May 31, 2013

Why are educational travel tours important for students?

Educational travel tours are an essential vehicle of global competency for students. There is no more effective means to provide students with hands-on-experience and lifetime lessons which transcend the classroom. 

No matter the subject area, students are able to comprehend, recall, analyze and apply lessons learned by personal experience. Educational travel tours to historical sites, cities with rich cultural pasts and those celebrating major political or social changes, allow students to see, feel, and understand specific events in context. Students can make sense of the enormity of a situation, grasp the vastness of the city and innovate solutions to global issues through educational field trips. This is essential, practical knowledge which books alone cannot provide.

As teachers, we strive to impart multicultural awareness in our students, but within the confines of a traditional school environment, such global diversity is rare. Educational travel abroad provides students the opportunity to meet people from different cultures, see them practicing their rituals and everyday lives. It instills a feeling of connection with others, encouraging respect and understanding for a range of religions and cultures.  Indeed, traveling to places recovering from historical conflicts confers indelible knowledge of the challenges second and third generation people face as a result of 20th century American foreign-policy actions. With our military engagements raging around the world today, these experiential lessons are critical to our collective security. As Julia, a California Sophomore writes of her Friendship Tour in Vietnam and Cambodia:

“This trip has truly changed my life. From traveling on boats through the Mekong to learning the lost art of leather puppet making from grateful, adorable Cambodian orphans, we truly experienced a culture unlike anything we have known. Both South Vietnam and Cambodia have been uprooted by violence and scars have been made not only in the landscape but also in the psyches of the people…. I realized how, no matter how "civilized" we appear, humans are capable of the worst imaginable things.”

Educational travel abroad programs play a critical role in developing the worldly connection in students. It makes them appreciate and value the fact that we live in one large world where we all bear responsibility to one another. Understanding the issues that the “less developed countries” face creates a sense of gratitude, grace and action in students from “more developed countries.” Educational travel tours inspire students to take up careers and initiate actions aimed at making this world a better place for each one of us. Julia’s heightened-consciousness from the Vietnam and Cambodia adventure did not settle on the negative, but rather delivered a hopeful lesson in the power of experiential wisdom:

“These orphan children, who had so little, were so happy and working so hard [to learn English]. I knew they were going to make a difference in the world, even born from such troubled times. They were the reason we, humans, deserve life: Because we are durable and elastic. We can rise from adversity and against all odds and fight.  We must fight for those who can't fight for themselves.  We must fight against those too inhuman to understand what they are doing. As I sat with those laughing children I understood. Humanity is not evil as a whole, only those who forget what being human truly means are evil. Evil people are those who forget the common bond that links us all. We are all connected and all deserve the chance to choose to live and be fully human.”

Imagine an informed citizenry which considers the social, military and fiscal impact of our nation’s policies on both the domestic and global communities. With time and vision, this is a possible dream. International educational trips make an immeasurable difference in the overall academic achievement of all learners. Students, teachers and school administrators must be encouraged to integrate the ultimate experiential learning within the academic year: global educational travel abroad.

May 23, 2013

Meeting Kim Phuc: Student Voices Salvation and Damnation

In the forward of the book, The Girl in the Picture by Denise Chong, she recounts an interview she did with George Esper, the last bureau chief of the associative press in Saigon, who describes the photograph in the following way: “It captures not just one evil of one war, but an evil of every war.”  Nick Ut’s Pulitzer Prize winning photograph depicts a group of little children, and in the center of them is the nude, nine year old Kim Phuc - all of them running for their lives and close on the heels of them soldiers. In the background of them, we see exploded devastation. Is it possible to conjure up a more horrifying image? This is hell on earth. But at the same time, the little children in flight are alive. At least for now they have survived. No matter how wounded, no matter how scared, and no matter if everything in their lives is gone forever, they represent potential survivors. In one photograph, we see the worst of humanity and yet there is still hope evoked in the onlooker. A hope that the kids will survive, and a hope that despite all the havoc visited on these people that some good will come out of this picture. 

For Kim Phuc, the centerpiece of this masterful photo, the taking of the picture literally meant her salvation. On June 8th 1972 photographer, Nick Ut, witnessed the damage through his camera lens, and then he ran her to the hospital; thus, saving Kim’s life. Her burns from Napalm, which generates temperatures from 1500-2200 degrees Fahrenheit, were so severe it was thought unlikely that she would survive; yet, Kim Phuc endured, and eventually was released from the hospital. Nick Ut, her savior, continued to visit Kim until he left Vietnam.

