By Akash Patel, Founder, Happy World Foundation, Inc.
In Fall 2009, my twin brother and I came to the United States to pursue engineering degrees at Iowa State University. We quit our pursuit of a fully-funded STEM degree against our parents’ will and moved to the state of Oklahoma to pursue a liberal studies associate’s degree at Oklahoma City Community College. We knew working with machines or working in an office setting was not our calling. My twin went on to pursue his Bachelor’s in Business while I pursued mine in Education.
As a set of polyglot Indian twins who had traveled to over 50 countries, coming to Oklahoma was a culture shock for us. We had stereotypes of Oklahomans and Oklahomans had stereotypes of us. When I started student teaching in small, rural communities in Central Oklahoma where children had never seen someone like me, I realized I had a lot more to offer than just teaching the core subjects. I realized that we could help dispel student stereotypes with dialogue and anti-bias education. I used my travel experiences to design all of my lessons. I taught children how to make elephant poopoopaper and how to extract elephant DNA to study poaching patterns. I exposed them to different languages and cultures in the after-school world cultures and languages club.
As I have friends in almost every continent, I decided to tap into that network by inviting my friends to video call my scholars to play mystery hangout. Students would not know the country of their mystery speaker and they would have to ask questions in the target language to determine the location. The spark in the eyes of the children during activities like mystery hangout inspired me to mobilize hundreds of my social media friends to create a database of over 1,500 volunteers from over 100 countries. This initial work took eventually grew into Happy World Foundation (www.happyworldfoundation.us), a global citizenship nonprofit that I founded after the passing of my twin brother Anand Happy Patel.
How do teachers access our database? Very simple! Teachers can reach out to our team at Happy World via text / whatsApp at +1 4056977147 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org with requests for speakers of specific languages, for virtual field trips or for collaborations with classes in other countries. Our team makes every effort to respond to each request within 48 hours. Teachers are connected to our volunteers who are well-equipped and trained to use multiple video calling platforms such as Zoom, Microsoft Teams, WhatsApp, Facebook video calling, and Google Meets. Our services are available at no cost to public and private school teachers worldwide thanks to our corporate sponsorships and to our incredible army of volunteers who believe in a world without borders. Our nonprofit also offers free professional development on global citizenship education.
The 2019 coronavirus has had an unprecedented impact on our educational system. According to UNESCO, the pandemic has forced over 1 billion students in 177 countries out of school and forced educators to move learning online. But as we meet these challenges of teaching remotely, are we really isolated and limited in what we can teach our students? Or should we change our perspective and appreciate the opportunities that life has given us? As our student scholars are feeling trapped at home, the internet provides an unmatched opportunity to connect them with an entire world of possibilities. We have the extraordinary chance of using this internet to connect our scholars with new friends around the world. These meaningful connections can give our children an opportunity to dispel stereotypes, and to learn how alike we all really are, a powerful way to promote understanding in the hearts and minds of our next generation. You may say I am a dreamer, but I am not the only one. Will you join me in ensuring every child everywhere has access to quality global experiences?
All photos of students used with permission.