Phil Borges


New Horizons for Learning

October, 2003

“What if a child in Los Angeles, who views sports figures and celebrities as heroes, could get to know a Tibetan child whose main goal in life is to develop the level of compassion attained by Tibetan Lamas? What if a child who grew up in New York City could question a Quechua child in Peru who was raised to honor and pray to the spirits of the forests, mountains and lakes?”

It was questions like these that prompted internationally acclaimed photographer and author, Phil Borges, to begin his quest for a way to fill in the gap in education that, for the most part, leaves our children, and those of other nations, bereft of cross-cultural understanding. As an advocate for the welfare of indigenous and tribal people around the world for more than 25 years, Phil was acutely aware of the chasm that was widening between our country and much of the rest of the world. Building on his professional background, he sought to find a way to work within school systems to ameliorate the problems that arise globally from the lack of cross-cultural understanding and replace it with respect and compassion.

Bridges To Understanding was founded two years ago and is based on the belief that breaking through preconceived ideas about ourselves and each other can lead to a healthier global community, one that will honor and respect diversity rather than associate difference with fear. Bridges is an online classroom program that provides a platform for cross-cultural exchange. Working with young people, the program provides the tools and experiences to problem-solve across geopolitical, economic and religious boundaries;
enhances children’s self-esteem around their cultural identity; and
allows those with limited ability to be heard to participate in global discourse.

Middle school students have been identified to be the ideal age at which to benefit most from participating in the program, having the necessary communication skills while, at the same time, still being malleable in their core beliefs of themselves and others.

Students create visual stories about themselves and their communities and share them via the Internet. Schools are partnered, one each from an indigenous community and an urban American community. Implementing an engaging curriculum in the classroom provides a hands-on cultural learning experience that teaches multi-media storytelling and documentary skills. Bridges’ trained mentors instruct the teachers and students on the use of digital photographic equipment and audio flash equipment, as well as navigation of the Internet. The school partnerships allow participants to gain deeper understanding of ways in which culture effects relationships, family, tradition and the environment in which we live.

The visual stories are shared on the Bridges website, its platform for equal exchange. Thus far, four indigenous and four urban communities have been paired: Navajo Nation in Arizona with Walter Reed Middle School in Los Angeles; Arctic Village School, Alaska with Exploris Middle School in Raleigh; Ollantaytambo Middle School in Peru with Hamilton Middle School in Seattle; and Tibetan Children’s Village School in Dharmsala, India with Spring Street School in Friday Harbor, WA.

The indigenous schools were chosen for their strength of cultural traditions, and the urban schools for their commitment to an international curriculum. The results of the program thus far have exceeded expectations. The children have become very engaged in creating digital stories and sharing them online with their distant partner schools. Perhaps the efficacy of the program is best reflected in the feelings of its participants:

I haven’t seen any Tibetan photographer doing a story on Tibet. I believe if some Tibetan could do a story on Tibet, he knows what’s happening. He feels it. That’s how it should be done. It is my wish that one of my (Bridges) students, even one of them, becomes a good photographer and does a story on Tibet. I would consider it my mission accomplished. That is my dream actually.
Lhawang Tenzin, Bridges instructor at the Tibetan Children’s Village in Dharmsala, India.

When people have conflicts a lot of time it is due to culture. When you don’t know another’s culture, when you don’t see them as you, then that can cause conflict. If we could just all learn about each other and talk out our problems and differences, that could stop war and killing.
Bert, Evergreen Middle School student, Seattle, WA.

Bridges is like a tool. We are teaching the kids how to use the machines to show the world the beauty that we have here. At the same time, we are trying to strengthen this culture, return again to the past. We can build the future as well.
Kenner Cornejo, Bridges mentor in Ollantaytambo, Peru.

The kids in Peru don’t understand why we are not all having threesomes and running around in negligees, like in the soap operas, because they think that’s what we’re like…and it’s not. It’s deceiving is what it is.
Nikki, Hamilton Middle School student, Seattle, WA.

Bridges, it’s working.

Phil Borges

  • Georgia Straight, 2005
  • double-eXposure, 2004
  • Lucie Awards, 2003
  • Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 2003
  • OC Metro, 2003
  • New Horizons for Learning, 2003
  • The South Asian, 2001
  • National Post, 2000
  • Common Ground, 2000
  • ArtScene, 1999
  • The Telegraph, London, 1996

  • Inventory

  • Field Notes, 2001

  • About Phil Borges

    Students from Arctic Village School, Alaska

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