Category: GVP News

Evelyn Ombeni, Congolese Lawyer, Shares Her Story with GVP Students

As part of our ongoing journey as a school to advance equity in education, GVP is constantly exploring ways to better equip our students for success, removing barriers to their learning and amplifying their voices as young leaders. One of these avenues is through exposure to role models, opportunities, and experiences that reflect theirs in multiple ways. This month, we were thrilled to welcome a remarkable woman to speak to a subset of our students during their advisory class.

Evelyn Ombeni is a Congolese lawyer at the International Court of Justice at the Hague, who specializes in war crimes and defending the rights of child soldiers and women victims of sexual violence. She is also a childhood friend of Mr. Crispijn Wilondja, GVP’s School Support Coordinator. It was an honor to have her join the class by Zoom to share her story with the students. Incidentally, all of the students in this advisory class happened to be African - from Tanzania and Congo, like Mr. Crispin - so the whole advisory was conducted in Swahili.

Ms. Ombeni talked about her own life growing up as an orphan in wartime Congo. She talked about her commitment to her education and how that was the game-changer. She told the students that she studied law so she could defend the rights of children of war and restore their right to education. She worked her way to The Hague, where she is now based as a law practitioner. She spoke directly to the students’ experiences as refugees and young women and encouraged them not to see those facts of their stories as handicaps, but rather as sources of empowerment: "Your identity should not be limited by the fact that you are a refugee," she told them. “You are more than that. Your education is your right. Don't temper your ambitions because you are a girl. If a boy can become president of a country, a doctor, or a pilot, so can you. You are just as smart and as capable."

Ms. Ombeni’s story was a powerful reminder to our students that they are not alone, and that they are just as capable and brilliant as anyone else. The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals identify equity in education as a priority, and welcoming Ms. Ombeni to our advisory classroom was just one of many ways that GVP strives to make our classrooms more inclusive. While refugee learners often don't get to see stories like theirs featured in traditional educational settings, GVP's commitment to culturally responsive teaching means centering our students’ experiences, backgrounds, knowledge, and cultures in all aspects of learning. All students deserve to be exposed to role models who look and sound like them: Ms. Ombeni’s own experiences as a child, and how she used them to chart her path to success, offer students a potential roadmap for what is possible in their own lives.

Ms. Ombeni is already planning her next virtual visit to GVP. This time, she will be meeting with the whole school, and we are excited for her to share her story with all 50 of our students. We hope it inspires them to continue to dream big.

Students Write, Create, Remix New Music in Songwriters’ Club

How do we deal with the many feelings we experience while stuck at home and living through a pandemic? For some GVP students, the answer is through songwriting.

A new student-led Songwriters’ Club has flourished at GVP as a unique space for students to explore composing their own songs and remixing others’. Students meet weekly via Zoom to workshop original lyrics and share their latest creations with peers. They swap techniques for using GarageBand, a digital music creation studio available on their iPads. And the finished products are impressive: as STEAM Coordinator Danielle Ereddia says, “It's not only that students are writing lyrics, they're writing melodies and using loops, voice filters, and instruments on GarageBand to construct multi-layered songs...with up to 14 different tracks on one song.”

It all started last summer when a student approached Music Teacher Elise Witt with an ask: she had composed a set of song lyrics and wanted help turning them into a song. Elise, a professional singer-songwriter, worked with the student in the fall semester via Zoom to transform her original lyrics into a fully fleshed out song. When other students caught wind of this exciting new project, they wanted in, too - and a new club was born.

Songwriters’ Club is yet another example of how the pandemic, while dramatically limiting educational opportunities, has also opened unexpected doors: GVP students taught themselves GarageBand using the iPads distributed by GVP for remote learning. As Elise recalls, “Songwriters’ Club began as our first pandemic experimentation with clubs. I am thrilled with how the students have taken the idea and run with it, teaching each other (and me!) how to use the technology.” Students have written songs about their experiences as immigrants and about the judgments they sometimes face as newcomers to the U.S. Others have used the technology to reimagine traditional songs from their home cultures, adding unique layers and harmonies to create something new. The innovation is endless: “[Students] are creating marvelous and intricate arrangements on Garageband,” says Elise, “coming up with layered, polyrhythmic vocal harmonies, and having fun playing with the different instruments and effects.”

