When Bansari Mehta first left India to pursue a master’s degree in Oklahoma, she was surprised by how often she was asked to point to her home country on the map.
“Those were the days that I realized that there is something that’s missing,” Bansari told KGOU’s World Views. “As lovely as the people of Oklahoma are, they did not have much of a broader understanding about things outside of the state or outside of the country.”
She wanted to educate her new friends about her home country. Bansari started by sharing her culture. She would host henna or sari nights at her house. She later got involved in social work.
“I have gotten so much love and support from the people of the state. I thought it was my responsibility to give back something,” Bansari said.
She became a co-founding board member of World Experiences Foundation, an Oklahoma City-based organization that teaches children about multiculturalism and fights against racism and bigotry.
Mehta says the organization has already worked with 5,000 teachers and 20,000 students.
“This is the perfect time to educate them and basically teach them that the world is way more than just your backyard,” Mehta said.
The foundation works in Oklahoma and a few nearby states. Programs feature leadership development for teachers, as well as interactions and activities with students in the classroom.
Another initiative, called the Global Ambassadors Leadership Institute, brings together low income and minority students to see each other’s world views. The six-week program helps children learn about empathy and how that can be applied to race and culture.
“When you work face-to-face, one-on-one basis with the children, that is when you see, you see the dynamics changing, you see their eyes light up, you see they have more questions and there is a much better understanding,” Mehta said.
Additionally, the organization uses digital technology to connect American classrooms with students in other countries. Mehta says these connections are mutually beneficial for students in both countries.
“There is a classroom in Brazil, for example. This kid is just as old as what I am. This kid looks different, talks different, but everything that we just discussed, the kid is learning about my culture here and I'm learning by the kid's culture there,” Mehta said.
World Experience Foundation will host its annual gala on September 9. As part of the gala, they will give out awards to individuals who have demonstrated leadership in global cultural education. This year’s award winners include Chickasaw Nation Governor Bill Anoatubby, and philanthropist Mary Pointer. Anoatubby is set to receive a lifetime achievement award in global citizenship, and Pointer will receive the global humanitarian award.
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