Category: April 2020 Newsletter

Credo for a Pandemic: A Call for Inclusion

Inclusion is an essential value during this pandemic time in our world. 

Inclusion is the valuing of the perspectives and contributions of all people and ensuring a safe, affirming, respectful and responsive environment. A guiding principle for co-existence in our society, it is uniquely profound at this moment in time. 

Global Village Project is a voice for equity and inclusion in our commitment to the journey of young women from around the world who come as refugees to this country - who join GVP, become a part of, and help to form community. One caring loving community.

Now, this season of global crisis is also an opportunity for all of us as One GVP Community to be an amplified voice for diversity, equity and inclusion, to continue to expand our loving practices in the world beyond our village. There are profound and beautiful examples of kindnesses that we read about, observe, or give and receive ourselves: people helping each other, bridging distance to connect. The power of diversity defined is indeed who we each are - as diverse as the concept of each of us. While diversity is often spoken of in terms of race or ethnicity, it includes a spectrum as “diverse” as can be imagined, that which reflects each of us as individuals.

Still, it is equally important to understand the nature of diversity, equity and inclusion as it pertains to the particular challenges faced by many in our society. Marginalized people, in a society where we all live in the same country and world, nonetheless have vastly different experiences.

To help us think through the nature of these experiences, Intersectionality is a term that is increasingly used in our world today.

It is a critical theory that originated in 1989 by American civil rights advocate and scholar Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw, Esq. to describe overlapping or intersecting social identities - the phenomenon that multiple identities intersect to create a whole that is different from the singular identities. Identities that can intersect include gender, race, social class, ethnicity, nationality, sexual orientation, religion, age, mental disability, physical disability, mental illness and physical illness, as well as others. Intersectionality recognizes these intersecting identities and the related systems of oppression that occur based upon them. The mutuality of vulnerability can in fact, impact us all.

We can utilize the understanding of this phenomenon to uplift our collective journey for all identities. In a season such as now, crisis and challenge can bring out the best in us, our loving humanity, and it can bring to the forefront the painful challenges and inequities that are also ours, all of ours, to work through together as a society. Thus, when we hear emerging data from the CDC and states around the country that the Coronavirus is disproportionately impacting people of color, for example, the commitment to inclusion calls all of us as a community to stand together in combating this virus and doing our best to support and protect all.

The principles and practices of diversity, equity and inclusion are the means by which we as humans can ultimately heal, grow and flourish. Recognizing that each person’s truth and journey may be different, but that, as this pandemic season can teach us, we are all in this together. 

 

As always, we welcome your insights and questions regarding DEI, GVP's journey, and more. We invite you to reach out to Transformation Management and DEI Specialist Jai Simpson-Joseph, Esq., at jsimpson@globalvillageproject.org with any feedback.

GVP Delivers Food to Families During Crisis

At 9:15 am on a bright Friday morning, Denise Reidy-Puckett and Crispin Ilombe Wilondja are loading over a hundred bags of food into the Global Village Project bus with help from volunteers. By this time of day in pre-pandemic life, Crispin would usually have already finished driving his bus route to take students to school, but this time he and Denise aren’t going to Clarkston to pick students up - they’re going to drop food and supplies off.

Since Global Village Project transitioned to remote learning on March 17th, holistic support for students has transformed into a more dynamic, expansive, and responsive initiative than ever before. GVP has always been committed to supporting our refugee students beyond the academic, from our focus on social and emotional learning to the importance of the arts in our curriculum. Similarly, we have long incorporated practices that address needs specific to our student body, such as hiring interpreters for parent-teacher conferences and providing transportation to and from conferences. 

But holistic support during a pandemic has taken things to a new level, to say the least. The crisis has challenged the GVP team to ask ourselves again and again, “What do our students and families need right now? What does holistic support look like during this time?” The GVP team has had to be perceptive and responsive to additional challenges to students’ education and wellbeing during the crisis: Do the students need Bluetooth keyboards to be able to learn remotely? Done. Does a family lack an internet connection at home? We’ll get a Wifi card for them. Are students’ families at risk of experiencing food security? We’ll work with our partners to deliver food to their homes. School Support Specialist Crispin Ilombe Wilondja, as well as School Counselor Katelynn Villari and volunteer Basmat Ahmed, have all been working together to call every GVP family each week to check in about their critical needs. In spite of the many disruptions caused by the crisis, the strength of our community has not faltered during this time, only deepened.

