These students at Guido de Brès Christian High School worked hard to have a positive impact on others. They increased awareness of the struggles facing the people of South Sudan and raised funds to help those in need. But this project also has had a positive impact on them. They realized they were not too young to do something—they were not helpless. Many students talked about their work as a way of sharing what they had on behalf of Christ—they recognized the role of their faith and some even said “we are called by God to do this.” Laurie described the project as “taking on a life of its own,” and was marveled at how God was “with her class every step of the way, guiding the process.”
Here are just a few examples of the student reflections Laurie gathered after the project was finished:
- “I liked learning about how much help people need, how we should be more thankful for what we have…how to keep telling people and how we can keep praying/donating.”
- “I like how we were able to get into what was really happening in South Sudan.”
- “I liked how we were actually raising awareness instead of coming up with concept ideas.”
- “It was more than just a mark, it also taught us about more and we could actually do something to help.”
- “I took this project more seriously because it was helping people. I learned a lot and had fun while doing it.”
Wow, those words—isn’t this a cool story? Here are young people leading us older folks. God is inspiring young people to do incredible things through Him who loves us! He is doing a marvelous work through them, and we at World Renew couldn’t be happier to see the love and mercy of our God taking root in the young people of today. We’re also thrilled to hear that Laurie plans to do a similar project with her class this year. A BIG thank you to Laurie Koning and her dedicated students, and we look forward to seeing how God will continue to work through the students at Guido de Brès.
Are you are an educator interested in partnering with World Renew to achieve your school’s global learning goals? Over the past few years we have worked at finding out how we can best connect with schools. Recently, we developed a new 'schools' section on our website. While there are a few areas that need to be updated yet, you can check it out at worldrenew.net/schools.