For a group of James Campbell High School students and graduates the Arabic greeting of “ahlan wa sahalan” has been added to the traditional Hawaiian greeting “aloha” thanks to global leadership program OneWorld Now!. In its fifth year of programming, OneWorld Now!-Hawaii brings its model of language, leadership, and study abroad to underserved public high school students in Ewa Beach, Hawaii, most of whom had never envisioned a life beyond the island state.
Notably, OWN-Hawaii became the first Arabic language class for high school students in Hawaii. The classes are taught by the only Arabic instructor in the state, Dr. Adly Mirza of the University of Hawaii at Manoa. Dr. Mirza is not only honored to teach in his native language and to share the often misunderstood and misrepresented Arab culture, but to see OWN students continue to excel at their Arabic studies in college: “Christian graduated from Campbell in May 2014 and is now at the University of Arizona. He is at the top of his class and scored the highest on his final exam.”
When OneWorld Now! expanded from Seattle to Hawaii in 2010, it chose to affirm its commitment to providing transformational learning opportunities to underserved high school students. OWN partnered with James Campbell High School where 91% of students identify as a member of a minority group and 47% are considered economically disadvantaged by free and reduced-price lunch state standards. The numbers are steeper for those enrolled in OWN; 99% are minorities and 100% on scholarship. Despite circumstances that create significant barriers, OWN graduates head out into the world and achieve great things, both academically and professionally.
Before joining OneWorld Now! alumni Preston Davis, called himself a “troubled kid going nowhere”. Fearing he would “hit rock bottom,” Davis knew he needed to make a change. His junior year in high school, Davis enrolled in OWN with a renewed commitment to do better in school and to mend stressed family relationships.
After a year with OWN, Preston called himself “a completely different person.” He joined the program to help himself and prove to his family he could get back on track and, after that first year of language and leadership classes, Davis found himself more mature, serious, and thinking about life after high school: “OWN brought light to my life and gave me hope to succeed in school and work”.
Graduating from James Campbell High School in 2013, Davis took a “gap year” in Morocco with the National Security Language Initiative and American Councils, on full scholarship to continue his Arabic studies. From Davis’ appreciation for his host family to his love of the Arabic language, to the delight of weekend excursions to all regions of Morocco, he discovered a second home. Davis was profoundly impacted by his time abroad, and had the opportunity to leave an impression on the community by teaching English classes to underprivileged youth and visiting orphanages to play with children. Davis, today a freshman at Leeward Community College, is unsure what the future will hold, but he intends to continue his study of Arabic and pursue a career that lets him travel and make new friends around the world.
Kevin Tangonan joined OWN-Hawaii when he was a sophomore at James Campbell High School. At the time, he was studying Chinese and had felt pulled towards international studies and diplomacy as his future career path. He had been watching the Arab Spring unfold and wanted to have a greater understanding of the culture and language. OWN was the door way to fluency in another language as well as leadership training. For two years, Tangonan studied Arabic and Chinese simultaneously, two of the most difficult languages for native English speakers to learn.
Today, Tangonan is a senior at Hawaii Pacific University, majoring in International Relations with a focus on North/South Korea. He is currently in South Korea studying on a full scholarship. When he returns to HPU, Tangonan will work at the HPU study abroad office as an assistant to the Director. He speaks Arabic, Korean, Chinese and Filipino. Once his bachelor’s degree is completed, he plans to take a year to travel and connect with the many friends he has made on various trips abroad while also applying to graduate school to pursue a Masters in Global Governance and International Relations and Diplomacy.
When alumna Nazeehah Khan, first learned about OWN, the Arabic drew her in but it was the leadership workshops that kept her coming back every week. As a result of the workshops, Khan explained she had “developed a broader global perspective that stretched far beyond the limited worldview of island life” and gave her the leadership skills and motivation to pursue study abroad and university. At OWN, Khan discovered a community that was open, diverse and eager to experience life outside of Hawaii. Today, Khan is a senior at the University of Hawaii planning for graduate school and she also uses her language and leadership skills to give back to the program as OWN’s Arabic Teaching Assistant, mentoring current students.
OWN’s leadership workshops are facilitated by Natasha Schultz and Ana Reidy of the Pacific and Asian Affairs Council, a key partner in the global leadership program. Leadership facilitator Natasha Schultz’s passion for her role at OWN comes for her commitment to social justice and love of travel: “Opening the world to high school students, especially through travel, shapes the person they become and how they relate to what is different from their norms. It’s not going to be for everyone, but the ones who come to PAAC or OWN and light-up, those are the students I’m really working for.” Every week, OWN students of James Campbell High School, pile into Natasha and Ana’s classroom and tackle weighty topics like social identities, power and privilege, and global climate change. OWN leadership workshops are grounded in experiential learning and designed to cultivate critical 21st century skills within the students.
OWN’s funding partner, the Qatar Foundation International (QFI), quickly noticed something special about OWN students, which the organization attributes to the leadership curriculum. On her first visit with students, QFI Grants Manager Denise Dodson observed how the program’s impact extended beyond typical leadership development to “training for how to live in the world.” Dodson will never forget a compelling speech delivered by OWN Alumna Pauline. Formerly a self-proclaimed agoraphobic, Pauline attributes overcoming her debilitating fear to OWN’s leadership workshops. Today, Pauline lives, works and thrives in the bustling city of Shanghai, China.
OWN remains the only organization offering Arabic, a critical world language, to high school students in Hawaii. Arabic is the official language of 26 countries and is spoken by over 54 million people worldwide, yet less than 1% of US high school students study this difficult yet important language. This gives graduates of the program a strategic advantage above their peers for academic and professional opportunities. Dr. Mirza notes that the “students feel special being the only high school students in Hawaii that can speak, read, and write Arabic.” In addition to the academic year program, OWN Hawaii has offered a two-week Arabic language summer program.
Now mid-way through the fifth year of language classes, leadership workshops, and study abroad opportunities, OWN-HI and partners look back proudly on the accomplishments of the program and alumni:
Much is on the horizon for the second half of the year. Three students are looking forward to the spring trip to Doha,Qatar, with the Qatar Foundation International, where sixty US and Qatari students will come together with the goals of expressing one’s identity and culture through Arabic language. Through language-learning activities, guided projects, community service, and cultural outings, students explore the meaning of identity and the importance of bridging cultural differences. This will be the fifth year OWN students will participate in the full-scholarship exchange, a rare and life-changing opportunity; students are already packing their bags in anticipation.
OneWorld Now!, in partnership with the Pacific and Asian Affairs Council and the Qatar Foundation International, look forward to finishing our fifth year of programming at James Campbell High School and seeing how the innovative, integrated model of language, leadership, and study abroad will impact future generations of Hawaii students.
“I found the local enthusiasm for OWN-Hawaii almost humbling. We’ve all been so inspired by the students and how the program has influenced their life trajectories. The experience shows that the model really works.” – Jennifer Tanaka, OWN Executive Director
By Kirsten Rogers, OWN’s Director of Communications | Follow on Twitter