“Being a good global citizen requires a person to look outside themselves, and at their own community, and then beyond, to extend the energy and compassion toward others. This requires a healthy knowledge about other people and their ways of life, which is something our children naturally want to explore.” ~ Lena Contor
(Transcript available below)
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Heidi Higgins: Hi, there. I'm Heidi Higgins, and you are listening to K12 On Learning. Involving children in your local community will foster an understanding of shared humanity, human rights, and civic responsibility. It may even prepare children to become responsible global citizens. In other words, volunteering, participating, and serving make a difference for good.
It was Mahatma Gandhi who said, "In a gentle way, you can shake the world." A few weeks ago, I attended an event where women in my community were invited to gather and bring along some basic hygiene supplies. We surrounded long tables overloaded with donated supplies and put together hygiene kits for families displaced in Ukraine. Among the many gathered for this service opportunity was Lena Contor. Lena, is from Ukraine. You can hear the deep, lovely accent in her voice.
Yelena Contor: Formal name, I go by Lena, but my formal name is different.
Heidi Higgins: Okay.
Yelena Contor: [Inaudible 00:01:14]
Heidi Higgins: Formal is fine.
Yelena Contor: It's Y-E-L-E-N-A. Yetelena, is my middle name. Yetelena, but it's too hard to spell. Yetelena Contor. C-O-N-T-O-R.
Heidi Higgins: Lena shared something interesting to me. She said in her country, it's a tradition that the parents name the child after a Saint. And so there's only about 10 names for males and 10 names for females. She says our naming conventions caused her a lot of confusion here.
Yelena Contor: Like in general, I want to say 10 names for boys, 10 names for girls. And because in the past, you bring your child to church to be blessed. And in the past they didn't even celebrate birthday. It would be the Saints Day. So you'd get some holiday when it's your Saints Day. And so your Saints Day is who you named after.
So everyone wants to name their child after a Saint, like their Orthodox Saints. And so there are so many names that are boys and girls. And that's how I remember everyone because I have boxes in my head where all Lenas with my name in one box. And that's how I remember them. And then all Natashas or all [inaudible 00:02:31] and all Tatianas. And now I meet every person and they have a different name and I cannot have so many boxes because it won't work to remember. And, so I have a hard time remembering because I cannot put them all together to remember faces because they all go in the same box.
Heidi Higgins: Interesting. And where did you live in the Ukraine?
Yelena Contor: Zaporizhzhia. City of Zaporizhzhia.
Heidi Higgins: How far from the capital?
Yelena Contor: It's about 12-hour train ride.
Heidi Higgins: Okay.
Yelena Contor: I don't know distance-wise, because we all measure everything, how long it takes by train.
Heidi Higgins: Okay. Lena, came to the United States for her education just a few years back, but her heart and her focus is to help her people, who've been driven out of their homeland. The very next day, Lena was headed to Poland. She was going with a group to perform some humanitarian service and also to keep an eye out for her mother who is among the refugees. So during this event, boxes and boxes of hygiene kit were assembled to be given to an agency of combined churches, providing aid to Ukraine. The thing about this event, though, that got me thinking about being a responsible global citizen was Lena's desire to share stories and traditions of her people.
She wanted us to put her people in perspective to build an understanding of who they were more than just words and events that were happening. Lena had even prepared some of her country's foods so that she could share some of her culture with us. Her recipe for borscht soup. I had never tried it before, but it was amazing. It was made with red beets, cabbage, potatoes, carrots, garlic, and dill. It was bright red. She offered it with a coarse bread with a little bit of a garlic spread on top.
She shared that she'd never eaten steak or meat. A meat patty like a hamburger patty until she came to the United States. As meat is very rare and expensive. Only used for flavoring and never as a main course. Most of us gathered there did not know that Ukraine is the second largest country in Europe. And it's known as the region's bread basket, thanks to its beautiful rich black soil, which is highly fertile and rich in organic matter. You said that Ukraine is responsible for a third of the world's top soil. Did you plant gardens as a child?
Yelena Contor: Oh, yeah. Everyone has gardens because it's hard to survive. It's hard to... you don't get paid enough to last through the winter. So, every family, even though I'm from a big city where people live only in apartments, but almost every family has a piece of land, at least a small piece of land outside of the city. And so everyone goes on weekends, and works there and then brings vegetables and they can, and then that's what helps to survive through the winter.
Heidi Higgins: Lena, wanted us to understand that these war-fleeing families were like us in many ways and a little different too. She laughed as she shared stories of her youth and was quiet and tender when she talked about her mother and her family. She explained the differences of school life in Ukraine.
Yelena Contor: So you start from the first grade with 20, 25 people in a class. And you continue through your 12 years of school with the same people unless they move away. But they never rotated, never. They're the same people for 12 years. And can be a good thing, you develop really strong friendships, but it's also a bad thing because when someone is not doing well, everyone knows it. And that person gets labeled through the whole 12 years. There is like, "This is an F student." And they're all kinds of negative words associated with that.
And so that person doesn't have a chance to ever overcoming. Never, ever can start again new. "Oh, yeah, I'm going to start this year and I'm going to do good." Because everyone knows you are a failure. And so there's people who do good, they're good. And those who do bad, they're always do bad. And unfortunately, that's... I think I like American system more because there's always a chance and people don't know you next year. And so you can start new.
Heidi Higgins: Most families where she grew up are housed in large apartment buildings.
