Northville students get unique opportunity

Shown is a screenshot of a Webex meeting in which Northville High School students had the opportunity to meet with anti-apartheid activist Albie Sachs who lives in South Africa. (Webex screenshot)

NORTHVILLE — Northville High School students are utilizing technology during the pandemic to make connections with people throughout the world and are using their life experiences to apply them to their school lessons and issues faced in today’s society.

On Feb. 11, Northville High School teacher John Karbowski and his global history students had the opportunity to virtually meet with anti-apartheid activist Albie Sachs who lives in South Africa and who worked closely with Nelson Mandela.

“In a year where students have faced many different challenges, my hope was to, through these types of experiences — they can be engaged in the material and it gives them something to look forward to. I know they were very excited for this. If I can keep the topics we’re learning about real and relevant, I think it makes it more enjoyable,” Karbowski said. “So one of my goals, making learning valuable, but also fun, is something I aim to do this year more than ever because of the difficult times that we’re facing. I really hope that these are the types of experiences students will never forget.”

Before meeting Sachs, the students got to watch the one-hour documentary on who he was and his fight for unity and equality in South Africa.

“History is obviously very powerful, very inspiring. In a time of political and social divide in our country, one of my goals was, I really wanted my students to hear from someone who worked his entire life for unity and equality,” Karbowski said.

Sachs was an anti-apartheid activist. He worked as a lawyer defending some of the people who were oppressed under the apartheid laws in South Africa. He spent 24 years in exile in England and Mozambique. While he was in Mozambique, he was a victim of a car bomb — it was an assassination attempt on his life because of the work he was doing with the African National Congress. Due to that car bomb, Sachs lost one arm and sight in one of his eyes.

He eventually returned to South Africa and was appointed to constitutional court under Nelson Mandela and he became one of the main authors of the founding fathers of the democratic constitution that was drawn up in the early 1990s.

During the Webex meeting, students got to partake in a question-and-answer session with Sachs.

A few of those questions included:

— Can you tell us about some of the specific apartheid law and explain how they segregated people in South Africa?

“Apartheid laws, they were everywhere, about everything all the time. It affected every detail of life —where you were born, hospitals completely segregated, where you were buried, where you could sit on a bus, a train even, the courtrooms had separate entrances for your particular race, whether you could vote…,” Sachs said.

— After the car bomb, what kept you motivated to continue trying to free South Africa?

“After the car bomb, I knew I was going to survive, I knew I’d get better,” Sachs said. “In a very strange way, in a wonderful way, the car bomb blew away a lot of my sadness.”

He said he had gone from exile and sleep deprivation to surviving.

“And somehow I felt innovative and I learned to walk, tie a shoe, to write my name …,” Sachs said. “It was a rebirth for me.”

— After all your incredible life experiences, what is one piece of advice you’d give to your younger self? We are currently experiencing a large social and political divide in the U.S.; you have worked your entire life for equality and unity, what would be your advice to the people in the U.S. to overcome the challenges we currently face?

“Listen to others, but make up your own minds,” Sachs said. “You’ll never be like Mandela, you’ll never be like Lincoln, don’t try to be like them Lincoln was Lincoln, Mandela was Mandela; be yourself in the best way you can…”

“I often say don’t follow your dreams, follow your life and your dreams will follow you,” he added.

Sachs said he likes going to the United State and speaking about his South African experience “because if you can draw any lessons from experience, use them.”

Karbowski said in a time when the country is in a social and political divide, “I think hearing his story and hearing about his work towards unity and equality is something that will rub off directly I hope to the students, as they are the future in making important decisions in the near future within our government.”

He said he thought the outcome of listening to Sachs speak “was amazing.”

“It was something that I will never forget, and I don’t want to speak for the students, but I really feel like they’ll never forget,” Karbowski said. “It was powerful, it was inspiring and I really look forward to doing more of this to engage and help students realize that global history is something that’s not only important, but something that is real and relevant to their own lives.”

Karbowski has held several video conferences for his students with people around the world throughout the pandemic.

“Video conferencing has become a huge part of education this year with the pandemic, so I just figured why not try to take advantage of the technology we have available and to break the laws of my classroom by connecting my students with other people around the world,” he said.

Karbowski’s economics class has virtually met with Teri Ellington, a 24-year-old woman who lives in England, who struggled with mental health issues. She overcame her mental health issues and began her own watch business.

“We got to learn about her overcoming her mental health issues and starting as an entrepreneur, so it tied in with the economics curriculum,” Karbowski said.

His global history class also recently had a Webex with Dr. Anton Howes who is a professor who dedicated his life to studying the British industrial revolution.

Karbowski’s Participation in Government class got to meet with John Tinker from the Supreme Court case Tinker vs. Des Moines.

His PIGS class will also soon be collaborating with a government class in Alaska on some projects.

“My main goal this year was to try to use the technology we have and take advantage of that,” Karbowski said.

By Paul Wager