For weeks after GVP transitioned to remote learning, Crispin and GVP Operations Manager Denise made weekly rounds through Clarkston to deliver food and supplies to students and their families. Some Fridays they came bearing new remote learning tech, other weeks they brought hand sanitizer donated by Little Otter Skincare. Sometimes they brought homework packets prepared by GVP teachers. Always, they had food: hundreds of bags of food provided by the Atlanta Food Bank, GVP itself, and Snack in a Backpack, a food assistance program for food-insecure students and a long-time GVP partner. From shelf-stable bags of rice to fresh, snackable oranges, all 31 GVP families received food assistance to help ease their burden during the crisis. To complete the deliveries, Crispin and Denise donned masks and stayed in the front of the bus, while GVP students picked up pre-packaged bags from the bus’s back door more than six feet away. 

These are certainly strange times. Yet, for all the ways in which COVID-19 has called upon GVP to navigate unprecedented territory, the process of figuring out the way forward has been simplified by relying on the same commitment that has always guided us: that of educational equity for the refugee students at our school.  “The DNA of GVP,” says Crispin, “is diversity, equity, and inclusion.” GVP’s story has always been that of a small but mighty team of people dedicated to removing barriers to refugee girls’ access to education. Today, we are still doing what we have always done best: innovating, caring for our GVP family, and serving as a vital link between the community we serve and much-needed access to resources and information. Whether it’s removing a technological barrier or ensuring our students have enough food to eat, everything we do aims to recognize and address gaps in support so that refugee girls have full, unfettered access to the education they deserve.

While the GVP team remains unwavering in our commitment to students and families, the manifestation of our commitment continues to adapt to the ever-evolving circumstances of this pandemic. The weeks during which Crispin and Denise made their weekly Friday rounds provided crucial coverage while organizations specializing in addressing food insecurity planned and coordinated their COVID-19 services. At this time, GVP is transitioning from providing direct food assistance to connecting students and families with other organizations better equipped to manage long-term support in this area. As such, Crispin and Denise completed their last Friday run on April 17th. Now students and families are picking up food provided by local food pantries, Atlanta Food Bank, and DeKalb County Schools, available at public schools throughout the Clarkston area.

Even so, GVP’s role as an access point and supportive presence for our students and families continues. The Family Support Team remains in touch with every GVP family each week, and our holistic support model allows us to quickly connect our families to whatever type of assistance is needed, from employment help to healthcare resources. Whether we can directly help or we can connect them to someone else who can, it is our commitment to ensure that no GVP family feels like they are navigating this crisis alone.

Because they aren’t. They have a whole ‘global village’ standing alongside them, and we are all in this together.

 

To give to Global Village Project's COVID-19 Crisis Appeal, visit bit.ly/gvpcovidappeal.

Team Effort and Tech Make for Remote Learning Success

In a game of charades via Zoom, Ms. Anne Garbarino mimes brushing her hair to evoke a character from the fairy tales learning unit. “Rapunzel!” come the triumphant shouts from across a grid of students video calling into the class. A student goes next, borrowing a chair to use as a prop so that she can act out the scene with a broken chair from “Goldilocks and the Three Bears”. 

The game proceeds with hiccups here and there - a couple students don’t have their video camera on, and family members’ conversations can often be heard in the background. With all the students participating separately in their own homes and their teacher far away, it doesn’t really feel like “business as normal.” Yet for these students and their teacher to be gathered together in this virtual space, discussing their favorite fairy tales characters, is more than a success in this time of crisis: it is a beautiful, remarkable thing.

