Thursday, November 15, 2012

The Frisch Africa Encounter

The Frisch Africa Encounter

The Launch

Yesterday, I launched The Frisch Africa Encounter with the sophomores at The Frisch School. This is the second year I'm running this month-long interdisciplinary program, though I launched it this year with the help of current juniors, who were the first in the school to experience it. Launching with the help of students, I discovered, is fantastic. It not only empowers the students creating the launch, but the sophomores who were first learning about what's going to be a month-long exploration of the African continent were much more excited to hear about the program from their peers as opposed to from their boring and generally useless teachers.

The Satire: Is our Wealth Hurting Africa's Feelings?

The juniors and I started the program with a clip from The Onion, not only because the sophomores begin the year learning about The Canterbury Tales and satire, but also because the clip is hilarious. I've watched it about 137 times already, and I still find it funny.

The sophomores also found it pretty amusing, and after we all stopped laughing, we discussed the problems in Africa that the video raises in its satirical way. I pointed out that this was the second year in a row a hurricane has hit the East Coast and wiped out power immediately before the students have to try and imagine what it's like to live in Africa, where many people live not only without electricity but also without proper plumbing, water and basic medical care. I then showed the sophomores this graphic:

The sophomores immediately understood what was wrong with this picture.

The Need to Help

Frisch students are often immersed in social causes -- in fact, they're now busy gathering supplies for victims of Hurricane Sandy -- but the next important step in presenting the program was explaining the necessity of concerning ourselves with those less fortunate who live so far away. My six student representatives from the junior class were up for this task:

This is their script:

Mrs. Wiener: But out of all the countries in the world, why should we care about Africa?

Simmy: Almost immediately after Israel was formed, its leaders began addressing the needs of those on the African continent. 
Golda Meir believed the lessons learned by Israelis could be passed on to Africans.

Ariela: Golda Meir said, "Like them we had shaken off foreign rule; like them, we had to learn for ourselves how to reclaim the land, how to increase the yields of our crops, how to irrigate, how to raise poultry, how to live together, and how to defend ourselves." [Ed. note: this information was taken from the website, Jewish Virtual Library]

Marni: But the need to help the other, the stranger goes back further than that, to the Torah itself, which tells us:

"V'atem ye'datem et nefesh ha-ger ki gerim ha-yitem b'eretz Mitzrayim."

Talia: "And you know the heart of the stranger because you were strangers in the land of Egypt."

That phrase appears 36 times in the Torah, more than love of God or keeping Shabbat.

Mendy: OK, we should help! But how can we help? Lots of places in Africa need our attention. For example, Darfur:

The Darfur genocide began in 2003 and has claimed the lives of hundreds of thousands of people. Millions have been displaced or forced to leave their homes. 

Max: Since 2010 there have been peace talks, but the situation in Sudan is still unstable. 

Then we showed this video:

The Fundraiser for Jewish Heart for Africa

After agreeing that we didn't want to help Darfur by educating Africans about who Matt Damon is and how much he's doing to help Darfur (watch the video), I let the students know that we would be conducting a Green-A-Thon, a program in which the students will raise money by performing green acts. The money students raise will be donated to Jewish Heart for Africa (JHA), an organization that uses sustainable Israeli technologies to improve life in Africa. Follow the link below to a page on JHA's website and watch the funky video on the left side of the webpage to see what the sophomores watched (the video on the right is pretty cool and informative, too). 

[Note: JHA will soon be known as Innovation: Africa.]

Frisch chose to work with Jewish Heart for Africa, which was recently granted consultative status to the UN Economic and Social Council, because the organization accomplishes two very important things:

* it improves life in Africa by using sustainable technologies, that is, technologies that enable Africans to be self-sustaining and that are green
* it improve Israel's economy and Israel's standing in the world

The Month-Long Interdiscplinary Unit

Once the sophomores understood why they should be concerned with Africa, the juniors and I were ready to tell them that over the course of the month, they'll learn about Africa:

* by completing a research paper in history class on some aspect of life in sub-Sahara Africa
* by reading either The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver or Little Bee by Chris Cleave
* by learning about the integration of Ethiopian Jews into Israeli society in a webinar with Israeli educator and my sister Smadar Goldstein of JETS 
* by creating an artwork made of recycled materials and that makes a political statement about life in Africa, with Mrs. Ahuva Mantell, Frisch's art teacher 
* by studying how Judaism advocates for minority rights
* by putting their work onto a digital media platform for a night when they share what they've learned with their parents and the Frisch community. 

The Green-A-Thon will also be a vital part of the month, as Frisch aims to light up a school building in Africa with the money the students raise. Our Green-A-Thon fundraiser has actually been named Lights for Learning.

The Juniors Share The 2011 Frisch Africa Encounter

The juniors wrapped up the program by showing the video they created about what they had gotten out of their Frisch Africa Encounter:

The Month Ahead

I'm now busy gathering a list of students who want to be on an Activities Committee for the evening. Last year the Activities Committee built an African village for the students and parents to visit. I'm also putting together a Green-A-Thon Committee and a list of students who want to create artworks -- from recycled materials, of course -- instead of a digital media project. 

Stay tuned for more details as the month unfolds, and feel free to attend The Frisch Africa Encounter on December 18, 2012!

For More Resources:

Contact me at for a way to access The Frisch School wiki, where you can find additional resources for this interdisciplinary project.

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