This post is the second in a three-part series from students participating in Global Citizen Year, a global bridge year program designed to unleash the potential of high school students as leaders and effective agents of change.
Every night before I go to sleep, I hear furious keyboard chittering right outside my room. While I’m exhausted after a day of helping my homestay family with chores, Leonardo, the teenager who lives with us, types away at the computer despite a long day at school. No, Leonardo isn’t chatting with a friend on the popular Orkut social networking website; he’s spending all night doing research on the dried-up, garbage-filled rivers around our mountain town in Brazil, and writing about ways to prevent remaining rivers from meeting the same fate. So as I’m falling asleep to songs from Glee, Leonardo is becoming a savior of local rivers.
Leonardo is just one student who devotes their precious time to the project that Daniel, my host father and supervisor, began: to enlist youth to help solve the environmental, social, and economic problems in our town of Morro do Chapeu.
In just five years, our town will no longer be able to supply water to each of its 30,000 residents. On top of that, unemployment rates are rising, and crime is beginning to catch like the wild fire in our region of Brazil. To combat these issues, Daniel is partnering with the local high school, Colegio Jubilino Cundundes (or Jubilino for short), to create an informative book about Morro do Chapeu’s problems and what people can do about them. This book will address deforestation, litter, and poverty, among other issues. Despite this effort to inspire students at Jubilino and others who read the books, Daniel has encountered a variety of problems.
Cooking under the hot, dry sun on a national holiday, Leonardo and I venture out to gather more information about the local rivers. I ask Leonardo about the project and what obstacles it faces.
“O que é o maior problema do projecto?” I ask in my broken Portuguese.
“Os estudantes e os professores quem não são interesado no projecto,” Leonardo replies, with a touch of humor and disappointment.
Even though Daniel spent weeks in the arid heat getting company sponsorships for the project, his greatest challenge is the disinterest of the majority of students and teachers. Of the 900 students that attend Jubilino, only about 50 spend time researching, writing about, and inspiring others about their assigned social problem. The sentiment of indifference is tangible in the classrooms I visit. Most of the students focus more on the newness of having an American amongst them, rather than listening to Daniel’s instructions. Leonardo blames the lack of interest among his peers on a culture of individualism, futebol (“soccer”), and video games. It is clear by the drooping bags under his eyes that he wishes his peers cared more about their town and their shared social problems.
Disinterest is one of the many hurdles that social innovators such as Daniel have to reverse. Igniting interest and inspiration in people indifferent about problems such as child labor, human trafficking, and gender equality is critical to bringing about social change, not just in Morro do Chapeu, but around the world. How do we inspire people to become active, integral pieces in the effort to create a more equal world? More importantly, why have people become so complacent and indifferent in the face of such pressing and urgent social issues? Perhaps the answer starts with unplugging my headphones from “Don’t Stop Believing,” and instead just listening to the furious keyboard chittering outside my door that inspires me to be an agent of social change.
What are ways to motivate youth to take action on community issues? What tools can social innovators share to empower disenfranchised people living in poverty to become agents of social change too?