Barbara Dziedzic

Barbara Dziedzic (Undugu Society of Kenya - USK): Barbara’s commitment to social-justice issues began in college. In 2002, after receiving her BA in Religion from Carleton College in Northfield, MN, she moved to the East Coast to volunteer at an AIDS hospice with the Jesuit Volunteer Corp. A year later she began her teaching in inner city Baltimore at St. Frances Academy, a private Catholic school founded by Haitian Nuns in the early 1800’s for the education of slave children. Barbara earned a Masters degree in International Peace and Conflict Resolution at American University. After graduating, she spent four years as a teacher working for the Anne Arundel County school system. After her fellowship, Barbara wrote: “It's changed the way I look at my own country. Given Kenya's pervasive issues with corruption and the inequality of its education system, I really appreciate the relative transparency of my own country and the public education system. I think I've come to realize how strong and tenacious I can be in advocating for a group of people I feel is being given a fair shake.”



The Voice of Youth – Echoes outside of the box

27 May

 The first period of class at Arundel High School starts at 7:17am. Trying to get adolescents to wake up this early in the morning, let alone care about SAT prep class, is a tall order. One morning, I was trying to wake them up by listing all of the things I could die from in Sub-Saharan Africa. This was on my mind because the previous day I’d been getting inoculations in preparation for my work as an Advocacy Peace Fellow working with young people in Nairobi, Kenya; these blights included typhoid, yellow fever, polio, and a slew of other diseases my students had only ever read about in history books.

After the laundry list of viruses and bacterium, we played, “Guess how much my immunizations cost?” And I felt like an auctioneer as they yelled out.

“$200?”

Nope, more.

“$400?”

Higher!

“$600?!”

Try a grand total of $650!!

My students, on cue, let out various exclamations (most of them classroom appropriate) in disbelief on how much staying alive can cost. And then Kayla, a junior, piped in. “But Mrs. Dziedzic, I just spent $600 on prom and that’s only one night. Think about how much more meaningful what you’re going to do is.”

These kind of moments always blow me away not because they are unique, but because no matter how often that they happen, I still find myself frequently forgetting just how potentially marvelous and mindful youth can be. Youth have a reputation for being emotionally volatile, deceptive, ornery, reckless, and unpredictable. And they frequently are. But, as you can see from Kayla’s remark, they are also compassionate, brutally honest, tender, passionate, and wear their hearts so close to the surface you can see every beat. They are also inherently interested in youth beyond the borders of their literal community.

On the first day of school this year, I told my classes that I would be both a full time teacher and a full time student working on a degree in International Peace and Conflict Resolution. I told them I was doing this because I believed in the power of education and every human being’s right to tap that power. When I say things like this, when I stray from the curriculum to talk about why there are pirates in Somalia, when I tell them what the “youth bulge” is and why it is, when I tell them why I’m spending my summer teaching youth in Nairobi Kenya, I watch as they wake up, lean forward in their desks, and wipe the boredom out of their eyes. It’s not that young people today aren’t interested in learning, it’s that the learning they’re interested in doesn’t fit well inside the four walls of a classroom and neither do they.

They are divergent thinkers trying to live outside the box. This is in part because the rules of the box weren’t made to favor them. The rules of the box were made by and for their elders. To be a youth, is to be constantly pushing and prodding, erasing and redrawing the lines they’re stepping on and over. This is true of suburban youth in Gambrills, MD. It is probably even more true of urban youth who have grown up in the slums of Nairobi where many of the rules and regulations in place are part of a system of inequalities that have kept them on the street, out of school, and in the margins. So much of the tensions that run just below the surface in Kenya are not ethnic divides, but generational divides. The question becomes, how do you give young people a platform to be heard and validate that creative spark in a way that won’t threaten the elders that are the gatekeepers of this place called adulthood?

I have learned-my students have taught me-if you point to a path that will meet their needs, fan the flames of their loves, and make their community proud, you better get out of their way because they will knock you over to get started. Getting young people in Kenya to use blogging as a constructive outlet for their hopes and fears, getting students at my high school to connect with youth from a diverse background, and getting adults to look at youth more closely and remember their power and potentials, this is what I hope to support with the project at the Undugu Society of Kenya.

Posted By Barbara Dziedzic

Posted May 27th, 2009

12 Comments

  • Kristina Rosinsky

    June 5, 2009

     

    Awesome first blog, Barbara! I’m really looking forward to reading all about your work this summer.

  • Elizabeth Chawla

    June 11, 2009

     

    Great blog Barb! I will definitely be keeping up with it. All the best on your trip to Kenya.

  • Ashley Lindsay

    June 11, 2009

     

    Barb–Your passion for youth, education, and peace is inspirational. I know you will continue to uplift and encourage teens everywhere you go. I look forward to hearing about your trip! Much love, always. Ashley

  • Ali Church

    June 11, 2009

     

    Barb, you do have a beautiful brain! I can’t wait to see what your project inspires both in you and the youth you are working with. Good Luck!

  • Kristlyn Araujo

    June 12, 2009

     

    I couldn’t wait to wake up this morning to read this, Barbara–fascinating. I am thinking of you and am excited to hear more!

  • Laura Gordon

    June 17, 2009

     

    Great blog! Really looking forward to reading all your others! And yes, Jabs are expensive and suck! Typhoid is my least favourite, but the rabies was pretty sore as well…

  • Megan Twiddy

    June 18, 2009

     

    You are in Kenya by now! I hope you are up and about and finding street children to empower! Will be looking for your posts. (As a “Barb’s Blog” audience member I am especially interested in: hygiene practices of children, food consumed (pictures preferable), day in the life video, and any weather related information.)

  • (Aunt) Loretta Ellard

    June 20, 2009

     

    Hi Barb from California! Will look forward to following your adventure, and keeping you in our prayers. You’re inspirational!

  • Alice

    July 25, 2009

     

    Hey Barb! Just wanted to say Hi from Mahaffeys! Your boyfriend gave me your info, so just wanted to say hello! He told me how you got lost when you first got there, I cant even imagine that! It does sound amazing what you are doing! Have fun, be safe, and I will see you when you get home!!

    Alice Visilia

    • Barbara Dziedzic

      July 29, 2009

       

      Thanks for the note, Alice. The good news is, whenever I have gotten lost, some utterly decent Nairobi resident has helped me out. Miss Mahaffey’s. Be back in late august.

  • Chasity McGhee

    July 30, 2009

     

    I LOVE IT!!! Keep up the good work. You are terrific!!!!!!!

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