Dennis Stuebing | The International School of Macau: ‘Activist-in-Residence Program’ aims to inspire students, families

THE International School of Macau (TIS) recently announced a brand-new program titled “Activist-in-Residence” aiming to advance the institution’s mission “to problem solve, think critically, and make positive changes in our global community.”

For the inaugural activity of this new program, TIS has invited Salva Dut, founder of Water for South Sudan, who will present a series of activities dedicated to students, parents and the school community on November 1 and 2.

To learn more about this new program and its aims, the Times spoke to Dennis Stuebing, who has organized this and several other similar programs in the school.

Macau Daily Times (MDT) – How did this idea come about?

Dennis Stuebing (DS) – The history of the program came [from the fact] that our former head of School, Howard Stribbell had been following an organization, Inspire Citizens, through social media. He thought it would be a good opportunity for us to connect with them and to invite them in to do some learning around the ideas connected to what this program has now become.

Inspire Citizens is a [relatively] new organization that is operating out of Beijing and it’s an initiative that was founded by a number of international teachers, who have contacts with Salva Dut, founder of Water for South Sudan. They have been in operation for at least a year or two, facilitating  engagement with international schools in the Asia region.

So when Howard [Stribbell] initially shared this idea with me, we looked into creating this Activist-in-Residence program as a way for TIS to invite some people from the world of advocacy and community engagement for a couple of days, similar to our Artist-in-Residence program. And that’s basically the idea, network these people with our students, their families and the broader Macau community to provide role models around the ideas of responding to an need. I think this can provide a great role model to our students and to their families.

MDT – How do you expect this program to impact the lives of the students and their families?

DS – We live in this amazing place called Macau where we have everything. However,  for instance, last year’s Typhoon Hato opened the eyes for many people in Macau, as they experienced what people in other parts of the world face. This is also what we are trying to do through the Activist-in-Residence program and other programs. Another program is CAS [Creativity, Activity, Service], which is part of the curriculum and where students go out to different places, either in Macau or other places in the world, and engage in response to service needs and communities.

Despite us being in this bubble of luxury, wealth and opulence, people in Macau are a little more sensitive to the rest of the world and the needs that exist in other people’s lives. Bringing Salva [Dut] here gives a chance for us to see what those needs are and how other parts of the world live. It allows our students and families to connect to that reality and hopefully not just to learn something but to also find a way to do something.

One thing we are doing through Salva’s visit is fundraising for his organization called Water for South Sudan. In fact, we have a webpage through Water for South Sudan which has a goal to be met. We have actually started fund raising in the school and we have a goal of USD16,000, which will be the focus of our gala evening on November 1, when he does a presentation in the evening for families and representatives of the Macau and Hong Kong communities. It will be a way for people to respond to the needs of South Sudan and to give and contribute to this overall goal. This money will be helpful in creating a water source in the community in South Sudan, so that they can have fresh clean water that is maintained and taken care of. It’s not just about getting fresh water but also guaranteeing that it remains fresh.

MDT – What do you think will be the response from students and families?

DS – I hope there will be a positive response, as this has not come just “out of the blue.” We have been doing a number of different programs and different ways of connecting students to understand the needs of a community. Experience Week is one of those. One of the things that gives us an advantage is that we have gained a lot of experience through the service learning program for our secondary students every March, from grade 7 to grade 12. As part of this week, students engage in service learning where they would go and respond to a community need.

This year in Macau, we are doing a program in which students are involved in mangrove rehabilitation and restoration with one of our local professors from the University of Saint Joseph. Hence, we are addressing that need and somehow connecting it to the big storms we have had, as we know that mangroves are so vital in terms of absorbing storm surge and helping to protect us from the typhoons that are happening more regularly now. We also had programs with local organizations and institutions such as Anima, Rainbow Macau and Cradle of Hope. For instance, these organizations presented several needs to our students and community and allowed them to think about the obligations they have as people who come from a privileged background or having an education that is unique and different than other schools, as well as obligations they have to use the things they learned to respond to those needs.

All these things have been very generously received by the members of our community and we hope this is another step. Our expectations are quite high and we think it will be well received but I think this is based on the history that we have been building as a school by creating awareness and equipping our students with that knowledge and opportunities to engage in response to that.

MDT – After this inaugural experience, what will be the next project?

DS – Well, this is our first time running this program. My hope is that we will run it again based on what we have learned through this process and hopefully we will learn how to do it a little bit better, and the ways we can include more people and the community. This may be done by including other schools in our leadership conference or finding the next activists that we will invite to speak to our students and our community. Maybe we want to bring a female activist the next time as we have been bringing several males, it does not have to be, but maybe it will. Another thing that we aim is to try to broaden the topics that needs addressing; so far we have been touching issues such as war conflicts consequences and environment, maybe we can explore other topics that are also relevant.

Categories Headlines Interview Macau