Around the world this holiday season, many families are gathering together to share food and give thanks. Yet amidst these moments of togetherness and gift giving, there are many reasons to remember those who are less fortunate and in need of our assistance as well as prayers.

This photograph by 21 year old Alice Smeets “comes from a slum in Port au Prince called the ‘Cité Soleil,’ or ‘City of the Sun.’” This is UNICEF’s official photo of the year for 2008.

UNICEF Photo of the Year for 2008 from Haiti

This 2nd place photo depicts a “child in the Chinese Province of Sichuan 10 days after the earthquake in May 2008.”

Child in the Chinese Province of Sichuan 10 days after the earthquake in May 2008

This photo by Marcus Bleasdale provides a small glimpse into the world of child soldiers in The Democratic Republic of Congo, “one of the countries with the highest numbers of underage soldiers in the world.”

Child soldier in The Democratic Republic of Congo

This image of Jose, a member of a street gang in Cartucho, the most brutal quarter of Bogota, Columbia, captures a mirthful smile in a situation which many people would likely find hopeless and overwhelming.

Columbian gang member Jose in Cartucho, the most brutal quarter of Bogota

Many people continue to champion the phrase “the world is flat,” yet what does this concept and the reality of direct connectivity to millions of other human beings around our planet mean for us and the students in our classrooms each day? I believe one of the things our digital “connectedness” SHOULD mean is that we are meaningfully tied together to better understand, support, and act with others across our towns and cities, as well as across our planet. There are few information sources better suited to helping us connect with authentic voices as well as images from around the world than the website Global Voices Online, and few websites better oriented toward helping entrepreneurs in the developing world than Kiva.

Put into the perspective of these images and others in the 14 image gallery, don’t ongoing debates about political appointees and high stakes testing in the United States seem relatively silly and distracting from the real issues which beset us as human beings occupying space and breathing oxygen on this fragile planet?

In his closing keynote at the NECC 2007 conference in Atlanta, Dr. Tim Tyson related the story of how over a period of seven years junior high students at his school gradually changed the focus of their digital storytelling projects (films/podcasts) from a lower-level Bloom’s taxonomy approach of “tell me, tell me” to a completely different level of direct marketing for meaningful advocacy on issues that matter in our world.

As 2009 dawns, let us follow the lead of those visionary students from Cobb County, Georgia. Let those of us blessed with relative affluence and material plenty not make the mistake of thinking we have received such wealth to hoard and keep it to ourselves. Rather, let us take seriously the responsibilities which come with great gifts, and resolve to use all the resources at our disposal to inspire and move generations of people to action in the service of humankind.

Yes, the world is on fire.

Let us seize the day.

Linktribution for these UNICEF images: Janine Mendes-Franco’s post “Haiti: Photo of the Year” on Global Voices Online,” Bryan Schaaf’s post “Unicef Photo Of The Year Features Haiti” on the blog “Haiti Innovation: Choice, Partnership, Community,” and Barbara Hans’ article “Walking Barefoot through Misery” on Spiegel Online.

Linktribution for “World on Fire” video and donation link: Karl Fisch’s posts “Give Until It Feels Good: Join Team Shift Happens on Kiva,” “Kiva Update and a Not-So-Modest Proposal,” and “World On Fire.”

Consider joining “Team Shift Happens.” Consider showing the above photos and video to your students when they return to class after the holiday break, and asking if they want to join and make a difference via Kiva as a class.

Small ripples can combine to make big waves.

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  • http://digital-doors.blogspot.com Martha Thornburgh

    Thanks for these reminders. I’ve been blessed with opportunities to spend several Christmases in places like the slums of PortauPrince and Nairobi and a clinic in Mogadishu, Somalia. I’ve had the opportunity to live in several of the world’s poorest nations. I really want that always to be a part of who I am. I don’t ever want that to seem far and distant. These are our neighbors, our brothers and our sisters. I am always shocked at how quickly those memories become pictures in a scrap book or a magazine and less of a reality. I guess that it is human nature for us to adapt to where we are. Making these worlds reality for my students is not about bumming them out. And I can not expect them to “get it” by just hearing my stories or seeing my pictures. I even have a hard time “getting it” and I have lived it. We need personal touches. We need to get to know our neighbors not just as someone with great need, but as someone with stories to tell and lessons to teach. What great opportunities we now have for doing this in our classrooms.

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