The first semester of Humanities I in Action introduces students to suffering in the world. I often say it has a “shock and awe” impact on many students, as they struggle to make sense of a myriad of injustices: colonization, genocide, racial discrimination, violence, abandonment, and many others. So when we get to the second semester with our overarching question, “Can I make a difference?” and they begin a semester-long community-based Elixir project of their own choosing, it’s important to show that change can and does happen. I designed the following activity to help students learn about the inspiring work of Avaaz, an online advocacy organization of currently 43 million people (!) that brings about real change through harnessing a global will for justice. In only a decade, they have enacted thousands of actions around the world, including more than 100 inspiring victories for justice.
The skill that I want students to begin to explore in this activity is attempting to speak in an inspiring, rather than simply informative, manner. Later in the semester we will do more with this skill, which will culminate in a formal grade, or summative assignment. At this point, the goal is to get a baseline of where they are at in their inspirational speaking skills, which is of great value as develop their Elixir Projects.
This is the worksheet given to students about the class assignment, which was introduced on a Monday with speeches delivered on that Wednesday.
Avaaz Campaigns: Inspiring Victories for Justice
Humanities I in Action – Schmidt Name: __________________
“The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.”
– Martin Luther King
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”
The first semester established the fact that suffering exists in our world; knowledge of this reality asks us to rise above our self-concern, to care, and to act on behalf of others for the sake of the common good. The main question facing us during semester two of Humanities I in Action, then, is: “Can I make a difference?” And of course we wonder, like the Starfish Thrower, if collectively we are making a difference not just for the one, but for the many. Especially after the inauguration of Donald Trump, it may be tempting to feel that somehow the tide of history has changed, and that perhaps forces of disintegration and degradation have gained the other hand. It seems all the more important, then, to focus on inspirational victories for justice where groups of concerned citizens have made a decisive difference. In this activity we will study a new type of grass roots organization called “Avaaz,” a Persian word that means “voice,” that is leveraging the good will of global citizens to impact the world for good.
So much of making a difference involves feeling inspired and communicating that inspiration to others. This will be an important skill in your Elixir presentation.
- Choose a topic from this list of Avaaz’s top 100 victories.
- Write @ 10-line summary of this issue on Schoology that discusses (1) the problem (2) Avaaz intervention and the outcome.
- Then create a presentation on our shared Googleslides in which you have 2 slides: (1) the problem (2) Avaaz intervention and the outcome.
- If the Avaaz link doesn’t contain enough research, find more research online.
- You have 1:30 (or up to 2:00, if you think you need it) to present your issue in class on Friday.
- We will vote at the end of the presentations which presentations were the most effective in summarizing the issue and providing inspiration.
In order summarize an issue in an accurate, dramatic, and inspiring speech, consider the following:
- Summarize the issue in ways that speak to the heart of your audience.
- Create narrative flow to your presentation: the problem (ooh no!), the intervention (what a great idea!), and the outcome (well done!). Choose transitions that reflect this trajectory.
- Everything you do communicates energy: your posture, the colors and images you choose, eye contact, the inflection in your voice. Embody your engagement in this issue.
I will videotape your speeches, post them on my Youtube channel, and give you the (perhaps painful) opportunity to view and critique your speech. This will enable you to become better skilled in inspirational speech delivery for future work this semester.
Student Summaries and Google Presentation Slides
Keelin – Abuse of Military Dogs in India
Problem: In India, a sort of “use and throw” policy for military dogs and horses had always been the case. After their military careers or fail a fitness test, these animals would be euthanized.
Avaaz Intervention and Outcome: India’s head of the animal welfare board, who himself was formerly in the army, disagreed with this policy. He sent a letter, but it would be ignored unless backed by citizens. Avaaz believed that these animals should be honoured for their work, not killed.In 2015, emails were sent and and the Indian Defense Ministry agreed to fund the rehabilitation of these animals.
Anna – Cyclone Nargis hits Burma
Problem: In Burma, a brutal cyclone named Nargis hit the country, killing over 100,000.
Avaaz Intervention and Outcome: The ruling generals of Burma banned almost every aid NGO from the country, but with the little aid NGO that they did accept, they focused away from the hardest hit areas. However, within 48 hours, Avaaz was able to bypass the harsh rules created by the government. They were able to work with networks of monks to dispatch aid into the hardest hit areas of the river delta where the other aid didn’t focus. They were able to send more money than most governments by using fast-acting local networks. The Avaaz group called it “Our proudest moment in terms of lives saved”.
