Chicago Annual Student Workshop 2014

Students from the winning team, Somalia!

Students from the winning team, Somalia!

Over 70 students from six different high schools around Chicago came together for a wildly successful 3rd edition of Concern Worldwide’s Annual Global Concerns Student Workshop on April 17th.

Held in the state-of-the-art Gratz Center, an extension of the historic Fourth Presbyterian Church in the heart of downtown Chicago, the workshop challenged students to explore global issues and collaborate on creative solutions in the context of this year’s theme: “Women and Girls: The Key to the Future”.

Upon their arrival, students were placed in mixed-school teams assigned to countries in which Concern itself implements programs to address the needs of women and girls: Sierra Leone, Liberia, Bangladesh, Haiti, Rwanda, Ethiopia, Somalia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

After a warm welcome from Concern’s Education Officer and the event’s MC, Amanda Ruckel, students learned about the hardships faced by millions of women and girls throughout the world from Concern’s Education Manager, Sylvia Wong. Participants were exposed to the harsh realities faced by this disenfranchised group as they try to access health services, education, clean water and sanitation, and build livelihoods in developing countries around the world. As one student said, “It was a reality check.”

Despite the disheartening adversity facing these women and girls, the students were motivated more than ever to build solutions to tackle the issues. Sylvia challenged groups to think creatively within their $1 million budget, and to look toward technology and unique partnerships to make a meaningful and sustainable impact on the lives of women and girls in their assigned countries.

To better contextualize the issues facing each country, each team met Concern staff experts with experience in the programs and countries either in-person or via video conference. This gave students a chance to learn and ask about issues such as malnutrition, maternal and newborn healthcare, access to education, and access to water.

Full of energy and ideas, teams then dove straight into research and began brainstorming ideas for their project proposals. Teachers and Concern staff provided support and feedback throughout the process to help groups develop a focused and effective program. The students worked diligently and cooperatively; as one teacher observed, “The students [were] engaged and applying problem solving skills.”

After having worked straight through lunch, each group was ready to present their plan of action to their peers and the judging panel, made of Concern staff and teachers. Teams were given five minutes to convince the audience to fund their program.

The students did an excellent job, truly taking the call to action to heart and thinking outside the box. The participants were treated to creative presentations that utilized water-purifying bikes to increase school attendance ease of water collection, rickshaws to help transport pregnant women to health centers, and partnerships to develop teacher training programs among many more innovative ideas.

The judging panel was very impressed, and had a very difficult choice to make.  However, in the end, Somalia’s clearly defined three-tiered “Triple A” plan providing access to clean water, agricultural support, and action for nutrition to the people of Mogadishu came out victorious.

Beyond the incredible presentations, the workshop was even more of a success thanks to the reaction of students, who came away feeling even more engaged and invested in global issues: “I learned how much people really are in need, and that we can do things to help.” One sentiment clearly echoed as students gathered their things to leave: “To help out, people need to take action.”

The entire Global Concerns Classroom team would like to extend its most heartfelt gratitude to those who attended this year’s workshop and to those who helped make it a rousing success. We look forward to one day seeing these students join the call to action and make a difference in the lives of others.

Thanks to our participating schools: Lakes Community High School, Antioch Community High School, Westmont High School, Global Citizenship Experience, Francis W. Parker School, and The Ancona School. For more photos, visit our Facebook page!