“I felt hurt when I found out my friend was cutting herself.” A courageous young student shared this moment during a recent exercise in World Without Hate’s Empathy Ambassador Leadership Training Program. This student, and her friend, are in junior high school. Junior high. Another student shared his heartbreak after his father left home, having done so before, he figured his dad would come back, but not this time. One student shared the hurt and confusion she felt when her mother was deported, torn from her family for two years. When trying to recall my own middle school experience, girls giggling about crushes, who might be “dating” who, or whether you were shaving, are memories more easily conjured up. But, today, students are contending with tremendously serious issues — from cutting and abandonment, bullying and death, hunger, isolation, and deportation.
For two days, World Without Hate staff, board members, and our talented, generous facilitators convened in Dallas for our workshop. Empathy Ambassadors is a multi-faceted, cultural and experiential, program for young people, exploring the interconnectedness of self, other, and community, as well as awareness, connection, inclusion and conflict resolution.
The program asserts the immeasurable worth of individuals regardless of age, gender, sexuality, ethnicity, intellectual ability, economic background, and so on. It encourages students to build bridges among one another and within their communities, working toward creating a new, vibrant human community which embraces all.
Through active participation, the program asks students to begin to bear some of the responsibility for ensuring that none of their peers ever feels bullied or isolated, and it provides them with the tools needed to create the environment within which this can happen. Staff and facilitators come to each session not to present the program, but instead to guide the individual and collective journey, the one participants create together with the tools shared. Facilitators are also equipped to take proper care, as well as legal and moral action when students share serious issues, such as self-harm, ensuring continued and follow-up support and treatment is available to them outside of the program.
Today as I observe this group of 7th and 8th graders, I find myself in awe, not only by the range and severity of the issues they face, but even more so, by the courage, strength and authenticity they have brought with them. Shy and quiet participants, though with some hesitation, still stand tall as they share their unique story with fellow peers. Others confess not exactly knowing why they’ve been selected to participate, but are intrigued. It is those same students who have approached their teacher at lunch, thanking him for seeing what they could not, just hours before. Some students join us again, another year older, but clearly wiser, more confident, caring and invested, both in their own leadership development as well as their peers.
Our host tells me, “This program has absolutely changed my students’ lives.”
As I engage in this program for the second year, I am amazed and overwhelmed. Not only are these students learning about empathy, compassion, understanding and acceptance, but they are utilizing the tools provided to connect to one another, many having only shared the same school before today. During one exercise, students assemble groups, work together and later enthusiastically present their ideas for community and societal issues they want to help solve. These students, these future leaders, these Empathy Ambassadors, are living proof that our future is absolutely a bright one.
Written By: Jessica Carso, Executive Director
For more information on World Without Hate’s Empathy Ambassador Program and how you can help bring it to your school, organization or community, email email@example.com. Visit https://worldwithouthate.org/programs/empathy-ambassadors/ to view our last year’s video. New information and footage will be available soon.