Anna – Floods in Pakistan
Problem: In Pakistan, in late July 2010, the country was covered n historic floods. These floods caused over 2,000 deaths.
Avaaz Intervention and Outcome: Right after this disaster struck, Avaaz was able to raise 1 million dollars in days, which was able to go to where it needed to go through local groups in record time. In Haiti, on the 12th of January 2010, a huge earthquake left the country in ruins. there was over 200,000 deaths, and major land slides which damaged a lot of structure. This debris also caused more damage. Thousands of Avaaz members contributed more than $1.3 million for relief and recovery, giving the money to outstanding local groups for life-saving food kits, shelter, and medicine. In Nepal during April 2015, an earthquake hit, killing around 9,00 people and injuring nearly 22,000. This earthquake triggered an avalanche on Mount Everest. This also caused hundreds of civilians to become homeless because entire villages were flattened. Also century old and historical buildings were destroyed. However, Avaaz partnered with over a dozen of the best local relief efforts to get shelter, food, and medical supplies that were often the first things to reach devastated villages. Because of their donations of millions of dollars, and their remarkable speed, Avaaz has been able to save and change many people’s lives.
Karan – Ebola Virus
Problem: Around 3 years ago, a new virus was spreading on the planet. This virus was called the Ebola virus and spread from Western Africa all the way to the USA. The virus was spread quickly over West Africa and USA. We didn’t know how to cure it so it became even more lethal.
Avaaz Intervention and Outcome: At this point, Avaaz stepped in and donated 2.5 million dollars for the best possible first aid. More than 4000 people helped in first aid and played important roles such as building facilities to quarantine the Ebola patients. After all of the Avaaz support, the virus has pretty much died away by now (or is at least not too big in the news) and we can see the clear difference that Avaaz has made. Without Avaaz helping out, it would have been much more difficult for the quarantine centers to be made and for the patients to get critical first aid they deserve.
Michael – Overfishing
Problem: The single largest habitat on the planet is dying at an unprecedented rate due to human irresponsibility. In 2050, there would be more plastic than fish in the sea, acidification is destroying all- coral reefs and over fishing is so terrible it will take millions of generations to recover from the damage caused.
Avaaz Intervention and Outcome: In 2010, Avaaz toke up the situation and persuaded the UK to set aside an area the size of Germany and Italy combined in the pristine Indian Ocean waters around the Chagos islands, the largest marine reserve to date and it worked! Later on in June 2016, now (sadly) former US President Obama planned to create the single largest protected area on the planet of the stunning waters off of Hawaii. Avaaz buzzed again and delivered the news to key public meetings and the reserve was approved. Along with multiple other feats, Avaaz managed to get the public’s attention to ocean preservation and according to their site, “…WE WON big… 89% of the world voted YES! Now we have to turn that target into real protected areas, but with this history of wins, there’s no stopping us…”. Just goes to show how determined Avaaz is at helping all global issues, not just problems with our own race, but the entire planet as well.
Olivia -Refugee Crisis
Problem: The biggest refugee crisis since World War II has exposed humanity at its best and worst. Most governments and political leaders had turned their backs on millions of refugees. In the past 2 years, Europe has experienced the greatest mass movement of people since the Second World War: more than 1 million refugees and migrants have arrived in the European Union, the large majority of them fleeing from war and terror in Syria and other troubled countries.
Avaaz Intervention and Outcome: Avaazers worldwide took up the challenge, donating nearly a million dollars to fund life-saving missions at sea and protection programmes. The first efforts in 2013 were to make life more bearable for refugee families in Lebanon. The community raised 1 million in a challenge grant to donor governments to save Syria from a lost generation of children without education. And again, when the number of desperate refugees embarking on deadly sea journeys to Europe rocketed in 2015, the community raised half a million dollars to support the most effective private rescue operation in the Mediterranean, MOAS. It was a success. From Australia to the US, from European capitals to UN conferences, our voices have been heard, and new commitments to host refugees have been made, some of them unprecedented.
Most 9th grade students in Humanities I in Action feel unable to make a difference in society. Their maturation into adults necessitates that they learn how to develop self-efficacy, the ability to identity a problem and act to resolve it. This is the central goal of the second semester of the “in Action” course that culminates in their semester-long Elixir Projects that are due in early June. This mini-research project, shared as a speech, is one of the ways we attempt to shift their despair from the overwhelming problems that they sense in the world to the hope that change is possible.