The role of global citizenship to young people and the impact research study trips abroad can have on students and rural Malawian communities.

To fully embrace the Sustainable Development Goals do we need young people to see practical examples of the effects of some of the world’s most pressing challenges?

Sustainable Development goals

I have recently spoken at a number of secondary school and youth events across the UK and I always ask the same question; who knows about the UN Global Goals? Each time I have been met by silence. A group of young people about to leave school and head out to University and careers and not one has heard of these key goals. Goals which are supposed to apply to us all, mean something to everyone, and be accessible to the global community so we all take responsibility for the inequalities in the world and our ever changing environment.

I move on to show a slide outlining all 17 Sustainable Development Goals and speak about our work in Malawi and how the objective for each goal is so starkly evident there.

I show pictures of maize fields dead from drought, images of mud houses flattened by floods and film of young children learning in cramped classrooms with mud floors and no power.

The group re-engages and there are tutters amongst the students as they can understand how each goal can affect each person in these pictures

I bring the conversation back to them and ask ‘do we all have a responsibility to engage with these goals or are these aimed at just the poorest of society, just the most  needy, the countries and communities that are struggling the most?'

When you leave school and take your place as a member of the wider community, find a course of further study, a company to work for, choose a house to live in and a car to drive, what is your responsibility to engage with the world as a Global Citizen?

Educational school trips to Africa - sustainable development goals

My name is Kate Webb and I used to be a learning support teacher in an inner London School. For the past ten years I have run a small expedition company which aims to connect young people with the world as Global Citizens.

Malawi as our classroom

  • We chose Malawi as our classroom and the Malawian people as our guides
  • we moved to this small slice of Africa to learn more about development, to see first hand what tourism opportunities there were there and to try and merge these two sectors
  • we aimed to try and create experiences that benefitted the people who travelled with us and the communities they engaged with
  • we currently run around twenty student expeditions a year and a further 5-10 group expeditions for businesses, charities, teams of people looking to learn more about Global Citizenship and have impactful travel experiences.

Living in Malawi 

Living in Malawi and running a business there, you can’t escape to feel the direct impacts of key global challenges - the dangers of over population, the increase in drought and adverse weather, the degradation of land due to deforestation, the loss of cultural heritage and the devastating effects of lack of basic healthcare, clean water and education. Days of no power, frequent water cuts, the disarray of public services and the disparity of wealth could be seen both in the cities and the rural communities we tried to link with.

We were never disheartened as there were also pockets of incredible adaptability

  • people we met who were determined to find ways out of poverty, were not going to sit back and watch another crop season fail
  • were going to try new methods of farming, go out and teach the young people in their community about planting trees, come up with business initiatives that meant they could earn enough to educate their children and did not have to wait for the next aid wagon to roll by.

In the very basic terms this means if their house falls down from flooding, if their crop fails, if there family get sick-they will survive.

It was these people we wanted to connect with and now want to showcase as examples of the keys skills needed to be an active, evolving, educated global citizen; adaptability, determination and understanding.

sustainable development goals

Step outside the classroom…. 

I think that taking young people on outside the classroom expeditions and study trips is a key part of their education and certainly is what I remember from my school days. I learnt more from seeing the cliffs eroding on the North Norfolk coast than drawing a diagram of it in my classroom. But was a day trip enough to get me to engage with what this erosion meant to the local community, how this affected property prices in that area, why this was occurring at a faster rate than ever before? Perhaps the latter but certainly not the former.

And I think it is the human element that perhaps is key to instilling lasting knowledge, encouraging change of behaviour and reaching towards achieving the sustainable development for future generations across the world. 

sustainable development goals

Connecting with experiences

I am still surprised by the comments young people make after they return home from their expeditions - it is not the amazing herd of elephants they saw crossing the Shire River that they comment on it is usually the fisherman they saw being caught for poaching in a wildlife area or the young child walking along the road with bare feet and a bag of charcoal on their head.

They connect with the experiences that they didn’t expect, the things they have never read about and the images that make them question the clear divide between them and the people they meet in Malawi.  

Young Friends Volunteering Malawi4

Opportunities and your future

Imagine if every young person was given the opportunity to be part of an expedition to Malawi that showcased Global Citizenship. 

  • Connecting them with people whose lives were totally different but connected by the same determination to survive, do well and leave the world a better place for the next generation
  • offered them a chance to pound the maize for a school feeding programme, till the soil for a village garden, walk the trails through forests degraded by deforestation, work for a day with a youth group planting trees and mulching for a permaculture garden initiative.

Be Part of something

If you could apply to join an expedition where you could learn what it meant to be a Global Citizen, learnt how we all need to take responsibility for our changing world and above all learnt that we are all connected, we all have our roles to play. Would this affect the company you decided to join when you left school? The course you applied for at University? The lessons you taught your own children?

Would this mean that when I came to your school and asked who knows anything about the Sustainable Development Goals that I would be greeted with a sea of hands?

For further information on our school visits to Malawi please contact us.

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