Of course, the use of music as a vehicle for self-expression and learning is nothing new at GVP. Songwriters’ Club is only the newest addition to an arts-integrated curriculum that has long prioritized opportunities for students to experience, create, and perform music and other forms of art. With the courage and creativity of GVP’s many arts teachers, volunteers, and partners, that commitment has been sustained during remote learning as well: This February, GVP students were captivated by virtual guest performances from music artists like Lea Morris and Arnae Batson. 21 GVP students are currently learning ukulele, guitar, or piano virtually as part of the instruments lessons offered to students every year. And every week, students participate in drama classes with GVP’s long-time partner Playmaking for Girls via Zoom.

These activities not only help students experience the power and joy of art, but also contribute to their learning of English and core subjects. “GVP students who are now in college,” says Ms. Elise, “tell me they remember the Water Treatment Cycle, Math Operations, and the Five Freedoms because of the songs we wrote together.” Music helps students solidify their understanding of a range of topics from their content classes, from similes to life cycles, through the songs they write with Elise in weekly music classes. Most recently, our newcomer class has been working on a song about rights that they hope to share with our wider community at the Virtual Authors’ Tea in May!

Above all, engagement with the arts - including activities like Songwriters’ Club - is critical for empowering GVP students to use their voices. Refugee learners face many barriers as they navigate a new language, culture, and country, but through music, GVP students gain a creative pathway to sharing their voices and growing into capable young leaders. “You can see,” says Danielle, “when our Form 1 students are still nervous to be on the stage. And the Form 2 students are a little more comfortable. But the Form 3 students - they’re glowing. They are so proud to be standing on stage and sharing and using their voices. I think that is what is the most powerful about the arts at GVP.” 

These days, the student who inspired the creation of  Songwriter's Club has been putting the finishing touches on her original song, which is about how she misses everyone during remote learning and hopes she’ll see them again. She shared a version of her creation with the whole school during our virtual GVP’s Got Talent this December. Her school sisters cheered her on with gusto. It was clear that the song had struck a chord with them, too, as all our students eagerly await the day when we can safely return to school, and sing together, once again.

February is Black History Month. So is every month of the year.

I grew up in a small, predominantly white town outside of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. I honestly don’t recall Black History being a part of what we learned in February, or the rest of the year. While most folks and schools are now aware of Black History Month, it is important to dig deeper and think critically about what it means to have a month dedicated to the history of such a rich, expansive, and exponentially diverse group of people.

No matter one’s background, it is important to reflect on how Black history was integrated into your schooling. Were the diverse histories of the diaspora shared throughout the year or boiled down to one month? Did administrators and teachers only teach about classic Black icons (Martin Luther King, Jr., Rosa Parks, Ruby Bridges, and so on), or did they make an effort to incorporate lesser told stories of Black excellence, liberation, and culture not found in mainstream textbooks written by white folks? And when Black icons were being celebrated, were the narratives multidimensional or only focused on the aspects of a person’s life most palatable to a white audience?

The seed that evolved into Black History Month was sown in the early 20th century. Historian Carter G. Woodson and minister Jesse E. Moorland founded an organization (now known as the Association for the Study of African American Life and History or ASALH) dedicated to researching and promoting the achievement of Black Americans. In 1926, the group sponsored Negro History Week, and over several decades many communities and organizations adopted variations of the celebration. In 1976, Black History Month was recognized by then President Gerald Ford for the first time, and every year since, the American president has endorsed February as a month to thematically explore the history of Black People, with corporations, colleges, universities, and many other institutions following suit. 

