If you think the world was a different place in 2019, you should try some 20 million years ago. Back then only the ocean occupied the space where Panama is now.
As a result, two huge continents remained separated, with their inhabitant animals, flora and fauna restricted to those lands. However the movement of tectonic plates and friction caused volcanic eruptions and the gradual settling of sediment and the eventual emergence of land above sea level formed what we now call Panama. What came next with the migration of wildlife, called the Great American Interchange, was among the most important geological events in history.
The Panama Isthmus was the site for a different form of interchange last week as 50 students from across the Scholas and ORT networks met in Panama City. The young people came from Southern Africa, across Europe, Israel, North and Central America and several South American countries.
Scholas is a joint project between the Pope’s foundation and World ORT. Until the pandemic, students met annually at an inter-religious, inter-cultural conference for young people. The aim is to create leaders of the future.
This was the fifth Youth Encounter and as World ORT’s Education Project Manager I was there to introduce the upcoming Global Citizenship Education program to ORT educators (main image) who accompanied our students from Brazil, South Africa, Israel, Peru, Argentina, Mexico and Spain.
Global Citizenship Education is about developing knowledge of the world and the issues we face, building skills and competencies to communicate and collaborate across our differences and behaving proactively to make a positive impact with a global mindset.
The full launch of ORT’s Global Citizenship curriculum is due to take place at our Kfar Silver Youth Village in Israel at the end of this month.
While the ORT and Scholas students got to know each other’s cultures and find commonality despite language differences, the ORT teacher group investigated global issues in a melting pot of English, Hebrew and Spanish. Over the week we took part in ORT-specific sessions as well as exciting activities with the whole group of students.
When we visited the Panama Canal with the students on the first day and witnessed the tremendous feat of engineering which eased trade routes, the ORT teachers spoke about the globalised world and just how much we depend on each other.
The following day, when students presented the results of their discussions about human issues including judgement and superiority, we were looking at Social and Emotional Learning and Non-Violent Communication.
While the student groups visited the Gamboa rainforest by boat and visited the Embera tribe, the teachers investigated identity, culture and co-existence. That our workshops took place in the Kol Shearith Synagogue in Panama City meant this was the first time some participants had encountered Judaism and Jews.
The fourth and final day was a wonderful finale for the program and the young people unveiled a mural they had painted together. They took turns to speak from the stage to their peers, their teachers, Scholas representatives and Panamanian TV about their ideas on the world of the future and their experiences of the week. We were later treated to some traditional Panamanian dancing.
Prior to that, in our final session together, the ORT teachers had outlined the Global Citizenship Education program and the next steps ahead of the full launch of the curriculum.
Panama was the perfect setting for this venture into a globally-minded future, with its location and reputation as an international trade hub, as well as its geographic importance as a corridor between the Americas; where 122 species of migratory birds pass through the country each year.
Global Citizenship Education is about being proud of who we are and where we come from, but also being able to see ourselves as more than just our nationality or background. We are part of a human collective where we take responsibility together for the future and work to face the changing issues of our time.
Eric Schloss is an Education Project Manager in World ORT’s Education Department