The Girl in the Picture indicts not only our military action, but also our societal values. For example, Napalm was developed by a team of chemists at Harvard University. The fact that we use some of our brightest minds at the world’s alleged top university, to encourage the development of a weapon that sticks to the skin and burns it to the bone, is an alarming commentary on our society. When will we spend more money on educating people and feeding the hungry then we do on figuring out different ways of killing them?

In her own words, Kim Phuc stated: “For many years the picture controlled me.” The fame of the picture condemned her to the role of a living symbol, but led her finally to find the words behind the image- an image so strong it can strike one mute - depicting a moment of agony of a nine year old girl who grew up to be a voice for peace, for freedom, and for healing. In 1997 when Phuc established the Kim Foundation International she said: “ A photographer happened to be on the road that day…but I can never forget the thousands of innocent children who didn’t have their picture taken and didn’t get help. These are the children I want to help.”

Kim, I cannot thank you for suffering because there is nothing that can make sense of that. But, I can thank you for enduring so much and still allowing your heart to grow so much that the famous image of you has transformed into one of motion and action - running from a devastating past and into a hopeful future.

By Delilah Napier,
Harvard-Westlake School

May 16, 2013

‘Napalm Girl’ speaks about the horrors of her childhood and the importance of peace

Kim Phuc, the little girl set afire by napalm bombs during the Vietnam War, described to students, parents and teachers May 10 in Ahmanson Lecture Hall the horrors of being a nine-year-old engulfed by four napalm bombs.

A photo taken that day in 1972 by Associated Press photographer Nick Ut, then 19 years old, became an iconic image of the war.

Phuc and Ut were both at Harvard-Westlake to screen an award-winning 26-minute ABC documentary, “The Power of a Picture.” The film tracks the impact of the Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph of Phuc screaming and running naked down a road in Trang Bang, Vietnam, just after having her clothes scorched off.

Ut’s picture has received a variety of reactions. According to the documentary, which has won the Edward R. Murrow Award, upon seeing the picture for the first time, President Richard M. Nixon’s first response was to question its credibility. Visual Arts Department Head Cheri Gaulke said the photograph is often attributed to having ended the war.

Sarah McAllister ’15 did not initially have much of a response to the photograph, but this changed after a trip to Laos spring break through the Friendship Tours World Travel Program.

“I live a safe and sound life in the suburbs of California, but that photo gives me a doorway into a very different point of view, where past and current aid is not enough” McAllister said. “People are still in pain.”

Ut recalled photographing Phuc until she ran past him in tears, her back severely burned. After this, Ut, who Phuc calls her hero, ceased taking pictures and rushed her to the hospital.

“The hospital gave up hope on me, but [God] wasn’t finished with me,” Phuc said.

Assuming Phuc had no chance at survival, the hospital placed her in the morgue. Three days later, her parents discovered her alive. Her father transferred her to a clinic where she endured 14 months and several operations. Phuc underwent 17 surgeries in 12 years and still has scarring on her arms, back and neck.

“I envied my friends who wore short-sleeve blouses,” Phuc said. “I didn’t feel pretty.”

Phuc was so grateful to her doctors that she wanted to follow in their footsteps. In 1982 she was accepted to medical school in Saigon, but the Vietnamese government had other plans for her as a symbol of war for the state.

“They tried to control me,” Phuc said. “I became a victim all over again.”
In 1986, Phuc’s dream of studying medicine was met with a bittersweet compromise. She was permitted to study at the University of Havana, a school in a Communist country, in which Phuc said she would still be controlled. Although it was in Cuba that she discovered she could not become a doctor due to her own health issues, Phuc’s experience in the nation was not all disappointing. It was there that she met her husband, whom she married on Sept. 11, 1992. The newlyweds were allowed to honeymoon only in Moscow. During a one-hour layover in Newfoundland on their return to Havana, the couple defected and eventually became Canadian citizens. Phuc said they had neither money nor friends in Canada, they “had nothing but faith.”

Phuc struggled with forgiving those who hurt and exploited her. She said that she considers forgiveness to be the hardest part of her life and originally wanted her tormenters to suffer as much as she had. Phuc’s mentality turned around at age 19 when she realized she had to “change or die from the hatred,” she said. She credits the transformation to her conversion to Christianity.

“I imagined a picture of a cup full of black coffee and my heart being just like that,” Phuc said. “I poured out hate a little bit at a time.”

Phuc’s revelation and experiences with the Vietnam War led her to create The Kim Foundation, a nonprofit organization that helps children victimized by war. After her presentation, books and other merchandise pertaining to Phuc were sold to benefit the foundation.