Knowing the origins and evolution of Black History Month is an important part of the journey towards integrating Black voices and history into standard curricula. In teaching Black history, educators must consider how critical thinking skills are key to understanding history in general, and especially to understanding how history is written - a lesson that deserves emphasis all year long. Black History Month lesson plans must use critical thinking skills as a catalyst for each discussion, and teachers should seek out less frequently taught stories, histories, authentic texts, and first person narratives to supplement and stand alongside mandatory texts throughout the year. 

Black History Month is also an opportunity for predominantly white schools, especially at the secondary level, to explore the rarely discussed construct of Whiteness. Even preliminary discussions of Whiteness and its historical and present implications can help foster critical dialogues about where a month ascribed as “The month for Black History” comes from. 

At a school like GVP, our educational team strives to incorporate texts and stories about Black excellence throughout the year - all of our students are students of color, and in our country, many are perceived to be Black and are treated as such, whether they self-identify as Black or not. To build a more culturally responsive curriculum, we intentionally feature stories not only from the United States, but also from around the world. We often face the unique challenge of finding content that meets students where they are in terms of their literacy level while also offering the appropriate level of depth and maturity. A lot of primary grade-leveled texts only feature the most common Black icons, and while we take pleasure in teaching about them, we also know that our students deserve more. Our intention for the future is to create our own resources that explore the histories GVP students can best access and relate to. 

Black History, when incorporated into school lessons, is an evolving collection of voices from all over the world. Indeed, Black history ought to be considered synonymous with history, given the integral role that Black people have always played in U.S. and world history.  Black History Month has its place in the calendar year; however, perhaps it is best seen as a month to remind educators that if we truly desire to create more equitable classrooms, we must strive continually and intentionally to elevate the undertold truths of Black experiences all year round.

Why Diversity Alone Isn’t Enough

“You can mandate diversity, but you can't mandate inclusion. Inclusion is about behavior, relationships. You have to change hearts and minds.” - Esi Minta-Jacobs

In this final installment of our mini-series breaking down and deconstructing the individual components of DEI (read previous months’ posts about Diversity and Equity here), we turn our focus to inclusion, the third and most elusive component of DEI. Of the three principles, inclusion is perhaps the most difficult to meaningfully and sustainably uphold. However, it is critical to ensuring that organizations are truly supportive of all peoples, especially those who are marginalized.

A working definition of inclusion is that it values the perspectives and contributions of all people and ensures a safe, affirming, respectful, and responsive environment. For those who tend towards the metaphorical, Dr. Johnetta Cole, former president of Spelman College, offers a creative way of understanding inclusion:

Your Dance Card

Diversity is when everyone is invited to the dance.
Equity is when no one gets a special invitation.
Inclusion is when everyone is asked to do their dance.

- Dr. Johnetta B. Cole

The key takeaway from these definitions is that inclusion is not a state that exists naturally, but must be actively created. While a group can be measurably diverse, diversity on its own does not ensure inclusion - inclusion requires an intentional effort to create and protect all identities that may otherwise “attend the dance” but never sway to their own rhythm. In order to leverage diversity, an environment must be created where people feel supported, listened to, and able to do their personal best. Under these conditions, every person’s voice adds value, and no one person can or should be called upon to represent an entire community.

As such, inclusion cannot be achieved through policy changes alone. It requires a comprehensive assessment of how an organization’s culture, practices, relationships, and norms may benefit some but exclude others, and a commitment to changing them so the organization’s environment is conducive to everyone’s full participation. Without this level of intentionality, recruiting people of marginalized identities to an organization just for the sake of diversity can actually cause harm and bring them undue stress (for example, read The Atlantic’s Being Black—but Not Too Black—in the Workplace). Diversity without inclusion equates to putting marginalized people into spaces in which they may not feel safe, respected, supported, or seen.

Thus, a paradigm shift and strategic actions are required to truly accomplish “full” inclusion in any given organization committed to this endeavor. The challenge is to be sure that the words “diversity, equity and inclusion” are put into action and practice, and never rendered meaningless language. While we recognize this process will always be an inherent balance of intentional and organic growth, GVP is committed to staying current on emerging issues and trends on inclusive organizational culture, and we look forward to sharing updates on our ongoing DEI initiatives in coming months.

