What Happened in 2018 & What’s Coming in 2019

Learning Life was busy in 2018, and has ambitious plans for 2019!  In brief, we launched an international mentoring program, tested a global storytelling challenge as well as “cook, eat and learn sessions” or CELS, and engaged families in four countries in an ongoing food culture project.  This post reports on each of these initiatives, reveals our plans for 2019, and explains three simple ways you can help.

Lunch with Senegalese family in DakarFood Culture Project: Following on our successful 2017 community photo project, we moved our flagship program, the Citizen Diplomacy Initiative (CDI), forward with a new project intended to develop ten participating families’ understanding of nutrition and food culture through conversations and meals.  This project marked the first time that Learning Life staff met face-to-face with some of our families and an organizational partner abroad.  In March, my wife and I visited the Collectif pour la Promotion des Groupes Vulnérables, a partner association of men in Dakar, Senegal who provide free educational programming for families and youth in their lower-income neighborhood.  We conducted research to compare the food culture of three of the Collective’s families with that of three of our lower-income families in DC to gain a better sense of the relative healthfulness of their food practices and beliefs (click here for the research results).  This project was the concrete start of a long-term collaboration between Learning Life and Georgetown University Medical Center’s (GUMC) Community Health Division to improve the health of our families in DC and abroad.  That collaboration led to further research and four conference poster presentations in 2018.  We plan to complete the food culture project in spring 2019.             

Cook, Eat & Learn Sessions (CELS): Launched in fall 2018, CELS are an outgrowth of Learning Life’s partnership with GUMC’s CELS with a DC familyCommunity Health Division.  In September, six GUMC medical students, working in pairs, began meeting with several of our families in DC at their homes to cook and eat a meal together while learning about nutrition, cooking and foreign food culture.  Each pair of medical students was charged with coming up with a meal that is foreign, tasty, inexpensive, easy to make and accessible (i.e., the families can buy the ingredients from their closest supermarket).  The CELS are intended to deepen our families knowledge about nutrition and cooking with an eye to improving their health in the long-term.  In 2019, we will continue the CELS with our families in DC, and possibly, depending on interest, develop virtual CELS between DC area students of health and medicine, and our foreign families.          

Global Storytelling Challenge performanceGlobal Storytelling Challenge: Likewise launched in fall 2018, the pilot Challenge engaged five middle school students at the Saint Thomas More Catholic Academy in DC’s Ward 8 in learning about international issues (e.g., climate change, war, poverty, gang violence, gender inequality) then creating and performing stories about issues the students chose.  In December, the students, led by two George Washington University International Education Program graduate students, Nichole Hutchins and Rujjares Hans, performed their stories before their schoolmates and teachers in two competing teams of three and two students.  Research on storytelling suggests that this art form can improve student engagement, visual memory, information recall and language skills as well as create a more welcoming and tolerant learning environment (more on this research in an upcoming Learning Life post).  Hence, in 2019, following the food culture project, we aim to complete a second Global Storytelling Challenge involving more children in DC as well as abroad.

Mentoring: Informal mentoring Learning Life volunteers did with some of our youth in Washington DC in 2017 showed that those children exhibited more self-confidence, knowledge, and motivation to participate in our programming.  Mentoring also helped forge more trusting, participatory relationships with participating families.  Accordingly, in 2018, we launched a mentoring program to support CDI.  Our mentoring connects DC area college and graduate students as well as professionals in mentoring our youth not only in DC but where we work abroad: in San Salvador, El Salvador, Mentor-Mentee Pair 18.11.10.Saedy&ThaliaDakar, Senegal, and Jerash, Jordan.  Our mentors and mentees in DC meet at least once per month to visit foreign embassies, museums, cultural festivals, restaurants and more.  Our mentors mentoring children abroad meet with their mentees live via Facebook or Skype at least twice per month to read articles, watch videos, and discuss their thoughts and experiences as well as the mentees’ ambitions and plans.  For both the mentees in DC and abroad, the mentoring is intended to deepen their understanding of the world, and connect them to ideas, resources and educational opportunities that can improve their lives.  Currently, we have 15 mentors mentoring 11 children in DC and 5 children and adults in El Salvador, Senegal and Jordan, with plans to up to double the number of mentor-mentee pairs in 2019.

As we move into 2019, here are three ways you can help:

1) Donate to support our work.  Learning Life does a lot with little funding.  The money you donate pays for food, printing, youth awards, and other items that help recruit and motivate our families and carry out our programs.  When you donate, please consider becoming a Learning Life sustainer by giving $5, $10, $20 or whatever amount you are comfortable with per week or month through your credit card.

2) Volunteer with Learning Life: Volunteers do the bulk of Learning Life’s work.  You can help with mentoring, international learning activities, language interpreting, document translation, planning, fundraising, recruitment, research, writing, graphic design, video marketing, and other tasks.  To learn more, contact us at email@learninglife.info.

3) Shop through iGive.com, and help fund Learning Life free. Shop more than 1,400 stores (Amazon, Apple, Best Buy, Crate & Barrel, The Gap, KMart, Nordstrom, Sephora, Staples, Starbucks, Target, T-Mobile, Walgreens, and many more) through iGive, and if you make Learning Life your preferred charity, a percentage of your purchase will be donated to Learning Life at no cost to you.

Finally, please stay tuned to Learning Life news by following our FacebookLinkedin, or Twitter pages, and sign up for our monthly email news dispatches.

Thank you for your support, and happy New Year 2019!   

Paul Lachelier, Ph.D.
Founder & Director, Learning Life