An ongoing experiment: can our community’s collective brainpower help an idea become reality?
Shannon Mouillesseaux is from a town in upstate NY that has one traffic light, one gas station, one grocery store, and one bank. “It is a rural community that, when I was growing up, was primarily inhabited by farmers and blue collar workers,” she says.
With few opportunities for high school graduates, Shannon had a fleeting moment when she considered joining the military in high school after being repeatedly targeted by recruiters. While some of her classmates opted to don camo, she realized the military wasn’t for her.
Wanting desperately to study anthropology, Shannon instead attended university and spent her junior year in Nepal. There, she was exposed to the trafficking of women and girls, an eye-opening experience that was the catalyst for her eventual work with refugees at the United Nations.
Her experiences with displaced communities around the world have exposed her to the plight of those most affected by war. Yet, back home, she was struck by the (mis) perception that violence is the only answer to violence. After 9/11, Shannon frequently heard variations of the phrase “Let’s blow them off the map” in her hometown. When she would suggest engaging in dialogue as an alternative response, she often felt inaccurately viewed as anti-American.
“The fear that has arisen within our culture, leaving many people afraid to experience other countries and cultures for fear of falling victim to a terrorist attack is, for me, worrying,” she says.
Her solution to alleviating some of that fear and violence? Pen pals for the digital age.
Specifically, Shannon envisions a two-fold project for youth in the U.S. and overseas who may not have the opportunity to travel. The first component, which she would pilot in her hometown and in Afghanistan, would connect “at-risk American students of all ages via video conference with displaced communities abroad” throughout the school year. The second would send high school students to safe, developing countries during thesummer to help out with humanitarian projects. Ideally, this would happen after the children have established relationships.
By creating a link between communities affected by war, Shannon hopes this type of cross-cultural exchange will help young people understand each other’s lives better and ultimately contribute to promoting peace on an individual level – even when governments are at odds.
- Working in an office with other collaborators would be one thing. Going at it on her own is very different. Without support and a more formal infrastructure, Shannon is unsure how to take the next step to give the project momentum.
- Getting the language right is critical. She’s concerned that the project might be seen by some in the U.S. as anti-patriotic.
- She has lots of questions about how to incorporate this into a school curriculum and, separately, the implications and logistics of sending teens abroad.
- Like most projects out there, finding the right funders is a challenge.
How you can help
Shannon would love to see this idea grow and succeed. Can you offer her any advice?
- Are there similar long-term projects or programs that appeal to students of all ages?
- Do you know of any projects or programs that could offer insights, best practices, and/or lessons learned?
- If you are a student, parent, teacher, and/or refugee, what aspects of these ideas appeal to you? What concerns come to mind?
- Regarding sending teens abroad: Does the program need to be entirely separate from the school system, so that the school is not responsible legally? If so, how can Shannon ensure that both she and the project are protected?
- Do you know of a rural community that might benefit from this type of project?
- What other funding sources might want to help get a project like this off the ground?
- If you’ve successfully launched a project, what piece of crucial advice would you share?
- Would you like to help?
Leave a comment below or send her a message through Idealist and if the project progresses, we’ll keep you posted!
Do you have an idea that’s just starting to brew? If you’d like us to consider posting it as part of this series, email celeste [at] idealist [dot] org.