6 Ways GVP Mentors Support Alumnae’s Dreams

It can make a world a difference to have someone believing in you and rooting for you at every turn. GVP students' families are all deeply committed to their daughters' education, and as part of our holistic model, GVP mentors also help students remain connected to a community of support after they graduate. In honor of National Mentoring Month, this month we are celebrating the many ways that GVP mentors are making that difference - helping to provide critical support so alumnae can thrive in their continuing academic journeys. 

Multiple research studies demonstrate the positive social and emotional effects that strong and meaningful mentoring relationships have on students, especially for those at risk of not finishing high school (amle.org). GVP’s mentorship program pairs every graduating student with a mentor during her final year at GVP, marking the start to a long-term, 1-on-1 relationship in which the mentor accompanies the alumna as she and her family navigate her future beyond GVP. Currently, 75 mentees are supported by 60 active mentors in the GVP community.  

Here are 6 ways that our extraordinary GVP mentors show support, encouragement, and love to their mentees every day:   

  1. By encouraging and supporting interests: “My mentor has helped me to open my door for new experiences. She always encourages and supports me in anything I’m interested in. I am beyond grateful for what my mentor and GVP have done for me.” - En Kawli
  2. By offering care and understanding. "My mentor and I are super close - she is like a second mom. She inspired me to become a nurse and has always been there for me. When I'm anxious, she sends me chocolate. We both understand each other." - Ayat
  3. By going the distance. "My mentor, Mrs. Robbin, had done many things for me. One of the most memorable things I remember was when we were on the college search during my junior year in high school. Not only did she drive me all the way to Alabama to visit college, but she also bought me a plane ticket, and we flew together to Baltimore, Maryland to look at a college campus in person. I had never imagined someone who will give their love and time to people that they are not even blood-related. We might not be blood-related, but in my heart, she is the most loving mom to me.” - Ehsoe
  4. By offering a different perspective. "Growing up in a refugee camp limited my perspectives on things. Still, my mentor inspired me to gain a fresh perspective and learn a new way of thinking, not only for my academics but also for my personal decision and growth. I really thank her for all the things she has done for me and that she is an amazing person anyone could ever ask for." - Ker Ler Moo
  5. By soothing college application stress! “My mentor helped me choose my college. I was so anxious but my mentor talked me through it, calmed me down, and helped me plan everything - so grateful to her!" - Asma
  6. By inspiring a drive to help others. “I genuinely adore my mentor so much, and she always inspired me in so many ways. If there is one thing I can give her back, it will be following her footstep by showing how to love others and helping people who are in need." - Ehsoe

Honoring the International Day of Education in a Pandemic

“Our vision is to ensure that all refugee girls with interrupted schooling have access to the education necessary to pursue their dreams.” - Global Village Project

In the midst of a global pandemic, today we are recognizing the International Day of Education with a renewed passion and commitment to protecting education as a basic human right. 

This year’s Day of Education is unlike any other in recent human history, for the level of simultaneous disruption to education across the globe is unprecedented. With schools, universities, and literacy and lifelong learning programs all navigating physical closures, the U.N. estimates that 1.6 billion students in over 190 countries have had their education interrupted due to the pandemic. Thus, this International Day of Education is not just a day to celebrate educational gains and identify ongoing challenges, but an occasion for a global reckoning with the role education must play in recovery and revitalization. The U.N. states, “As a new year begins, now is the time to step up collaboration and international solidarity to place education and lifelong learning at the centre of the recovery and the transformation towards more inclusive, safe and sustainable societies.”

