When Molly Clemans decided to be a part of the Justice and Urban Studies Team, she had no idea she’d end up taking three inner-city Dallas fifth graders on a 10-day trip to India.
Clemans, junior Ad/PR major from Melissa, along with Alan Songer, junior criminal justice major from Tomball, Nicole Ramos, junior vocational ministry major from Imperial, California, and Bethany Richardson, junior social work major from Center, spent the last year in Dallas as part of the ACU@CitySquare program. They spent their time working with students in Dallas schools in a program called Design For Change. DFC is an international program founded in India that focuses on project-based learning for students. Using the steps “feel,” “imagine,” “do” and “share,” DFC provides an outlet for children to tackle real-world issues and do something that makes a difference.
Over the last year, Clemans, Songer, Ramos and Richardson worked with four different schools on projects that were submitted to a national competition among all DFC chapters in the US. Out of the 17 projects submitted, one of their classes was chosen as the national winner. The fifth-grade students of Charles Rice Elementary in South Dallas worked to shut down trap houses in their neighborhood where drugs were used and trafficked.
These 25 fifth graders “felt” a problem in their neighborhood, “imagined” ways they could fix it, “did” something about it and “shared” it with people around them. They worked with a Departments of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms officer, filed a report with police and saw the first of the five trap houses shut down completely.
Clemans found out in June the class’s project had been chosen as a winner, and with that came the opportunity to go to the international Design For Change conference in Ahmedabad, India. Three students from the class of 25, along with their teacher from Charles Rice, were able to attend the conference. Travelle Gunels, Anjelica Williams and Kendrick Massengill packed their bags for their first international trip.
The group began making preparations for passports and visas for their excursion and set out to depart on Sept. 24. They arrived after a long day of traveling and met students from 22 countries represented at the conference. Once they arrived, the children saw posters showcasing them and others being honored at the conference. Clemans said she noticed the kids beginning to grasp how they truly impacted their community.
“You could tell they really understood what was going on and how much of a difference they made by what they did in Dallas,” Clemans said.
Clemans said she was proud of how the students presented their project to the conference.
“Our kids’ project was pretty on par and awesome with the world,” Clemans said.
After leaving Ahmedabad, the group traveled to the Taj Mahal before returning home.
Clemans said the children were impacted by the culture of India even more than the conference itself. They were able to discuss poverty in their own neighborhoods in Dallas and poverty in India.
“It was really interesting because they were recognizing that it was present in both places,” Clemans said.
This trip marked the end of a season for Clemans, Songer, Ramos and Richardson. They have since returned from a year living in Dallas to life back in Abilene.
For Clemans, India helped her process all she has been a part of over the last year.
“My whole time in Dallas, I felt stupid, I felt brilliant,” Clemans said. “I felt powerless, I felt like I could really make a difference.”
Through the ups and downs of Design for Change, Clemans said she and her team had to trust what God was doing.
“If someone had told me a year ago that I’d be in India with this project, I honestly wouldn’t have believed it,” she said. “It was God’s plan, and He had a hand in this past year completely. It was crazy how much we had to trust God and how much He didn’t let us down. I’ve learned a lot about trusting and people’s potential and how people 8 years old to 15 years old really can make a difference.”