Teacher has a world of hope
Q: How did you come up with this idea?
A: Worldviews Project started as a wish to fight hopelessness and to travel with purpose. So many people — including myself — feel overwhelmed when facing the problems of our world, such as poverty, hunger, global warming and conflict.
After five years of teaching junior high, I realized that my students needed examples to help inspire them to make positive changes in their world. They needed to see that the world wasn’t all negative news stories, but that there were also all kinds of people — including athletes, musicians, artists, humanitarians, educators and scientists — who followed their passion and found a way to make a positive change. Q: What are your goals? A: I hope that by showing short films about individuals who are making a difference it will inspire others to see how they could also create positive change in their community. I also hope that it will break down stereotypes we have of other countries and allow us to see that we are all much more similar than we are different.
I want to create connections between people so that perhaps someone from India could benefit from an idea from someone in Israel and someone in Canada would be inspired to start something based on someone in Vietnam.
Q: What did your friends and family say when you told them what you were doing?
A: My friends and family have been amazingly supportive of this project. I feel so fortunate that my partner, Leor, has supported me every step of the way — even joining me in India and nursing me back to health when I had typhoid so I could see this project through until the end.
Other friends have helped by connecting me with people in different countries,
After hearing that her students felt hopeless because of the world’s seemingly insurmountable problems, junior high teacher Kate McKenzie set out to demonstrate that one person’s actions can make a difference. The 27-year-old Calgarian is currently wrapping up an adventure called the Worldviews Project, which is taking her to eight countries in eight months.
Each week, McKenzie posts a video called Inspirational Monday, showcasing the people she’s encountered and their innovative ideas to address social issues. We caught up with McKenzie on the last leg of her journey, leaving Iran and heading to Israel. friends have donated their time to help me build my website or give me a place to stay and they’ve have sent me encouraging notes along the way.
My family has been a source of inspiration and strength throughout this project as well. My parents’ career advice was always to do something that I loved and something that would help people, so I hope that I can continue to do that by pursuing both of those goals.
Others have been worried that I was travelling alone and were worried about my safety, but I have found time and time again over this trip that I have been welcomed with open arms and treated with amazing hospitality and generosity. The world is not as dangerous as we often make it out to appear and I want women to know that they can travel confidently on their own.
Q: Why did you choose the places you did?
A: I wanted to go somewhere in each region of the world so that I could represent different cultures, religions, languages and economies in my project.
I also picked these countries based on connections I had prior to going. I believe that if you can have a local person show you their country, you will get the opportunity to actually experience the culture rather than just being a tourist.
Q: What was it like to be a Canadian woman in Pakistan?
A: I was treated with such hospitality in Pakistan! I had the opportunity to stay with a local family and enjoy true Pakistani hospitality. I was welcomed with a feast and flowers draped over me in a village and even had a PakistaniCanadian invite me to his wedding.
It was a bit of an adjustment wearing a hijab and there were days that it was so hot I would have loved to have been wearing shorts and a T-shirt, but I think dressing in a culturally appropriate way is part of the adventure.
Each culture has its own norms when it comes to dressing. For example, in Colombia, I needed high heels; in Pakistan, shalwar kamiz. Sometimes in the West, we judge what other women are wearing and think we understand it before we have experienced it. I am glad I had the chance to wear a hijab and a headscarf for a month, because it has allowed me to more greatly understand women from these regions.
Q: What city and/or country had the most impact on you?
A: Each country has had an impact on me for a different reason ... Colombia taught me so much about the importance of starting conversations with others and being part of a community.
In Uganda, I was inspired by the sheer determination of people who are working so hard to build a strong and vibrant country. In Rwanda, I was touched by those who have lived through genocide and are choosing to forgive and reconcile with others.
In Vietnam, I loved the story one man told me about “being cool.” He said to be cool you had to find ways to do things that made other people happy and he’d ask me each day, “Are you cool, Kate?”
In India, I learned so much about patience and peace of mind and finding a way to embrace chaos. In Pakistan, I was inspired by a country of people who have each found a way to give back to their community through their generosity of time, skills and money.
Q: What do you hope the youth who see what you’re doing take away from the project?
A: I hope that (they) see themselves in one of the stories and are inspired to think about how they could use their talents, skills and passions to make the world around them a little bit better. I also hope that these stories will help show them how to take the first step in creating positive change so that it doesn’t seem quite so intimidating to start.
I want them to know that you don’t have to be Nelson Mandela or a Nobel Peace Prize-winner in order to do something that matters — often we take our small efforts for granted, not realizing that these small actions all add up. I also hope that this project will allow them to focus on the positive and on creating innovative solutions rather than being caught up in negativity and letting it hold them captive.
Q: What do you hope to take away from the project?
A: My hope was to grow deeply as a person and as a teacher, that I could come back with a world education and first-hand knowledge of different cultures and people. I also hope that I can inspire others to see the hope that is in our world. We do not live in a gloom and doom generation, but rather it is an age of hope where people around the world are doing inspiring things to make a difference in the most important way, in their own communities.
Q: What is the least enjoyable thing about travelling for eight months?
A: When you travel for this long you really start to miss little things like drinking from the tap, Western toilets and your own pillow. But really the greatest things I have missed are my friends and family. I’ve often wished I could instantly transport them to wherever I was so they could join me in some of the amazing experiences I have had.
Q: Why did you choose social media as a way to share what you’re learning?
A: With my main audience being 13- and 14-yearolds, I wanted to pick a format that would appeal to them. Also, social media has the largest global reach. When I was in countries where one form of media was censored there was always one version of my project, whether it was my blog, Twitter or Facebook, that was still accessible. Social media is also engaging, it allows others to see an idea quickly and then follow it in more depth if they are interested. It also allowed me to combine my love of photography, film and writing.
Q: What can people do to get involved?
A: Follow my project on my website or through social media. Share positive news stories with me so we can continue to connect more people to good news. Share in the ongoing journey — once I get back I will be exploring the idea of continuing this project as a book or feature film and perhaps a second journey. If you are interested in being part of making any of these goals happen, let me know.
In Uganda, Kate McKenzie met an inspiring group of widows who have formed a support network to create opportunities for business, education and community development.
McKenzie interviewed the owner of the Wall Steak House, who projects movies each night onto the separation wall in Jerusalem famous for its graffiti, as a way to turn it into something positive.
One of the joys of travelling for McKenzie is the opportunity to grow as a teacher by visiting places of vast historical importance, such as Persepolis in Iran.