Like many schools across the country, Global Village Project has not held in-person classes in over a month due to COVID-19. GVP’s last day on-site was March 16th. All hands were on deck during this last half-day of classes, as staff and volunteers rushed to prepare the supplies and resources students would need for quarantine: iPads, chargers, food, thermometers, COVID-19 information, homework packets, and more. Students practiced logging into all their learning apps, listened to instructions from health class volunteers, and packed their bags to go home.

Then their teachers kicked planning into high-gear. Through a concerted effort from GVP’s dedicated teachers and team of academic coordinators, GVP pivoted quickly and constructively to build a robust remote learning model for our students. Teachers dove into learning a whole new set of online platforms. Academic coordinators set up a daily schedule and provided ongoing tech support. Our family support team delivered keyboards and styluses to students’ homes in Clarkston and set up Wifi connections for those who needed them. Getting the students online, engaged, and learning was a monumental task that required a coordinated and holistic team. Yet it was made possible by a fierce commitment to our students’ ongoing education. 

Recognition of one simple fact drove our work forward: that while learning during this crisis was going to be hardest for students who are already underserved - students like ours, refugee girls who have all experienced interrupted education, it is precisely because they are already disadvantaged that we can’t let them fall behind.

Rolling out new elements week by week, the GVP team has developed a remote learning model that incorporates both synchronous and asynchronous activities to keep students engaged. Students meet every day at noon for a virtual study hall with teachers and Americorps service members. They hop onto Google Hangouts for two live classes each day in core academic areas, and they have assignments via Google Classroom to complete in their own time. They even have virtual music classes with Ms. Elise Witt and drama classes with Playmaking for Girls, and they are continuing weekly counseling classes with Social and Emotional Learning Coordinator Katelynn Villari.

All in all, the core components that make up GVP’s unique, holistic educational program are alive and well in our new virtual school. Still, the transition hasn’t been without its hardships. As STEAM Coordinator Danielle Ereddia explains, access to education in this new world has become completely mediated by technology, and students’ ability to engage can sometimes be contingent on minute details, like knowing which button to press to find their assignments. Many students are also now facing increased responsibilities at home and need to support their parents by cooking and taking care of siblings.

Most of all, there is the heartache. Students miss the school, their teachers, and each other; teachers long for hugs from students and the vibrancy so easily found along the hallway of GVP. When asked what the most challenging part of remote learning was, Danielle Ereddia’s reply was instant: “It’s that all of our hearts are aching.”

Until we can come together as a school again, back in our hallway on the third floor of Decatur Presbyterian Church, at least we have games of Zoom charades to keep our school community connected. We will continue to make the most out of this challenging situation. We will continue to grow and learn, one day at a time. And when we emerge on the other side, whenever that may be, our school community will be stronger for it.

Read a reflection from GVP Teacher Ms. Garbarino about her experience as an educator during COVID-19: "Teaching in the Time of Corona".

GVP Family Sews Masks for Healthcare Workers

While businesses have shuttered and people are staying at home, Yaser and Barwin Musa have not been idle.

The Syrian couple, parents to multiple current and past GVP students, have been hard at work making masks for healthcare workers since COVID-19 cases in Georgia began to climb. A professional tailor, Yaser sews up to 50 masks a day while his wife Barwin and their five children help assemble them. Together, the family has made over 500 masks and donated hundreds of them to Emory University Hospital and Children’s Hospital of Atlanta for workers who are on the frontlines of COVID-19.

The project began in mid-March, when Barwin learned from retired family nurse practitioner Genia Duchon that Emory healthcare workers were asking for cloth masks that could be placed over the N-95’s in short supply. Genia, a volunteer at Global Village Project and GVP mentor to the Musas’ eldest daughter, initially asked Barwin if her husband could make 50 masks to donate to Emory. Barwin and Yaser stepped up without hesitation: they made 50 masks for Emory hospitals, and then they made 50 more. Before long, they were making hundreds.

Barwin says that she and Yaser are making masks because they want to help other people and help America. She says they want to pay forward the kindness that others have shown them. Since coming to the U.S. in 2016, Barwin and Yaser have both used their talents to start their own businesses, and they are grateful for the support they have received from friends and community members. 

