As we approach the end of the inaugural year of the Connecting Our World Grassroots Leadership Program (GLP), our blog series will continue over the coming weeks with the reflections from the participants. The GLP, as you may recall, launched in 2011 in response to the growing need for training and resources to help international educators address public policy challenges they face in their states and communities.

In the below post, participant Andrea Barnard from the University of Southern Indiana describes how persistence helped her overcome roadblocks and connect with other local advocates.

Andrea BarnardBy Andrea Barnard

When beginning my Grassroots Leadership project, the process went a little something like this...

First, identify an issue. This was no problem. It is never difficult to find a process which does not work perfectly. I identified that K-12 is seriously lacking a focus on global and cultural awareness, an area of learning of ever growing importance. Second, I needed to create a grand scheme idea to alleviate this issue. “Ah, no problem,” I thought to myself. The answer was simply to connect already existing resources within the community to the school corporation and encourage teachers to use these resources to include cultural topics in the curriculum. Third, I came to the realization that I must be the only one in the whole world who cares about this topic and I wondered how in the world I was ever going to get started!?

Well, maybe it wasn’t that bad but, initially, I did feel that my reach was only as far as my own fingers. I felt overwhelmed at how difficult it might be for one person to make a change. The truth is that it is impossible for one person to make a change. That’s right, I did just say that! The good news is that it only takes one person to make a connection which starts a chain reaction that leads to change. So is it really that easy? I just had to make one phone call and the rest fell in place from there? No, not hardly! It took a lot of time to initiate the spark which finally gave my project momentum. One person finally said yes to me but before that and throughout the process I had un-returned phone calls, missed meetings, too many roadblocks to even mention, and even some resistance to my cause.

Difficulty in finding support can really cause a positive attitude and the best intentions to plummet, but the good news is that there are advocates just waiting to be connected to others with the same passion and skills. It is just a matter of putting the puzzle pieces together. At times that puzzle may seem like one of those 3-D puzzles that takes pain-staking concentration and a great deal of patience.

One year after beginning my project, I am able to see the products of my persistence but I am not wrapping up and closing the door. I am, instead, ever expanding the web of local people who share the same passion for international education that I value and trying to make a difference in the lives of the youth in Evansville, Indiana. Did I achieve something profound?

Andrea BarnardYes, I did. I watched as a third-grader looked past the hijab of a young Muslim woman from Indonesia and looked into her eyes with admiration and awe at the ribbon craft she helped him create. I witnessed him curiously see difference as intriguing and I wondered how his life might take a different path from that point on.

I hope that you too will decide to take on a project for change, and when you do and you begin to feel overwhelmed, just think of the random puzzle pieces still in the box transforming slowly into a beautiful piece of art. This is called creating change one “peace” at a time.

Andrea Barnard is a NAFSA member, participant in the inaugural Connecting Our World Grassroots Leadership Program, and assistant director of International Programs and Services at the University of Southern Indiana. Andrea created an “International Trunks for Teachers” program where international students from the university collaborate with educators to create a “trunk” that acts as a curriculum about their home country with different lesson plans for the local elementary, middle, and high schools of Evansville, Indiana.