As part of a larger effort to increase local and global awareness and engagement in our school community, a group of St. Andrew’s students, faculty, parents, and alumni traveled to Little Rock, AR, to meet with last year’s recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, Dr. Muhammad Yunus, and had a series of extraordinary and memorable experiences.
The day began with a lecture and tour of the new Central High Visitor Center, which was recently opened in conjunction with the fiftieth anniversary of the Little Rock Nine and desegregated education at Central High. The presentation and displays were powerful and moving, highlighting the hardships those nine students endured as they struggled to persevere and pursue their education with courage and dignity in the face of stiff resistance, prejudice, and long-established traditions. The experience at the Visitor Center was enriched by Nathaniel Wills, a St. Andrew’s alumnus, who also served as president of the senior class at Central High and who, in that capacity, hosted the first all-student breakfast at the Arkansas Governor's Mansion.
From Central High, the group traveled downtown to meet with Dr. Yunus, an economist from Bangladesh and self-described “banker to the poor,” who won the Nobel Peace Prize for his work with microcredit and the Grameen Bank. Thoughtful, humble, and gracious, he relayed his own experience dealing with adversity – including endemic poverty and hunger in Bangladesh. Recognizing the disconnect between the elegant economic theories he was teaching in his university classroom and the harsh realities of life for most people in a developing country, he and his students decided to do something about it. They started small and locally, by loaning $27 to 42 villagers, and built something remarkable. Thirty years later, the Grameen Bank, which Dr. Yunus and his students helped to create, has lent more than 6 billion dollars to millions of people, the vast majority of them women, changing their lives, their children’s lives, and the underlying socio-economic situation in Bangladesh. With a 99 percent repayment rate, even without formal contracts or collateral, such a lending enterprise has not only improved millions of lives in Bangladesh, but is giving people and institutions in other parts of the world – including in the Mississippi Delta – a positive example of how they can help others to help themselves.
Among the many gems of wisdom Dr. Yunus offered the group, none was more poignant and challenging than the final question he posed to the group, as he called for all to be creative and in charge of our shared future: “What kind of a world would you like to create?”
During the meeting with Dr. Yunus, St. Andrew’s shared the audience with graduate students from the University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service, the first institution of its kind in the world. The group was fortunate to meet afterward with Dean Skip Rutherford, who heads the Clinton School and who provided meaningful insights about the value of public service on local, national, and global levels.
The group’s last stop was the Clinton Presidential Library, the thirteenth and most recent Presidential library. Among the numerous highlights on the two-hour guided tour were replicas of the Oval Office and Cabinet Rooms; innumerable documents, photographs, and interactive media stations; and a visiting exhibit on the Emancipation Proclamation.
While each facet of the trip represented an extraordinary learning opportunity unto itself, it was the combined effect that had the greatest impact on all participants, one that is likely to last for years. As one student phrased it, “I was very excited about getting an opportunity to meet Professor Yunus. However, this trip was incredible because we didn't have just one, but three great experiences…. Overall, our trip was exhilarating. It was a once in a lifetime opportunity that I'm very glad I took.”
For more information about the trip or about the new Global Studies Program at St. Andrew’s, please contact Dr. Chris Harth, Director of Global Studies.