The COVID-19 pandemic adds yet another layer of complexity to the educational terrain that GVP students have been navigating for years. This year’s student cohort includes 50 students from 20 different countries, all of whom arrived in the U.S. with interrupted or little formal schooling. Wrought with war, violence, and forced displacement, the experiences of our students reflect the harsh reality that when conflicts between those in power play out - often cast by the long shadow of colonization and imperialism - it is everyday people who stand to get hurt. Reflecting on the conflict and forced displacement she experienced in East Africa, GVP alumna Bertha Nibigira says, “All these things that were constantly happening, you know, they started from the government, and then they trickle down to us.” Indeed, in areas of conflict, girls and women are the first to miss out on education, and are 90% more likely to be out of secondary school than those living in conflict-free regions.

When refugees are relocated to the U.S., they often face a different, though similarly daunting, new landscape of education. Refugee learners who are navigating a new language, new country, and new learning environment rarely get the support they need, which severely jeopardizes their ability to succeed in school. In the state of Georgia, the graduation rate for English Language Learners, which includes many immigrant and refugee students, is 29% lower than the average. Similarly, the disappearance rate of refugee students in secondary school is as high as 75%. Continued barriers to education in the U.S. include language, a lack of individualized support, and systemic inequality due to a society and educational system geared towards the needs and experiences of white, middle-class Americans. The combined effect of these challenges often produces unfulfilled dreams for even the most ambitious of young refugee students. What refugee learners need, what GVP provides, is a unique, holistic model of education that puts relationships first and nurtures students' individual strengths.

That’s why at GVP, we are celebrating this International Day of Education and beginning a new year with an unshakeable drive to serve our students - remarkable young women whose educational journeys have been impacted by international crises, shortcomings in our national educational system, and now, a global pandemic. If there is one thread that draws these distinct challenges together, it is that education remains a necessity no matter how difficult, complex, or unprecedented the circumstances.

Revisiting Equity at the End of 2020

“Equality says we treat everyone the same, regardless of headwinds or tailwinds. Equity says we give people what they need to have the same access and opportunities as others, taking into account the headwinds they face, which may mean differential treatment for some groups.” ― Dolly Chugh, The Person You Mean to Be: How Good People Fight Bias

We wanted to close out this year by talking about equity: its definition, its role with the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) framework, and its significance in this unique and challenging year. Our focus on equity this month follows the October newsletter’s feature on diversity, as we dive more deeply into each component of DEI in succession.

Put simply, an equity-based approach is one that ensures everyone has access to the same opportunities. Not to be confused with equality, treating everyone the same, equity is distinct in that it requires us to make the necessary adjustments to ensure fair treatment, access, opportunity, and advancement for all, no matter what identities a person holds or what experiences they have had. Equity acknowledges uneven starting places and seeks to correct the imbalance. 

Why is equity essential for a more just society? While at first blush treating people equally may seem like the fairer approach, equal treatment only makes sense if everyone is starting from the same place and all need the same help. This is a far cry from the world we live in, in which system oppression and individual differences across a variety of factors - race, gender, sexuality, disability, age, citizenship status, and many, many more - scatter us across uneven playing fields. Thus, tackling equity issues requires an understanding of the underlying or root causes of outcome disparities within our society. Equity is critical to a DEI framework because it builds upon diversity to ensure that people from different backgrounds are not only invited into the room, but also ensured equal access to opportunities. 

This year threw into sharp relief inequities that have long existed across society, which exacerbated the pandemic’s effects for many marginalized groups. Inequities in education, housing, employment, and healthcare have all shaped how different individuals and communities have been impacted by the pandemic - meaning that all of us who are committed to DEI have our work cut out for us. Global Village Project’s role in addressing inequity this season has focused on ensuring our students - as refugees, English Language Learners, and young women of color - have the resources and support they need to learn. Yet larger, systemic change on a national level is what we really require to ensure all students have what they need to thrive. 

As we close out this year, the devastation wreaked by this pandemic is heavy on our minds. But at the very least, we hope the cracks it has exposed in our current systems have made the need for equity clearer and more urgent than ever before. Only by pursuing equity can we build a world in which every individual truly has the opportunity to live and exist in the fullness of themselves.