The family has worked hard to rebuild their lives after fleeing their war-torn home of Aleppo, where Yaser was once a master gown-maker and Barwin a high school history teacher. When regular bombings made life in Syria unbearable, the family of seven escaped to Turkey, where they lived for four years. During this time, the children weren’t allowed to attend school due to their refugee status. Barwin and Yaser then applied for their family to be resettled in the U.S., and after a rigorous screening process, they arrived in Clarkston, Georgia in 2016. Soon after, Barwin and Yaser’s oldest daughter began school at Global Village Project. Their two younger daughters then followed in her footsteps.

Now, Barwin runs her own catering business, Aleppo Kitchen, while Yaser operates Morning Start Atelier, his tailoring business. The help they’ve received along the way drives their desire to give back during this crisis: “When other people know about my company, they help me,” says Barwin. “And now I want to do something to help others, too.”

The masks are truly the products of care and generosity. The family buys all the supplies - elastic, fabric, and lining material - using their own money. Plus, there is the gift of their time and energy: the hours spent operating the sewing machine and iron, as well as, Barwin says, the hour-and-a-half long waits at the store Yaser sometimes has to endure to purchase materials. While the process can be tedious, Barwin says they are happy to do what they can to help others during this hard time.

Like every other family, the Musas are looking forward to the day when we can return to normal life; their middle daughter, who graduates from GVP’s Form 3 in May, is eager to start at Atlanta International School this fall after having recently received a scholarship. In the meantime, however, Yaser and Barwin have no plans to stop making masks anytime soon. They have a sewing machine, tailoring skills, and most importantly, an abundance of care for their community, and they will continue to use these tools to make life for other people just a little easier and safer during this difficult time.

If you would like to support Yaser and Barwin’s efforts, they are accepting donations by check: please address your donation to Morning Star Atelier and mail it to the address below. In addition, their masks are now available for purchase for $10 each or $25 for three on Morning Star Atelier’s Facebook page. Barwin and Yaser can also be reached for further inquiries via email at barwinaivesh7@gmail.com or by phone at 404-665-6600.

Yaser and Barwin Musa
3841 Brockett Trail
Apt B
Clarkston, GA 30021

Rising Scholars Engage in Service and Leadership

“People feel better and comfortable when they feel loved,” says a Global Village Project student.

In a virtual meeting, the students of GVP’s inaugural Rising Scholars Society are brainstorming about the objectives of their service project. The students have decided to focus on initiatives related to advocacy and awareness now that the possibilities of a more interactive project are unlikely. While they’re not sure yet what their end product will look like, the girls know that their goal is to send messages of compassion and empathy to those experiencing homelessness.

All the Form 3 students this year opted to join the new Rising Scholars Society (RSS), a pilot program that was launched at GVP this school year. Designed for students in their last semester at GVP, the program is focused on leadership development, 21st century skills, preparing for high school, and college and career readiness. The goal is to equip these young women with the skills and confidence they need to be leaders in high school and beyond.

RSS activities can look very different from one day to the next. On one day in January, students found themselves testing out their collaboration and problem-solving skills while completing a scavenger hunt. Other meetings this semester have been spent learning about how to prepare for college, discussing different styles of leadership, and exploring personal strengths.

Students have even gotten to meet powerful women leaders in real life: on March 12, Lucy Kocharyan, who received the 2020 International Women of Courage Award from the U.S. Department of State, visited the school and did a Q&A with the Rising Scholars. Ms. Kocharyan told students about how she has used her voice to bring attention to issues affecting women and children in her country of Armenia. GVP students then shared their own thoughts about gender inequality and the importance of being independent women. Walking away from the discussion, one student said of Kocharyan, "I thought she was really inspiring."

As the Scholars have explored their own paths to inspiring leadership this year, the program’s culminating activity will be their collective service project. The project is one they are expected to take full ownership over, and the students have already been mulling over ideas for how they can help other people. With guidance from academic coordinators Katelynn Villari and Cassie Leymarie, the students are responsible for identifying a needin the community and designing and executing their own project to make a positive impact. The objective is to give students a real-life, hands-on opportunity to help change the world around them for the better.

