Connecting to Bangladesh Students Through Art

Last December I was one of five teachers selected from across the United States to participate in an exchange program through World Savvy and the U.S. State Department. I took 30 high school students to Bangladesh to study the environmental, social, economic, and political impacts of climate change. Teachers and students spent one month living with host families and participating in research and service projects with local Bangladeshi students. I lived in Rayer Bazar, a slum in Dhaka – the fastest growing city in the world, fulfilling my service project through the interviewing and documenting of local climate refugees. The mass influx of “climate refugees” is due to citizens in the outlying areas fleeing their flooded coastal lands that are left uninhabitable or too saline-contaminated to support crops.

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During the days, I walked through the streets of Rayer Bazar interviewing climate refugees with the aid of a translator. The majority longed to go back to their farmlands which had been sadly transformed into flood plains. These transplants now lived in indescribable squalor; slums of a thousand people per square kilometer. Cooking for 100 people was shared over three open gas flames along with one squat toilet for a public bathroom. Children filled the shadows yet their access to education was nonexistent. In the evenings, I would sleep on the floor at the only school in the slum, Jaago. Nearly all of the 560 students who attend Jaago come from parents who are climate refugees.

Now that I am back home I want to keep spreading the information about Jaago and climate refugees so I have built it into my portrait unit in my drawing and painting classes here at SPP. We started by learning about Bangladesh, Climate Change and Climate Refugees. We then focused on drawing/ painting portraits. Our final project was drawing the portrait of the students who attend Jaago rather than drawing themselves. These students at Jaago do not have an art program due to funds and do not have a photo of themselves. It took us four months to get the photos from Imran, a volunteer who sent them to us from Jaago.

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Our final paintings were sent back over to the children. On the backside of the artwork will be the original photo. Our amazing SPP students suggested we write them a letter describing themselves and our surroundings to educate them about our culture. It was a great idea and SPP students put so much time and effort into each part of our project! We have laminated each of the drawings and paintings to protect the artwork from any pollution or weather that could be damaging. Imran (the volunteer at Jaago) said the students were so excited for the day when their artwork arrives!! I am really proud of our art students as they have been equally excited to create their artwork and have become so passionate about climate change and climate refugees.

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The artwork has recently arrived and their students love it! I got tears in my eyes when I saw these photos and our SPP students are so proud to see their work in Bangladesh!!

– Ms. Kate Woolever-Martinez

This story was featured in an article in the Pioneer Press!

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A Month in Congress

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Yasameen from Afgahnistan, a junior at St. Paul Preparatory School was awarded 2nd place for her outstanding artwork last year at the Betty McCollum Congressional Art Competition. She continues to create artwork focusing on the politics of her home country, Afghanistan. In early January 2014, Yasameen and SPP art teacher Ms. Kate Woolever wrote a letter to Congresswoman Betty McCollum explaining Yasameen’s passion for politics and her long-term goal to bring peace and education to her country. Ms. Kate Woolever asked if Yasameen could intern with the congresswomen to learn the ins and outs of her professional life. Days later, a letter returned accepting her request. The letter explained that this type of internship was not the norm, as they usually do not accept high school interns; however, Yasameen stood out to them and seemed to be full of great potential.

Excitedly, Yasameen began her first day interning at the congresswoman’s office in early January. She went two days a week, her tasks varied from working with their IQ system, monitoring emails from community members, researching information about congress, having discussions with staff members about their responsibilities, assisting and shadowing each member in the office and much more. “I learned how much hard work, patience, respect, and teamwork goes into working in politics” Yasameen explained. “It was so fun to be a part of this environment and even though there was a lot to do, the staff seemed to be good friends who truly enjoyed their jobs.”



Yasameen reflects on the end of her time there “My last day was a very bittersweet time; everyone in the office came together and threw me a party! Accompanying some tasty treats, Congresswoman McCollum personally gave her a leather portfolio case with all their contact information inside, a gold congressional token, and a letter Betty McCollum personally wrote. “I couldn’t believe how welcoming and accepting each employee was towards me!” Yasameen explained. “They didn’t treat me as a student but as another respected staff member. I am so grateful for this opportunity and I know it will be my foundation as I continue to work towards my goals in bringing peace to my country.”

– Kate Woolever-Martinez, Art Teacher

Learn more about our Internship program, arts, and other college and life preparatory opportunities at St. Paul Prep on our website.