GVP Alumna Bertha Nibigira Seeks to Solve Refugee Crisis

By the time Bertha Nibigira graduated from Global Village Project in 2012, she had already won two writing contests, interned at a hospital, and met the governor of Georgia. Bertha says the years she spent as a student of GVP marked a pivotal chapter in her life journey. She credits the school -- and in particular one of its founders, Mr. Ricky -- for connecting her to resources, events, and opportunities which allowed her to thrive. Now, eight years after graduating from GVP, Bertha has just completed her first term in graduate school at American University. Recently, she sat down with us to share more about her remarkable story.

Bertha’s journey began long before she ever set foot in the United States. Her parents were born in Burundi, but they fled from violent conflict there in 1972. They moved to the Congo and had Bertha and her brother. In the Congo, refugees could work freely, have fun, and, as Bertha puts it, “live something like a normal life.” However, their family had to flee again, this time to Tanzania, when civil war erupted in the Congo. “That experience [in Tanzania] was totally different. We were really restricted to just staying in the refugee camp, because the government did not want refugees intermingling with the rest of the population.” She says her family had to depend almost entirely on food and supplies from the UNHCR, but those sometimes took weeks or even months to arrive.

“Life was very, very, very hard there. It was a really hostile environment; we lived in constant fear of being forced to leave, and all of this was a decision that the government was making.” Bertha is grateful to her parents for working so hard to keep her safe and secure, sharing that she doesn’t remember ever “going hungry or not having what I needed,” but adds that as she looks back, she can see the quality of life “wasn’t great.” The refugee camp was supposed to be just a transition place, but Bertha’s family was waiting there for over 11 years because the process of registering, getting vaccinations, and receiving documentation was “extremely long and complex.”

The challenges did not abate when Bertha and her family were finally resettled in the U.S. in 2008. As a 13-year-old newcomer, Bertha experienced anti-refugee and anti-immigrant hostility in a new way in the U.S. “I didn’t even understand the context in which these things were being said,” she recalls, “but I remember them making me feel really sad and unwanted. Sometimes people forget that even though we’re refugees, we’re also humans. And when you’re a teenage girl, you’re a normal child.” Bertha says she is grateful to Global Village Project for encouraging her to use her voice and seek out what she needed to be successful, but it was still difficult as a young teen to navigate the multiple challenges of adjusting to a new country, learning a new language, and helping to shoulder family responsibilities.

Bertha graduated from GVP in 2012 and received a scholarship to attend St. Nicholas Orthodox Academy, a private K-12 school in Atlanta, for her high school education. Two years later, after being crowned valedictorian when she graduated in 2014, she went on to attend Berry College on a scholarship from the Bonner Scholars program. It was during her college years that Bertha began to get a sense of what kind of an impact she hoped to make in the world. A key moment was when she had the chance to intern at a refugee-serving nonprofit while studying abroad in France. Through this internship, Bertha witnessed firsthand the injustices faced by refugees fleeing to Europe. “These are people who got to these different European countries through boats,” she says. “They cross the ocean on boats that are not even supposed to go for that long, and we know the story, people die.” Their stories stuck with her, reminding her of her own experiences as a refugee and sparking a fierce desire to get to the root cause of their shared suffering. “What's causing this? How can we stop it? [Refugees] are going to these nations, and they don't want them. And it's just like, you had a traumatic experience in your own country, you have to leave…nobody wants to leave their home, but you have no choice. You’re trying to stay alive.”

These connections planted the seeds for her eventual pursuit of a Master’s degree in International Development. After graduating from Berry College in 2018 with a dual degree in anthropology and sociology, Bertha relocated to Washington, D.C to immerse herself in the city where opportunities for international careers abound, knowing that was what she wanted for the long run. She worked for a child development center until the pandemic caused the center to close earlier this year, and then she enrolled in her first semester at American University.

