Richard Branson, Hiroshima & the importance of travel

To begin to understand the world, I believe one must first live out in the world, make meaningful connections with places and people, and develop a respect for our species as a whole and as individuals...

To understand where we are going as a global community, one has to look into the past for lessons that guide our next steps. These beliefs are why I found myself in Hiroshima, Japan this spring meandering through the serene Peace Park and Museum with 44 young global citizens I am honoured to call my students.

In 1995, Sir Richard Branson presented to the city of Hiroshima a statue of two young people on their knees, a man and a woman embracing and clutching each other for essential support (as you can see below). This powerful moment, entitled ‘Reconciliation’, calls to mind the immense devastation of the A-bomb in 1945, the strength of a community to support and love each other, the need for rapprochement, and one of the TGS core values: ubuntu.

While I use travel as a pathway to understanding different viewpoints, it’s difficult for me to understand a decision that caused such human devastation, even after exploring the Peace Museum and studying the history of the event.

When I think of Japan, I imagine the funny exchanges had at restaurants about crazy new foods, the smiling students at our host school who welcomed us whole-heartedly, and the many eyes I've looked into and in which I saw my own. I couldn’t imagine making a decision that destroyed the lives of these people who make up my understanding of humanity. Their human-ness makes me human. We are one in the same.

This statue by sculptor Josefina de Vasconcellos inhabits the Hiroshima Peace Park (as does the Hiroshima Peace Memorial, below) and stands for both residents and travellers as a constant reminder that we must love and respect the humanity in each other in order to have any future, let alone a peaceful and successful one.

In my eyes, these two figures represent the next generation of planet caretakers. Through their posture, they both simultaneously reveal great vulnerability as well as great strength to care for that vulnerability in the other. We are all individually vulnerable and communally strong, and this highlights the value of human connection. It takes a commonality or a curiosity to bind people, and these are identified when one values compassion and communication with the goal of understanding.

I draw huge parallels between this statue and the students in my school.

THINK Global School started in 2010 with 15 students from around the globe attending school in Sweden, Australia, and China. Over the last four years, we’ve grown to have four grades in our high school, our recently graduated senior class consisting of 11 of those original 15. On their final evening in Japan, the day following their graduation, the 44 students from all grades gathered to say their goodbyes. In this room stood representatives of more than 23 different countries, and the love that became visible through embraces, tears, and heartfelt words was overwhelming.

If I may speak for my students, I believe I can say that when Hannah thinks of Afghanistan for the rest of her life, she will think of her dear friend Jawed. When Chau ever thinks of Ecuador, she will have Alejandro and Tiana on her mind. When any of them think of Bhutan, they will smile at the thought of Pema, Gawa, Yodsel, and Galek, crusaders for happiness on our global campus. Many of these students left their home countries without a strong sense of nationalism or connection to country beyond their friend and family ties. Years of interacting with people from all over the globe and digging deeper into world issues have shifted many to understand their countries very differently, to find a renewed engagement with their native culture.

This realization alters one's understanding of “country" and “citizen” and inspires the welcome adoption of a representative role for a home country. In seeing many of my students accept that great responsibility, to stand for their country on the world’s stage, I also see them turn a watchful and sympathetic eye to those from other countries and reach out a hand to their brothers and sisters who are also standing for their people and working to make sure all experience a happy and fulfilling life.

This is a group of young adults who will never be able to drop a bomb on any country.

On that final night together in Hiroshima, my 44 international students begrudgingly separated from their group hug and slowly sauntered back to their rooms to study. Even though they were sad to part from their traveling companions, they did not say goodbye but instead “Auf Wiedersehen” and “see you soon.” They will always feel a strong connection to the countries they’ve visited, lived in, and gotten to know through their many global siblings.

I am because you are. I am compassionate for you, because I am you. You are just as human as I am. Just as I am because you are, I am not or cannot be without you.

And if they connect with Japan and India and Palestine, why not the countries they have yet to traverse. After all, everyone is the same. Everyone needs to honour the humanity in others in order to be human themselves. Every new country and new friend reinforces this understanding of ubuntu and this need for reconciliation.

I started THINK Global School because I believe my students embody the hope for a peaceful world that has learned from its past. I open my school to the world’s eye because I have hope in not just my students but everyone who learns from the world and its past. I have hope that these lifelong learners from the world will continue to instil the value of ubuntu in the hearts and minds of those they meet and ensure that reconciliation between any two groups is not just possible but essential.

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