On 13 May, 2016, eleven students and three teachers from New Summit Academy (NSA), a small, therapeutic boarding school for 32 adolescent males aged 15 – 18, based in Atenas, Costa Rica, took part in a leadership, sustainability and ethics workshop offered by Earth Charter International. The young men who come from all over the USA and Canada and enrol for 12 months at NSA, are often overcoming struggles with mood swings, ADHD, anxiety, substance abuse, identity, and self-esteem.
Just a couple weeks later, on 22 May, 2016, 22 undergraduate students from Queens University of Charlotte in North Carolina visited Earth Charter International at the University for Peace campus in El Rodeo, Costa Rica as part of 2-week programme with Immersion Abroad (http://iacostarica.com/). Immersion Abroad, an educational tourism company, led the students through a variety of experiences in Costa Rica which included homestays, cooking classes, dance shows, and a visit to the Earth Charter International Secretariat (ECI) to learn about sustainability. Sarah Dobson, the Youth Projects Coordinator, Lesley-Jane Davies and Carolina Bermudez, Youth Education Interns at Earth Charter International, designed and facilitated interactive, holistic workshops on Leadership, Sustainability, and Ethics.
The workshops followed similar formats. To begin, students formed a close circle and stretched to join hands with two others in other parts of the circle forming a human knot. Once tangled together, they needed to find a way to untangle themselves and return to the shape of a circle without releasing one another’s´ hands. They spent the next 30 minutes trying to undo the human knot they had formed. Some sections of the circle were disentangled with more ease than others, but the activity was only complete once all were back in one complete circle. Reflections on the activity elicited responses of discomfort, pain, frustration, irritation, joy, and celebration as well as the importance of perseverance in the face of difficulty, listening to one another, leadership, and teamwork. Students recognised the interconnectivity of their dilemma and how one person’s actions impacted another’s, often with unanticipated and unintended results, drawing parallels between the problems and potential solutions for sustainability.
One facilitator then told the story about the creation of the Earth Charter allowing students to guess at true/false statements at each stage of the story which involved a decade-long, worldwide, cross-cultural, civil society dialogue on common goals and shared values that ultimately culminated in an inclusive vision and guide for sustainable development. This vision and guide became the Earth Charter.
Both workshops then provided space for students to engage with the text of the Earth Charter in small groups, sharing personal stories, and dialoguing around their own values. It was then time for the Earth Charter to come alive, and students acted out skits of different principles and ethical dilemmas allowing others to dive into the skit and guess the principle and dilemmas being dramatized. A few principles that participants selected to act out included: Principle 16 “Promote a culture of tolerance, non-violence and peace”, the focus of the Earth Charter Initiative in 2016, and Principle 7 “Adopt patterns of production, consumption and reproduction that safeguard Earth’s regenerative capacities, human rights, and community well-being”.
A closing circle revealed thoughtful reflections on sustainability, ethics, and leadership; conviction around the interrelated nature of our actions, lifestyles, and futures; and curiosity around generating the inspiration, motivation, and values needed in the transition towards social, economic and environmental sustainability. New Summit Academy and Immersion Abroad both plan to continue bringing groups to Earth Charter International to foster in their students sustainability leadership and a sense of respect and care for the community of life.