Four months in, Bertha is already deeply immersed in research and extracurricular activities to prepare for a career serving communities affected by violence, civil unrest, and human rights violations: she is assisting Assistant Professor Dr. Jordanna Matlon in the School of International Service with the final steps in completing a manuscript. She is developing her own research interests, which will likely focus on peace and conflict resolution in the East African region, where she is from. And she is on the executive committee of an organization called Reunion 257, which brings together youth from the Burundi diaspora to discuss issues faced by their community and support one another. Bertha isn’t quite sure what she wants to do post-graduation yet, but she says she would be thrilled to work as a consultant for a private institution or an NGO like the U.N. or the African Union, so long she has the opportunity to work with others to find a solution to the global refugee crisis.

No matter what role she ends up taking in the future, we are confident that Bertha’s drive and determination will equip her well for success. Already, she has beaten the odds: only 3% of refugees worldwide enroll in college or university, and Bertha is among the even smaller percentage who pursue graduate studies after that. To the refugee young women who wish to follow in her footsteps, Bertha’s advice is to “stay focused, and surround yourself with people who are trying to grow. Take advantage of resources, programs, and people that can help you.”

Bertha herself is relentless in her focus to help those in her community thrive. With the skills and knowledge she gains from her graduate degree, she intends to devote her career to helping build a more peaceful tomorrow. “I don’t know, maybe I’m naive,” she says, “but I think I can make a difference in the world by being the change I wish to see.”

To learn more about Reunion 257, the organization for which Bertha is on the executive board, visit https://reunion257.org/ or follow them on Facebook or Instagram.

GVP Community Honors Dr. Amy Pelissero for her Departure

“One child, one teacher, one book, one pen can change the world.” For years, this quote by Malala Yousafzai has adorned the chalkboard in Dr. Amy Pelissero’s office at Global Village Project. Now, as Dr. Amy departs from GVP this month after more than seven years of serving as Head of School, GVP staff and board of directors are honoring her with a surprise that gets to the heart of her enduring love, commitment, and passion for reading and education: Dr. Amy’s Bookshelf, a tribute collection of some of her favorite books, will become a permanent new fixture in GVP’s library.

This tribute collection will feature books of every reading level so that GVP students for years to come can enjoy them as they learn and grow. Most of the books feature diverse characters and are written by authors of color, from Just Ask!: Be Different, Be Brave, Be You by Sonia Sotomayor and illustrated by Rafael López, to Janay Brown-Wood’s Imani’s Moon, illustrated by Hazel Mitchel. Each book was donated by a GVP staff, board member, or friend, past or present, and comes with a dedication insert that recognizes Dr. Amy. While she will be dearly missed after her departure, there is perhaps no better way to honor Dr. Amy’s legacy than by continuing to inspire a love for reading in young women, as she herself has done for so many GVP students.

This bookshelf joins the other celebrations of Dr. Amy to which GVP staff, volunteers, mentors, partners, and friends from the far-reaching GVP community have contributed. While Dr. Amy herself humbly asked for no loud fanfare to mark her departure, the GVP community still found ways to thank her by creating quiet fanfare, in a way that is perfect for all those who know and love Dr. Amy. For weeks leading up to her last few days at GVP, all those who have been touched by Dr. Amy’s heart and generosity over the years sent in email messages, handwritten letters, cards, and photos to be compiled into a scrapbook. As we have all been the beneficiaries of the lovely messages, insights, essays, and notes that Dr. Amy has written over the years, this time it was our turn.

Of course, these tributes to Dr. Amy will only partially capture the depth of our gratitude to her for her years of service and leadership. Dr. Amy first joined GVP as a teacher in 2010 and became Head of School in 2013. Under her leadership, GVP transformed from a tiny nonprofit with a shoestring budget to a robust organization whose holistic, innovative educational model serves as a leading example in the field of refugee education. Dr. Amy led GVP through its expansions in budget, capacity, staff, size, and reputation, as well as ongoing refinement of its mission, vision, and strategic plan, while remaining absolutely steadfast in her commitment to GVP’s students and families. An educator to her core, Dr. Amy has played a key role in ensuring that GVP has never wavered in its vision to give every refugee girl access to the education necessary to pursue her dreams.