Although she initially hated Ut’s photograph because she felt “embarrassed and ugly,” Phuc now “travels around the world following it,” she said. She has spoken all around the globe promoting her message of peace.

“I came from war,” Phuc said. “Now I work for peace.”

By Sydney Foreman

Photo Credit: Sarah Novicoff


Spotted At The Space: Nick Ut & Kim Phúc


On our unprecedented educational field trip to the Annenberg Space for Photography War Photos, Friendship Tours students and schools enjoyed a conversation with Living History icons, the 1972 “Napalm Girl” Kim Phuc, and the Pulitzer-Prize winning photographer, Nick Ut. Illustrating that our program offers enrichment far beyond the standard educational travel tours, students were treated to a personal lunch and interaction with these amazing individuals from the Vietnam War. “Our students are incredibly fortunate to have this opportunity,” remarked history teacher Eric Taylor of Francis Parker School. “Understanding the war from such a personal, human perspective will make their Vietnam spring break 2014 educational experience so much more meaningful.” Friendship Tours partners with Francis Parker’s Global Initiatives for life-changing international student volunteer learning trips.

We had a couple of very special visitors at the Photography Space this past weekend. Pulitzer Prize-winning Associated Press photographer Nick Ut came to the WAR/PHOTOGRAPHY exhibit along with Kim Phúc, the little girl in his famous Vietnam War photo. The two viewed the photos and the film in the show. Above is a picture from their visit.

Phúc was only nine when the image was taken 41 years ago and now lives in Toronto. She described the event in an interview last year:

"Suddenly I saw fire around me and it burned my clothes. I was very scared and began to cry. I tried to run away from there...I ran and ran until I saw people in front of me. I felt very hot, thirsty and asked for help. They gave me water to drink and wet my body, and I lost consciousness."

Here's archival film footage of the moment when Ut took his photograph.


May 6, 2013

‘He gave me the most heartfelt smile’

All educational travel programs are not created equally. Our student spring break packages invite teachers to creatively integrate their passion, our history curriculum and long-term relationships with dynamic NGO’s in the destination country. This year’s Investigative Journalism Adventure in Laos taught students how to make compelling videos through interviewing survivors of UXO (unexploded ordnance) leftover from the Vietnam War. Student traveler Aimee Misaki tells of her experience at COPE .The students are working with award-winning visual arts teacher Cheri Gaulke to produce a series of compelling PSAs (public service announcements) about the long-term consequences of the Secret War in Laos.

On the second day in Vientiane, it was scorching hot, and the humidity did not help.  We visited COPE, a non-profit organization that provides prosthetic limbs for Laotian citizens. The entire group was interviewing a young man who had lost both of his legs, arms and his eyesight from a UXO bomb, while I was instantly drawn to a boy who was sitting in his wheelchair looking at us with awe from a distance.

I slipped out of the group with our translator and approached him. At first, he was silent and I felt like he saw me as just another foreigner.  Even when I high-fived him, he just looked down with wariness.  All I wanted was to put a smile on this innocent boy’s face.  I soon realized that it wasn’t me; it was the language barrier.

So I approached him in a different way: with origami.  I showed him all of the colors that I had, and naturally, he pointed out which color appealed to him the most.  All of a sudden, we were both absorbed with folding our origami papers into cranes.

By the time we were finished, he gave me the most heartfelt smile, and the deadly heat didn’t matter anymore.  We had just become friends despite our vast differences.  He invited me over to his dormitory where he and his family, along with other injured families, were living.

Led by the little boy who I could now call my friend, I walked through the halls while people popped their heads out of their rooms to see what the new attraction was.  He introduced me to his family, and they welcomed me with big smiles and the Laotian phrase for ‘thank you’, “kopchai”.
Afterwards, he showed me to his neighbor who was injured by a UXO bomb and lost his hands, his eyesight, a quarter of his face, and consequently, his pride.

When I asked the man what his goals were for the future, he simply replied that he wanted to start working again, so he could supply his family with food.  He didn’t just want his wife to magically get a donation.  He wanted to be the one to put a plate of food on his family’s table.

The video cameras around us were focused on his already damaged face as he reluctantly said his wish.  I showed them my collection of origami papers like I did to the boy, and the couple chose their favorites.

Because the man could not write with his hands, I asked his wife to write his goals for him on the origami paper. She began to write, but soon giggled and told my translator something in Laotian.  I expected it to be something along the lines of “I don’t know what to write,” but it was, “I don’t know how to write.”

