Finding their Voice: Using English to Educate Future Humanitarians — Andy Reyes

Andy Reyes attended the National Peace Academy’s Peacebuilding Peacelearning Intensive 2011.  Andy’s work was recently highlighted by the American Red Cross.   You can find the full article, Finding their Voice: Using English to Educate Future Humanitarians below as well as Andy’s testimonial which shares more information about how his work as an ESL teacher fosters peacebuilding.

Andy Reyes Testimonial

“As an ESL (English as a Second Language) teacher, my hope is that my students and I become peacebuilders together.  ESL students, who come from different walks of life – some from the most notorious trouble spots, hunger for peace.  Since I finished the National Peace Academy’s PPI last summer (July 2011), I’ve become more intentional about fostering in my classroom community – as individuals and as groups – the importance of building right relationships – with self, others, other cultures, religions, and creeds within the college community and hopefully, beyond.

Over the last year, I’ve been incorporating a good dose of the International Red Cross’ Exploring Humanitarian Law (EHL) curriculum into my ESL courses.  EHL exposes students to issues of international humanitarian law, the rules that ensure respect for life and human dignity in war. In my ESL courses, the students and I examine the plight of child soldiers, dissect the Geneva Conventions, analyze various refugee crises, and rail against human rights violations.  At the same time, we work towards prescribed course outcomes including: increasing read­ing fluency, broadening interest in a wide range of top­ics, developing cultural and global competence, and sharpening research skills.

The ESL students write daily journal reflections about their “light bulb” moments, burning questions, successes, and anxieties, which they then share in class or draw upon for papers for the course.  “Fatima,” a human service major from Lebanon, notes: “I’m improving my English and even learning about countries like Sudan and Vietnam.” “Sam,” a former child soldier from Uganda, now pursuing a degree in education, says: “Af­ter what I’ve been through, I will share my experiences with others so that many are more aware of my country’s problems. After all, we are co-members of this world.”

The possibilities for the infusion of anything peace-related in the classroom are endless! Last summer’s PPI and everything that I embraced from NPA sparked a hunger for peace in me, which I hope to pass on to my students.  ESL courses, which are, lest we forget, geared for immigrants and refugees from places near and far, are certainly a good place to start peacebuilding!”

Finding their Voice: Using English to Educate Future Humanitarians

(Article originally published on the American Red Cross website.  For access to the original article, please click here.) 

Thursday, June 28, 2012 — Bunker Hill Community College professor Andy Reyes—along with the American Red Cross—is giving students a voice. Quite literally.

As an English as a Second Language educator, his classroom is nothing short of a melting pot, with recent immigrants, refugees, even former child soldiers making up his student population. Some have started to assimilate to American culture; others still hold on fiercely to their native dress and customs. During their weekly classes, students strengthen their English language skills, but with a twist. Andy wants his students to come out of the15 week class more confident in their speaking abilities. But what he really wants is for them  to be confident in their own voice. And that means speaking about subjects that in many of their home countries are taboo, such as human dignity, genocide and refugees.

Andy does this by incorporating elements of the American Red Cross “Exploring Humanitarian Law”curriculum into his discussions, and even the shyest of his students gradually find the subject matter too compelling to remain silent. After all, for many, this hits home. While back in their native countries many students may have considered others in the class as “the enemy,” here in Boston they are friends, sharing tables in the college cafeteria, continuing their discussions long after the bell has rung.

Andy’s classes allow students to not only speak frankly about critical issues, but also to learn more about each other, and themselves. Their tolerance improves with their English, and they begin to think more critically about  the world around them.

This week educators like Andy are coming from around the country to Washington, D.C. as part of the American Red Cross Exploring Humanitarian Law Summer Institute for Educators. Over the course of four days, high school teachers and college educators will interact and engage with their peers, learn about challenging global humanitarian issues and discuss  innovative ways to bring  human dignity and a humanitarian perspective to the classroom.  For many it will be the first time they really learn what “international humanitarian law” or the laws of war is all about.

The EHL curriculum aims to teach young people that even wars have limits, that there are laws protecting those who are most vulnerable, and that even in the most difficult of circumstances these laws try to alleviate suffering for victims of war and conflict. In addition, guest lecturers such as award-winning journalist and human rights activist Jimmie Briggs, former Chief Prosecutor at Guantanamo Bay Morris Davis and leading law of war expert Gary Solis are offering their unique, first hand perspectives.

“My students find their voice,” Andy says. “They may not have their voice the first day they walk into my class but throughout the 15 weeks they find their own comfort level, their issues of choice, and where they stand. When they leave the classroom they have a voice, and they have the power to question the things that are not right in their life. They think more. They become more global.”

For more information on Exploring Humanitarian Law or to find out about participating in a training near you, visit

About the American Red Cross:  The American Red Cross shelters, feeds and provides emotional support to victims of disasters; supplies more than 40 percent of the nation’s blood; teaches skills that save lives; provides international humanitarian aid; and supports military members and their families. The Red Cross is a not-for-profit organization that depends on volunteers and the generosity of the American public to perform its mission. For more information, please visit or join our blog at



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