This passion for people and education is perhaps Dr. Amy’s true legacy. Anyone who has been the recipient of one of her notoriously amazing hugs or felt the warmth of her presence in every interaction knows that Dr. Amy lives and breathes the philosophy of putting people and relationships first. She is universally beloved by students and their families, who will also be sad to see her go. However, we know that even while Dr. Amy’s formal role with GVP is ending, she will remain a member of the GVP family for the long run.

Dr. Amy herself is most looking forward to the chance to rest, rejuvenate, and spend more time with her daughters before she gets ready to embark on the next phase of her life journey. On behalf of the GVP community, we wish her the best for her well-deserved rest and in all her future endeavors. Thank you, Dr. Amy, for all the heart, passion, and hard work you have put into GVP over the years, which have transformed the lives of so many GVP students and this community for the better.

2020 Welcome Walk Goes Virtual, Raises Over $75,000 for Refugee Education

The tremendous success of the 2020 Global Village Welcome Walk, which went virtual for the first time in the event’s eight-year history, was a testament to our community’s profound belief in welcoming and inclusion. This year, GVP friends far and wide broke records with their support, together raising more than $75,000 to support equitable, empowering education for refugee learners.

The outcome of this year’s walk far surpassed expectations given the challenges of 2020. When the GVP Team began planning the Welcome Walk in September, significant obstacles had to be taken into consideration. We worried that the strain of the pandemic would affect friends’ ability to support GVP financially. We weighed in the impact that operating remotely - without our usual volunteer opportunities, in-person events, and bustling school and office - might pose to our community’s sense of connection. Most importantly, we had to imagine new ways to capture the same energy, passion, and dedication usually catalyzed by the in-person walk, a gathering that drew over 300 participants last year.

Still, what proved to be the key to success in transforming this year's walk into a virtual event was the same ingredient that has invigorated every Welcome Walk ever: the tenacious commitment and generosity of the GVP family. This year, our three Welcome Walk challenges to everyone were to Support 47, Share 47, and Move 47 in honor of GVP’s 47 (now 50) current students. The GVP community responded en force - over 50 individuals signed up to run their own personal fundraising pages for the Welcome Walk’s peer-to-peer campaign, and over 500 donors contributed gifts in total. GVP friends shared about our work and impact on social media and via email, acting as ambassadors for our vision of equity and inclusion. And while we couldn’t walk together this year, that didn’t stop people from walking and moving in their own neighborhoods across the country and even across the world (read: London Runners Join the 2020 Global Village Welcome Walk!)

What made this incredible turnout even more meaningful was that it arrived at a moment in which our nation’s commitment to building welcoming communities was facing significant challenges. Just weeks before the 2020 Welcome Walk, the Trump administration announced that the refugee admissions ceiling for this next fiscal year had been capped at just 15,000 admissions, the lowest in the history of the refugee resettlement program. This devastating news added new urgency to our mission to champion the power of inclusion and, as a community, reassert our belief that welcoming refugees and immigrants everywhere only makes us stronger.

Much of this passion was captured in the responses that GVP friends shared in our video challenge, captured in the video above. We invited folks to “Move 47 and share why you believe a welcoming world is important.” As Leah Kuenzi, GVP’s Grant Specialist, answered, “Every person deserves to feel loved and accepted in whatever corner of the world that they choose to make their home in.” GVP Alumnae Ayat felt similarly, saying, “I believe that no matter what identity you are, no matter what you believe, that you should be welcomed… I was welcomed in the United States when I first came, and I believe everyone should be welcomed, too.”

Overall, the 2020 Welcome Walk was a reminder that no matter the circumstances or the politics of the moment, the GVP community’s commitment to welcoming refugees and immigrants everywhere endures, unwavering. We are so grateful to all those who contributed to making this event the powerful show of support that it was, whether by donating, sharing, walking, or more. We hope that next year, we will be able to thank you and walk with you in person as we gather once more to celebrate the power and joy of building welcoming communities.