She had finished school in third grade and had not learned how to write or read past the elementary school level.  I always knew I was lucky for being able to get such a great education and for my loving family, but this situation was something in which I had no expertise.  When the wife saw the solemn expression on my face, she began to laugh, not at me, but for me.  By nature, I shyly giggled back, and everything felt normal again.
All the cameras focused on us became a blur.

We became people — not interviewers and interviewees or Americans and Laotians — and oddly, I felt at home with these people.  I think I would add them on Facebook if I could.

By Aimee Misaki
Harvard-Westlake School


May 1, 2013

Young Vietnamese Americans learning the lessons of Black April


What better way to understand the complexities of history than through educational field trips abroad? On our immersive itineraries in Vietnam, we offer free travel for teachers and an unprecedented opportunity to meet local people on all sides of history’s iconic moments. April 30th is the anniversary of the “Fall of Saigon” or “Reunification” of Vietnam, depending on one’s political perspective. The L.A. Times reports a fascinating perspective from the second-generation of  Vietnamese “Boat People” who both love and lament their native country’s political climate.

For many Vietnamese immigrants, the memory of April 30 — the day Saigon fell to the Communist north — has been passed on only through photos, stories or video clips. Or it's been buried under silence.

Former members of the South Vietnamese military march during a ceremony at Westminster's Boat People Monument to mark the April 30, 1975, fall of Saigon to the Communist North Vietnamese. (Rick Loomis, Los Angeles Times / April 28, 2013)
One girl gasps as the grainy black-and-white footage rolls: Women are screaming, thrusting their babies at soldiers boarding a helicopter.
In the next scene, hundreds of refugees packed in the belly of a rickety boat rock in the ocean, desperately trying to flee their homeland after the fall of Saigon.

Gathered in a Garden Grove office, young adults who grew up in the shadow of war watch the images, only tasting the horrors their parents and relatives endured when South Vietnam fell to Communist forces 38 years ago.

For many in immigrant communities like Orange County's Little Saigon, the memory of April 30 — "Black April" to those who lived through it — has been passed on only through photographs, stories or rough video clips. Or it's been buried under silence.

"I was only 10 months when I arrived in the United States," said Giao Tran, 20, a student at Golden West College in Huntington Beach. "I must figure out what led us here. When I ask my dad about his escape, he says, 'That's in the past. We don't talk about it anymore.'"

Now Tran is part of the new immigrant generation trying to keep the lessons of Black April alive.

This past weekend, as their elders donned military dress, convening at the Vietnam War Memorial and the Vietnamese Boat People Monument in Westminster, the young adults gathered to take history lessons from the Union of Vietnamese Student Assns. of Southern California.

"If you think of a history of another country in the world, probably there's nowhere like where we came from," said Phong Ly, 30, who led the discussion.

Ly, an aide to U.S. Rep. Alan Lowenthal (D-Long Beach), retraced the unraveling of Vietnam and its people after 1975, hitting on land reform, mass executions, re-education camps, hunger and isolation.

"When I share stories of Black April and what happened after with my younger siblings, they're like, 'Are you kidding me? I don't believe it.' We who grew up here get everything we need," said Dianna Nguyen, 22, who's majoring in Asian American studies at Cal State Fullerton.

"What we also need," she added, "is to have compassion for the suffering we never saw."

For some, the lessons raise basic questions.

"So — who are the people who stayed back?" Tran asked. "How did someone decide if they were on this side, or the other side?

Billy Le and Nina Tran, among the nonprofit's current leaders, stressed to the group how their fellow Vietnamese live in a nation without open access to the Internet, without fundamental human rights.

"Instead of listening to what the Communist government says, you should look at what they do," Le, 26, urged. "We're youths, we live with Facebook — why do they block Facebook?"

"It's a society based on brainwashing," said Nina Tran, 25, a student at Orange Coast College in Costa Mesa.

By comparison, Vietnamese Americans "can dig really deep into what went on — no one can force us to accept face value," Nina Tran said, adding that it's important for them to lobby Congress on International Human Rights Day and to learn about the people, places and issues linked to their ancestral homeland — including actress Jane Fonda, who opposed the United States' involvement in the Vietnam War.

Nina Tran then takes the youths outside, assigning them to "write down what you consider the five most important things in your life."
The choices are youthfully typical. Money. Education. Career. Social mobility. Technology.

"Give up one of these things," Tran instructs them. "Then another. And another."

Finally, each is left holding one strip of paper. Most bear one word: "Family."
"You gotta give that up too," she orders. "Now you know what your parents went through — Black April and beyond. That's what they were left with: nothing."