This year, some of the direct service initiatives the Scholars had originally envisioned have had to be set aside in light of the coronavirus pandemic. However, the students still hope to make a difference by finding creative ways to communicate to people experiencing homelessness that they are not unloved or alone. They are exploring the possibility of creating signs or posters with loving messages to share in public, or even making supportive bracelets. Through whatever means they end up pursuing, the students hope to give people experiencing homelessness an uplifting boost of compassion. They want to show people who are struggling during this time love and kindness - “just in case,” one Scholar notes, “they don’t have anyone to love them, if they are lonely.” The Scholars will complete their service project before they complete classes on May 15th.

Teaching in the Time of Corona: A Reflection from Anne Garbarino

Anne Garbarino is the Form 2 & 3 English Language Arts teacher & Literacy Coordinator at Global Village Project, a school for refugee girls.

"Ping!" "Ping, Ping, Ping!" Has become the soundtrack of my Covid-19 era teacher identity. Our GVP Google Hangouts App functions like text messaging and group calls. I have it loaded onto both my computer and phone, and often get messages like "Miss I don't see any assignment on kids a to z." "Can we talk on call I need help in writing Counter Argument" (heart emoji, heart emoji, smiley face, weird maniacal looking rabbit)[sic]

I actually love the periods of constant barrage. It signals that my students are engaged, responsible, and see me as a source of help even when I'm not physically present. Even if it is a reminder that my "posts," "assignments," and cobbled together videos are less-than-perfect, warranting some follow-up and even complaint. "Why did u put the movie on BrainPOP two times" Not to mention that my students have completely forgotten everything Amy Pun and I have taught about punctuation.

Along with "chatting" my new favorite work hobby is watching the number of "turned in" assignments uptick on my Google Classroom page- it's like magic! No lost student binders. No teacher clipboards with checklists bearing now-strange codes I have to reinterpret when putting into the gradebook. It's all just digitally there for me to grade, comment, send back for revision, and then follow-up with an emoji sticker on Hangouts. I've never been so organized (or free with stickers). Without this forced change, it could have been years before I tried this platform.

Of course, the assignments don't get turned in by everyone. Some of my earlier chats were like sad, unrequited love notes that might as well have been messages in bottles: "Hi Friends, just reaching out because I notice that you have not started writing your Opinion Letter on Google Drive yet. It is due tomorrow. Does anyone have questions about how to get to the document on the drive?". . . anyone. . . anyone. . . ?

Thankfully, as a teacher, I have a wonderful network of support. Crispin calls students and families on the good old fashioned cell phone, and until recently he and Denise have even been delivering packets of work by bus. Danielle, Katelynn, and Cassie have been a huge help for everything from tech support for students and teachers to creating a schedule to keep us all on track. Some of the students themselves have been amazing. They help me experiment with new websites, get back to me with feedback, but most importantly help each other find assignments and figure out how to do the work on the iPad. The fact that every student has an iPad and a wifi connection is amazing, and something I can thank Dr. Amy and our development team for setting into place this year through grants. Many of my other teacher and administrator friends feel so helpless right now without the contact that this technology allows.

It's not the same of course. I miss hugging and high fiving the students. I miss watching them act, sing, dance, and play. I miss the amazing volunteers and my two interns and all they bring to our classroom community. My heart truly aches for my Form 3 homeroom, who will miss the trips and traditional graduation events we've been looking forward to all year, though we hope to celebrate in other ways.

But at least we are staying connected, as best we can. Our live Zoom classes put us in each other's homes playing fairy tale character charades. Family members are walking through and sometimes yelling in the background, including my own. We've finally learned to "mute" but everyone understands when background noise happens. And when the live classes are missed, which happens too, my heart is once again lifted when I hear another "ping" on a group chat and see one of the absent students has written: "Guys what did we learn about today Can you guys tell me about it"

Yes, yes we can. But first, let me tell you about how to find the question mark key.