Yelena Contor: Because we don't have cars. People don't have cars, we walk a lot. And so most of the time our shoes are dirty. And so then if you spend your day in your apartment or school in dirty shoes, it's just dirty and dust. And that's why there's shoes for outside. When you enter your home or school or church. In church, there are slippers for everyone. And so anywhere you enter you change shoes.
Heidi Higgins: Lena's presence and presentation reminded me that being a good global citizen requires a person to look outside themselves and at their own community. And then beyond to extend the energy and compassion toward others. This requires a healthy knowledge about other people and their ways of life, which is something our children naturally want to explore. If we encourage them to remain open and curious. And tell me about the size of the families.
Yelena Contor: It's usually one or two children, rarely three.
Heidi Higgins: And you said there's a special name if there's more than two or three?
Yelena Contor: Yeah. Hero mom, yeah-
Heidi Higgins: Hero mom.
Yelena Contor: ... there are three kids or more. So you have three children, yeah. Very rare. It's just economically, people live in apartments and they're not very big and it's just hard financially. And I don't know, I think it's just something in mentality. That's how they think it should be. You just have a child or two. It's just not possible for everyone to move away and live separately. That's why three generations usually live in the same apartment three, four, because financially, they cannot afford to have a separate apartment.
Heidi Higgins: Lena, encouraged talking to our children about the war in Ukraine. She said that although the war is moving from the headlines, it's having a global impact. Millions of people no longer have a home. In fact, UNICEF reports, the civil rights crisis will likely last for generations. As of March 24th, one month into the war, there were 4.3 million children, more than half of the country's estimated 7.5 million child population without school, homes, clothing, or even sleeping on a regular bed.
Most are gathered in mass groupings, awaiting visas to be issued. Can you imagine the paperwork that must be done for each family? Visas are required before the families can enter other countries and find new places to live. These refugees do not want to leave their homeland though. Many got to return. Ukraine is their home. So this situation brings a few questions to mind. First of all, how do we talk to our children about the war in Ukraine?
Many of our kids have likely heard about the war from TV, internet, the social media things, or maybe even overheard conversation with other adults. I came across a wonderful article to help us with these conversations. It's written by Dr. David Scofield, and it comes from healthychildren.org. I enjoy this because he lists some ideas that will help us start the conversation, ask what they've already heard. Respond with honest reassurance, avoid exposure to graphic images, recognize that some children might be at greater risk and provide thoughtful answers to common questions.
He said, "Don't worry about the perfect thing to say." Because words distressing and children may feel upset. Bring the topic up. If children don't want to talk about it. Seek further support if your child needs it. These are ways that we can talk about that. I'm going to include the link in today's podcast notes. The next thing we want to ask is, "What can I do? How can I help?"
If you have the means, there are reputable places to send money, to help those in need. You might encourage your child to host a lemonade stand and add their proceeds to your contribution. Lena, suggests that you put yourself in the path of doing service that will make you a great global citizen. For instance, what about learning another language?
We know that it boosts memory and improves listening skills. Learning a second language can create a powerful connection to another culture. Understanding a foreign language helps foster those deep connections to other cultures, to their art, their music, their literature, and even their lifestyle. When you can communicate with another person in their native tongue, you could improve social connections and enrich relationships. Lena, shared a story that about a year or two ago, she had the desire to learn Polish.
Now that's not a language that comes up on first on any list that I know of, but because she put the effort in, she can now travel to Poland in a time of crisis and look for her mother and help those in need. Without the barriers that most of us would face. Again, I was impressed that Lena wasn't there at this event to pontificate on any particular thing, but rather she encouraged us to learn about her people and her country.
Then we may understand them and be in a better position to help. The best way to learn about people is by learning, serving, and interacting with them. The last two years have seen us mandated to keep to ourselves. Now that restrictions are open in most places. I hope you'll find a way to get out of town, at least to a neighboring city, to another state, or hopefully, maybe even another country.
For so many, this involves the family savings plan. I know, but there are lots of learning and planning and discovery before the adventure begins. One of my favorite stories came from a family who fell in love with this Stride K12 second grade history curriculum. That's where they study the history of Rome, the mother of the family was expecting. And the three other children took a poll and decided that the new child should be named Roman.
They loved learning about this country so much. The wonderful thing about this is that these parents were able to engage and encourage the children's love of learning of other people and countries. They were creating global citizens. And so they began a savings account, plans to take the family to Rome. Now, it took a few years, but the anticipation education that took place during this time created responsible, knowledgeable global citizens.
These young children were amazing and surprisingly, even traveling to a neighboring state can bring new and interesting experiences. Lena, found her mother now a refugee in Poland, hundreds of thousands like her are awaiting visas so they couldn't find a new home. Most of these refugees long to be back home in Ukraine. And it maybe years, even generations before it is rebuilt enough to allow them to do so.
Children have a unique and incredible ability to absorb new information, develop their minds and strengthen their compassion and empathy. Talk about the hard things, expose them to other cultures, teach them to learn a new language, celebrate multi culturalism in your community by volunteering, serving, and donating. You can raise your child as a true global citizen. My thanks to Lena for her help on this episode and a special back office shout out to Jennifer Kornberger.
Thank you for listening to K12 On Learning, sponsored by Stride. To learn more about online public schools, powered by Stride K12, Stride Career Prep Programs that foster lifelong learning or any of the private school or individual course offerings. Please go to stridelearning.com or K12.com. Special thanks to 3K Studios for providing the music for us. Remember to subscribe to this podcast and feel free to leave us a good review. We hope you'll join us next time for K12 On Learning.
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