With the provocative title, “Now Grandma Can Win a Trip Too,” Nick Kristof opened up his contest to people over 60. One young person and one old person can report with him in developing countries. Here’s my entry. I’ll find out at the end of March if my entry is selected.
When I heard that I was going to meet slaves in the interior of Brazil, I bristled and felt the term “slave” was being used loosely, to convey sub-human working conditions. But then as I was able to talk with men and women, some still teenagers, in rural Maranhao, Brazil, I realized that slavery still exists. My eyes were opened on a trip such as Mr. Kristof offers. I was nearing 60 when I went to Brazil in 2006.
Trips such as mine, hosted by Catholic Relief Services and the Cabrini sisters in Brazil, can be startling, eye-opening, no doubt about it. But is it enough, that one’s eyes be opened, I asked myself then.
As I rode on a bus from a remote town on the edge of the Amazon, Acailandia, to the larger town of Imperatiz, in the poor north-central section of Brazil, I questioned how such trips, experienced now by more and more Americans, often college students and professors like myself, usually those who are able to afford the time and cost, can have more lasting benefit.
I tallied up the hours spent by our host organizations and by the countless individuals who told their life stories for our benefit: the rescued slaves who are hidden in safe houses, the courageous human rights workers who file paper work to get them transferred to a safer region, reporters who write about violations of human rights at their peril.
Such a great investment of their time, their desire to help us, their hope that we Americans can assist. What is the pay off for them, I asked myself as the bus pulled into Imperatriz for the night? Can enlightenment and transformation come only as individual Americans, one by one, visit, learn, become enlightened?
Clearly the host agencies lack the capacity for such intense immersion trips for the hundreds of thousands of people who would desire to participate. The cost of such immersions are beyond many. And what is the reciprocal benefit for those who host us?
These are the challenges that the winners of this year’s Win-a-Trip contest must consider: how best to leverage these trips to benefit those we are privileged to visit.
I hope that whoever wins this year will pose that question and come to answers. I came to one in Brazil.
Upon return, I proposed to our host, Catholic Relief Services, the idea of studying e-broad instead of studying abroad. Why couldn’t the powerful tools of 21st-century technology and communication link Americans with those working for social justice around the world? How could students and faculty get some of the benefits of a win-a-trip-like experience, tapping into the resources of the many organizations of civil society in Brazil, India, Gaza, or Sudan?
In six years this germ of an idea has grown to become the “Global Solidarity Network,” a virtual learning community of hundreds upon hundreds of students and professors at Catholic universities around the country dedicated to learning about issues of social justice from people on the ground.
We have used the internet to bring the experience of people working for human rights in distant parts of the world into American classrooms. But this kind of distance learning is in its infancy. If I were to be selected for this year’s trip, my goal would be to explore ways in which the authentic voices of people affected by poverty, war, enslavement can tell their own stories to us.
As a journalism professor, I capture with audio, video, photos, and words what I see on trips to Brazil, Guatemala, along the Mexican border. But the camera, the microphone, the pencil are in my hand, or in the hands of the American students with me.
If I were to be selected, I want to think more deeply, with Mr. Kristof, how more of the voices, words, and pictures, created especially by young people in the regions we visit, can be brought into American college classrooms. Based on the experience of the Global Solidarity Network, American students yearn to hear and see. What can we do, from trips like these, to allow our American young adults to hear what their counterparts abroad have to say?