Round Square International ServiceTeaching Global Responsibility
Promoting the soft factors of peacemaking our world's peace depends to a great extent on the characters, convictions and spirituality of its leaders. It is far too valuable to leave it to chance which values and norms determine our destiny.
The Round Square (RS) network is a best practise example of how a young global community can be educated on the basis of tolerance, respect and mutual understanding. It is an international association of schools located throughout the world.The Round Square was founded in 1967 in the Round Square Building in Gordonstoun, Scotland, and is registered under charity no. 327117 in London, England. The Association's members work according to the principles established by the educationalist, Dr. Kurt Hahn, founder of the Salem, Germany, and Gordonstoun, Scotland, schools. This means that the schools undertake to not only provide a world-class education but to also promote the students' personal development, sense of responsibility and leadership abilities as well as contribute to international understanding. The Round Square promotes these objectives by way of student exchanges and, in particular, through international projects (Round Square International Services), which are characterized by service, challenge and gaining personal experience.
The following shall describe the roots and fundamentals of the organization and give an impression of the views and thoughts of the persons that form the network.
"Plus est en vous" - "There is more in you"
These words stand for probably the most successful educational idea of our times. They were spoken by the pedagogue and politician Kurt Hahn, who started his lifework by founding the boarding school 'Schule Schloss Salem' at Lake Constance in Germany in 1920. Hahn was convinced that the education of responsible individuals could only succeed if they were challenged not only academically but, especially, as individuals. The so called 'Salem Law' formulates how to implement that conviction:
- Give the children the chance to discover themselves.
- Allow the children to experience both success and defeat.
- Give the children the chance to develop passion for the common cause.
- Provide periods of silence.
- Train the imagination, the ability to anticipate and plan.
- Take sports and games seriously, but only as a part of the whole.
- Free the children of rich and influential parents from the paralyzing influence of privilege.
From the beginning, charges of real authority and responsibility within the boarding school community as well as sports and mandatory public services were the instruments to realize these laws.
When Kurt Hahn had to emigrate from Germany in 1933 because of his Jewish identity he founded 'British Salem' in Scotland, nowadays known as 'Gordonstoun' nowadays. Other traces of Kurt Hahn are the United World Colleges, the Outward Bound education programme and the famous Duke of Edinburgh's Award.
In 1967 the 'Round Square Conference' was founded as an international network of Kurt Hahn schools as the result of an initiative of the former Hahn student, Jocelin Winthrop Young.
Winthrop Young was inspired by the international students´ reconstruction project in Greece, after the great earthquake in 1954, which was organized by Schule Schloss Salem. He had the idea to found an international association of schools that provides aid to people in need all over the world.
Today the Round Square network (as an attribute to the building of the founding conference) unites more than 60 schools all over the world. Within numerous projects, it offers young people the chance to experience amazing challenges far from their familiar environments by living and working with individuals of various cultural and ethnic backgrounds for a common cause. Examples are the building of a water pipeline in the jungle of Thailand, working with disabled persons in St. Petersburg or building a school in the Himalayas.
The IDEALS express Round Square's goals and guidelines within the work with young people:
By facing the challenges of these pillars, the Round Square students shall develop the skills they need to be the next leaders and guardians of our world.
In 2008 I had the opportunity of participating in the Round Square International Service Project in Philippolis - South Africa. The project group consisted of 17 students from Germany, the United States, Great Britain and Korea. The task of the project was to renovate and extend two crèches in the townships of the small town in the middle of the Great Karoo.
Philippolis has approximately 5000 inhabitants. About 10% of the population are white and mostly farmers that live in the town centre and guarantee a minimum of economic stability within the area. South and northwards of the centre lie the two townships 'Poding tse Rolo' and 'Bergmanshoogte' are situated, which are the homes for ca. 4500 blacks.
The landscape of the Great Karoo impresses with endless bush lands, rocks and beautiful sunsets.
This gorgeous environment forms the stage for countless human tragedies, such as drug abuse, unemployment and, most relevantly, the huge number of persons infected with HIV (30-70%; local assumptions). The young generation is caught within a vicious circle of early pregnancies, responsibilities for their younger family members in case of the often occurring death of their parents by AIDS, and very limited prospects for their future. Either the teenagers are already infected with HIV and lose the motivation for their personal development or they have to leave Philippolis in order to find proper employment.
In fact, the project group of 2008 was confronted with a fading town and could support this community by painting crèches.
Soon we had to realize that we would not be able to affect the fundamental problems with our work. What we could do were two things: spread joy and learning.
By working in the crèches and teaching in the local high school we got in very close contact with the children and students of our age. It was deeply impressive to experience how thankful they were for any kind of recognition and interest in their situation. The adults also appreciated our presence. One mother expressed the view we felt the whole community had towards us by saying the following: 'You came here to work - not for you but for us - you must have so much love in you.'
We learned that it does not take much to give a little bit of joy and hope.
We also learned to appreciate the inspiring atmosphere of working for a common goal within an international team. On the one hand, our team itself combined several ethnicities and, on the other hand, we also cooperated with local craftsmen. I myself was able to profit from that by learning how to build solid walls and foundations with the most basic tools. Not from an educated engineer but from David, 40-year-old self-taught entrepreneur from the Township of Philippolis.
When we left that small town in the middle of the endless grasslands, hills and mountains of the Great Karoo we all had experienced both personal and social progress and development.
We had caused overwhelming thankfulness and joy by renovating the facades of fundamental problems.
We had realized very well that we are currently not in the position to reach beyond the facades and repair the foundation.
We need to remember Philippolis when we are able to do so.