Many of the 600 Hingham High School students who attended Stephanie Kayden’s Tuesday presentation had never seen the world of a refugee camp so intimately.
The humanitarian, physician, and Harvard Medical School professor opened students’ eyes, walking them through the difficulties of helping people displaced in humanitarian crises, and outlining how she combats these issues for a living.
The talk was part of Hingham High’s new Global Citizenship Program. Part after school club, part intensive curricular program, students participate in activities ranging from discussions, to trying new foods, watching presentations on other cultures, and conducting research into foreign worlds.
“It’s a regular way they can start to pique their curiosity in global issues. They learn things they didn’t know about … for some kids it’s the opening of these doors,” said English teacher and Global Citizenship Program adviser Kara Roth. “For a lot of other kids, it’s giving them a structure for things they are already doing…they are interested in these things on their own and now they are getting credit and support for their learning.”
The program has been in place for two years, with several students involved in the extracurricular aspect of the program. Over 80 students are also currently enrolled in the certificate program - an intensive, curriculum-based initiative where kids commit to an extra level of school requirements.
The worlds of both groups, as well as several classes at Hingham High, were broadened with Kayden, director of the Humanitarian Studies program at the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative, an emergency physician at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, and an Instructor in medicine at Harvard Medical School.
From the causes of humanitarian disasters, to the vulnerability of a people, to how to limit the impact on low-income countries, Kayden covered the basics of keeping groups of people alive, and providing basic human needs in large scale.
By many standards, the need for the type of work she does is only growing.
“Natural disasters are on the rise. No matter where you live, natural disasters will be a part of your world,” she said, showing a graphic detailing the inverse ratio of mortality to a country’s income.
Kayden, who also serves on the editorial board for the American Medical Association’s Journal of Disaster Medicine and Public Health Preparedness and has worked to improve emergency medical systems, humanitarian aid and disaster response in more than 20 countries, also outlined the need for humanitarian intervention in war-torn countries, pointing out conflicts such as in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
The humanitarian went on to discuss the basics of human care, and the myths involved in providing support, showing photos of herself trying to identify a burn victim, or showing the recovery of a young malnourished boy.
That kind of broadening of perspective is an important aspect of the program, Roth said.
“It’s good to get some of these broader world issues before they go off to college or are considering careers, so we can avoid potential tunnel vision when it comes to understanding their place in the world,” Roth said.
Kayden stayed after the talk to discuss her work with a few students, discussing her own accomplishments as well as asking about research projects the students are undertaking through the program.
“I think on one hand it’s important for our students to understand those issues and appreciate how lucky they are to live in this country in a society that’s so stable with access to medical care, shelter, and food,” said Assistant Principal Rick Swanson. “It’s also inspiring for them to see the difference you could potentially make in a career like the one Dr. Kayden has chosen.”
Approximately 30 students will graduate this year from the program with a Global Citizenship Certificate, with more to follow in their footsteps.
With so much success, it seems the message is getting across, Swanson said – to those much is given, much is required.