Education, youth, and the environment. Those are my passions. And now I have united them all with The Schoolbag. I have never been more excited or enthusiastic about an idea in my life… and I am ready to share a bit about it with all of you.
It all began with a trip I took to Haiti in March. After spending fifteen days working at the acute care hospital in Port-au-Prince and witnessing the physical and emotional devastation of the earthquake throughout Haiti’s capital city and countryside, what stood out most to my eighteen-year-old self was the desperate need for education. While many children were not in school prior to the earthquake, largely due to financial burden, of those who were fortunate enough to attend classes prior to January 12th, very few had returned to school. With buildings collapsed, homes in rubble, family members and loved ones lost, and jobs eradicated, young people have nowhere to pursue an education. Without a destination, dozens of young children (relatives of patients) spent hours at the hospital kids’ tent day after day. Many unemployed teachers worked as translators in the hospital; Sam was the overnight translator in the pediatrics tent. He told me how he longed to return to the classroom and challenge the minds of students, but lacked the resources and materials with which to execute any such plan. There exists a pressing need for school supplies and educational materials in order to begin this process to allow children to resume their studies and grow intellectually.
When I returned home, I could not stop thinking about this… and The Schoolbag was born in my mind. What is it? Literally, it’s a tote bag (organic cotton canvas, of course) full of school supplies (eco-sustainable… I have a theme here), but it so so much more as an organization.
Here is how I sum it up. The Schoolbag enables children to pursue an education by providing basic school supplies to young people in need. Raising awareness about the lack of access to education around the world, each bag contains adequate materials for one student to learn for one year. The Schoolbag features environmentally sustainable and ethically produced tools and materials to initiate environmental education. Lack of access to, or availability of, satisfactory school supplies and materials prohibits many children from learning. Acquisition of knowledge is the first step on the path to global sustainability, prosperity, and world peace; innovation and progress stem from education, a universal right. The Schoolbag allows students to further their studies, particularly those living in disaster or conflict-stricken areas or chronic poverty.
I am piloting the program in Haiti, an extraordinary country that I have become quite attached to with my two recent visits. I just returned from three weeks in the earthquake-ravished country, conducting field research, gathering information, and assessing educational needs as it related to The Schoolbag. In concert with the Ministry of Education, Department of the Ouest (government of Western Haiti region), UNICEF, and other NGOs with ground presence, my friend Kristy (official Schoolbag representative from Australia) and I visited reopened elementary and secondary schools, orphanages, and pediatric wards of hospitals; met with dozens of teachers and educators to identify priorities and receive feedback on The Schoolbag components; documented the French education system which is followed throughout the country; and distributed hundreds of notebooks and pencils to students.
I want to plant the seeds of environmental consciousness from the start. In addition to containing environmentally responsible school supplies, every Schoolbag will contain a simple booklet to teach young people how to protect their environment. The educational tool, written in Creole and French for the kids in Haiti, will focus on steps students can take in their own lives and projects or actions they can bring home to their families. Printed on sustainable fibers, topics in the book will include conservation, efficiency, ecosystems, recycling, composting, agriculture, and more. Using nature as a teacher and one’s own lifestyle choices for exploration, I hope to inspire environmental stewardship and engagement among the youth. To have the opportunity to work with youth, even younger than myself, thrills and excites me!
These past couple of months, as The Schoolbag has come to life, have been more than I ever could have expected. The response to my little idea has been overwhelmingly positive. I feel that The Schoolbag can truly make a difference for these children and better equip them to lead Haiti towards a healthy, peaceful, stable, prosperous, and sustainable future. Education is where all change begins — and access to education must be universal. My goal is to allow the world to learn, sustainably.