Using technology to give children an international education
Children Connecting the World is the brainchild of Liz Benavides, a native of Scotland who once nannied for the Saudi royal family. “I have a great love and respect for the Saudi people and culture,” Benavides says. A key learning during her Saudi tenure: “While there are certainly a lot of differences between our two cultures, there are also similarities.”
A Fall 2010 Skype video chat was a first step to developing this fledgling non-profit organization. Utilizing Benavides’ international connections and Sun Valley Elementary School Media Specialist KevinVickers’ technical knowhow, the duo hoped to bridge the cultural divide by arranging for a live video chat between Prince Khalid Bin Alwaleed Bin Talal from Saudi Arabia and children from Sun Valley and Benton Heights Elementary.
This success sparked other plans, and with Vickers as her self-described “right hand man,” plans include a “virtual pen pal” program between Union County students and those in Saudi Arabia and Scotland, as well as a 2012 visit to Saudi Arabia. “We hope to do a teacher exchange,” Benavides explained, “to allow teachers to experience other educational systems. Benavides also hopes to leverage her contacts in Spain and Holland to engage students there as well.
Since deciding to become a nonprofit, it has been non-stop for Children Connecting the World, and the community has embraced it with open arms. Earlier this year, Benavides helped UCPS children learn about famed Scottish Poet Robert Byrnes and the celebration of Burns Night via a Skype conversation with the Robert Byrnes Birthplace Museum in Scotland.
As early as last week, Prince Khalid even returned for a restaurant luncheon attended by students and faculty alike. In addition to a Benton Heights student singing a full rendition of Aladdin’s “A Whole New World,” kids, parents and faculty had the chance to chat with the prince up close and personal. “Kids even asked him for ketchup and he complied,” Benavides fondly recalled.
Her organization has also worked to help Saudi exchange students assimilate to life in the U.S. From helping a student navigate the DMV to taking them swimming or skating, she is there to help. “The support I’ve gotten from the Saudi community in the U.S. has been tremendous.”
Connecting through technology
Children Connecting the World is necessary to help combat worldwide ignorance, Benavides writes on Causes.com, a website seeking funding support. She hopes to use technology – from e-mail to Skype – to connect children to help them build positive relationships for their future. “We didn’t have tools like this when we were children,” Benavides says. “Technology can help children connect and give them an international education.”
“Many children don’t have the opportunity to travel and experience other cultures the way I did,” Benavides explained during the Skype call with Prince Khalid. “Let’s give them the opportunity to teach each other about their countries, cultures and traditions,” Benavides writes, “and at the same time they can see what similarities they have.
By lending some international support to this issue, Benavides hopes to let children teach each other. “They learn about things like one another’s games, foods and holidays,” she says, “It is a way to bring the world to our kids.”
“We need to raise funds to do this on a larger scale.” Benavides says. “Opportunities for Children Connecting World are many.” A website and a bank account are in the works – and from there the fundraising will begin. In the meanwhile, Benavides is happy to answer questions about this organization at 704-254-5564 or firstname.lastname@example.org.