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Teaching on the run

Life lessons from a 100-mile expedition in the Indian desert.

(Page 2 of 3)

The ability to visually follow youth ambassadors as they visit local hospitals in India and interact with children in the villages they run through, she says, gives participants a richer understanding.

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"To be able to communicate live with these ambassadors in a place that most kids are not able to travel to is phenomenal, and it makes it real for them," Rossi says. "So, when they are learning, they are getting excited about it."

This is exactly what Mr. Zahab had in mind when he started the program. "We believe that integrating technologies and using them in ways that are entertaining, educational, and informative is the landscape of the future for education," he says.

In 2007, Zahab himself ran 50 miles a day for 111 days across the Sahara desert. The run was documented in the film "Running the Sahara," produced and narrated by Matt Damon, and designed to raise awareness of water issues in the Sahara.

He says that the best way to share the experience with students is to put this cutting-edge technology in the hands of young people and let them tell their own stories. This is why he selects "youth ambassadors" for each expedition. The youth ambassadors in India were a diverse group, from Cook-Clarke, who is spending the year backpacking through Asia with her mom, to Hashveer Singh Saluja, a Sikh who is finishing his master of business administration degree in Jharkhand, India. Mr. Saluja says that even though India is his home country, he had no idea how difficult it was for people at the village level to get access to health care.

Expeditions with focus

Whether they are in Siberia, the Amazon, or India, the twice-yearly expeditions are chosen for the educational topics they will cover. In India, the focus was world health. An earlier expedition to the Amazon looked at biodiversity, while the curriculum of expeditions to Tunisia and Siberia focused on water.

A team of educators and professionals who are experts in the topic develop the curriculum for each expedition. In India, they posed a health question each day. Greg Wells, a physiologist who specializes in health and performance in extreme conditions, led the health, education, and nutrition unit. He created an interactive video that shows him testing the blood lactate levels of the youth ambassadors at different intervals.

Though I could think of better rewards than getting my finger pricked right in the middle of a 20-mile run, Dr. Wells says the data is invaluable and shows the correlation between health, nutrition, and exercise. He plans to wrap the videos of the experiment into his classroom curriculum at the University of Toronto.

Rossi says that learning about health care in India from the lives of people on the ground opens the eyes of her seventh-graders. "My students get that in countries like India, they have health problems but they don't see it, so it does not actually mean much to them," Rossi says. "But when they get to see it like we do with i2P, that makes it real to them. And the conversation is completely different because now they are real people, and they are seeing it that way."

Though it is unlikely that many of the Indians interviewed by the youth ambassadors and education team in local clinics, hospitals, and villages fully understand the mission of i2P, most of them appeared happy to share their lives with strangers.


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