When teaching about different cultures, it’s important to enlist the assistance of educators from the actual cultures as their knowledge and advice will allow the lesson to be more accurate as well as provide a perspective from stakeholders in the culture.
Here are a list of just a few of the organizations and educators we have worked with in the past:
Alma Richeh, Executive Director of The Center for Arabic Culture
Nelly Tonchev Nelinda, Bulgarian Cultural Education
Claudia Foxtree, Arawak Native American Cultural Education
Motoko, Japanese Cultural Educator
To provide an example, at Guardian Adventures, we explore the stories of a new culture each summer and then delve more deeply into it throughout the rest of the year. These stories can span from the oral histories of the Arawak and Abenaki Native American Tribes to the Sumerian stories and legends in Syrian culture.
In order to prevent cultural appropriation and to assist in presenting the stories in a sensitive manner, our company hires a cultural educator who is an actual stakeholder in the culture that we are portraying. The cultural educator must approve all props, costumes, and stories before they are performed. Sometimes the educators even step in and play a major role in the plot for the kids.
Every year, during the non-summer months, we hold two large events for our campers. One is a journey into Death’s Realm during the Day of the Dead. In our world, Death has various manifestations, depending on the culture being explored. Our objective isn’t to just represent a culture, but to explore more subtle aspects of the culture through their stories. For example, the year we chose Native Americans, we thought it best to explore more than one tribe since the term “Native Americans” actually covers a profoundly diverse array of peoples and cultures.
During the Day of the Dead event, we explored an Arawak tribal story about Opiel, the three-legged dog/human who guards the realm of the dead. We had Claudia Fox Tree, a local Arawak educator, counsel us on the story, props, and costumes. When it was time to celebrate the coming of Spring, we enlisted the help of Jim Bruchac, Abenaki educator and author from Ndakinna Education Center in upstate NY. Jim gave us the stories to explore as well as input on our costume designs and our “Big Boss” (our special monster who is very tough for the heroes to battle). The Big Boss is traditionally a huge monster that is played by an actor on jumping stilts with handmade costuming and huge foam weapons.
We chose both the Abenaki and Arawak tribes to explore because they were very different from each other in location (Arawak are Caribbean and Abenaki are Northeast US and Canada). As well, both Jim and Claudia are renowned educators who generously made themselves available to us as consultants so that we could make every effort to present their tribal stories in a culturally sensitive manner. It is our company’s mission to inspire lifelong learners who want to make a difference in the world. And our company’s values are the same as what our campers know as the Three Tenets of a Hero: Courage, Honor, and Compassion.
We consider the concept of bringing the world’s stories to our campers as a primary vehicle for both learning and developing compassion. We subscribe to the idea put forth by Joseph Campbell, American Mythologist and professor of literature, that all of the world’s stories are the same story: The Hero’s Journey. By representing stories outside of the typical Eurocentric myths and legends, we endeavor to show our Heroes that despite our varied attire, skin color, language, and customs, we are more alike than we are different. And by involving educators who are actual stakeholders in the culture that we are exploring, we hope to empower people from those cultures (especially cultures that are often mis- or under-represented in media) to make certain that their stories are presented in a manner that is both accurate and sensitive.
Thus far, we have been fortunate to work with very committed educators – many of whom even come to our camps and events to portray characters themselves. We hope that over the years, more cultural educators will have the opportunity to see their stories brought to life under their guidance and play a role in helping kids and teens from around the world learn – and care – about the rich diversity of people around the globe. And through this, allow the future generations of Heroes to expand their understanding and compassion outside of boundaries of their neighborhood, city, and even country.