Amanda Simms found a way to be a servant of God at school.
Our Lady of Mount Carmel School in Baltimore, Maryland, spent a week helping students find ways to live in solidarity with the poorest of the poor around the globe through the Catholic Relief Services Global Solidarity Schools Initiative. The lessons during this Global Solidarity Week fit into the existing curriculum and expanded what the students were already learning.
"By doing this, I'm being a servant of God, and I can help change people and help people get stronger in their relationship with God," Amanda says. "For me, this week made a big impact. It showed me that I can do the work of God. It's about getting more involved in service, being peacemakers and being more connected in my relationship with God."
The initiative is designed for high schools, but Mount Carmel presented a unique situation because the elementary and high schools recently merged. Initially, Christine Olszewski, the elementary school principal, was skeptical, fearing that teachers might think the program would take time away from their regular curriculum.
"They couldn't wait," says Christine, a former student and teacher at the school. "They saw that, in the younger grades, we do have issues like bullying and not tolerating other students. So, when they were approached with this, they said, 'This makes perfect sense. We're dealing with these issues in our classroom.' It gave them an opportunity to stop on some of the everyday lessons and focus on this."
During their Global Solidarity Week, a time participating schools set aside each year, many of the elementary school students focused on the walls in their lives—how dealing with issues such as bullying and teasing are walls they need to knock down. They discovered that if they want to help poor and vulnerable children overseas, they first need to focus on helping each other. The lesson hit home for many students.
Filtering water leads to a valuable life lesson
For high school sophomore Erica Wheeler, the best example of truly being in solidarity with poor men, women and children overseas came in chemistry class. As Erica and her classmates learned how to filter dirty water, they discussed how many people around the world don't have access to clean water.
"I just realized how blessed I am that I can turn water on and just be able to drink it whenever I want," Erica says. "I have these opportunities, and I should be more thankful for them every day."
"We have great kids," Christine says. "When they reach out to give to others, it's phenomenal…. They feel really good about it."
For many of the youngest students, the Global Solidarity Schools Initiative provides an opportunity to learn about issues in the world beyond their family, school and community. "With kids that age, it's hard for them to see that," says Christine. "I think it gives the students a chance to see that there are people all over the world that need help, not just here at Mount Carmel."
At week's end, students from kindergarten through grade 12 gathered for a prayer service the students had organized. They read prayers, sang songs, watched a slideshow of their accomplishments during Global Solidarity Week, and enjoyed dance and musical performances.
For 1 hour, 5-year-olds and college-bound high school seniors were one student body enjoying the culmination of a week that turned academic lessons into ways to learn about the poorest of the poor around the globe.
"It's life changing," Erica says. "I would recommend it for other schools to do this. The world does need help."