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What if our Presidents had participated in Global Visionaries?


Our President calls for America First,
And then bans people of a given spiritual faith of particular countries from entering this country–which was founded by the religiously persecuted.
Now, This Land is Your Land, the lyrics of folk singer Woodie Guthrie echoed in international airports in response.

Our President calls for America First…but how do you define “America?”
U.S. participants in GV soon discover that Guatemalans [chapines] think of themselves as “Americans.”
Guatemalans are offended that we as U.S. Americans have co-opted that word, that identity–“American”–as our own.
“American” encompasses North, Central, and South Americas with a rich diversity of ethnicities.

Thus far, the policies being advanced by the current White House Administration are contrary to GV’s mission…

Empowering young people to become global citizens creating a just and sustainable future.

Consider this: What if our Presidents had participated in Global Visionaries?
My wish, my dream, my hope, my vision: all of our elected leaders do so.
Our response to this current reality is this:

As public education is under attack,

We will raise more money for scholarships for low income youth and youth targeted because of their race and ethnicity.

>We will empower youth to think critically, listen empathically, and act powerfully.

As a wall between Latin America and the U.S. is proposed,

We will build bridges to strengthen the bonds and understanding between citizens of
Guatemala and the U.S.  Mending and reconciling the violent legacy of a 1954 CIA coup d’état.  We will support families in our GV community and beyond who have undocumented members. And we recognize our privilege as U.S. citizens to be able to fly over such a proposed wall. And the responsibility that comes with that privilege.

As Muslims from select countries are banned from our borders and the Constitution disregarded,

We will provide opportunities for youth to build friendships by breaking down stereotypes about one another, creating a space for deep listening and sharing of their most precious life stories and experiences, leading to life-long friendships they otherwise would not have had.

>We will empower youth to think critically, listen empathically, and act powerfully.

As LGBTQI communities are under attack,

We will continue to make GV a safe and sacred place/community where everyone is loved and respected for who they are.

When we are presented with “alternative facts,”

We will increase our participants’ confidence to think critically for themselves
To do their own research; to not scapegoat others.  To see how change begins with oneself and to understand that our existence and survival depends on our recognition that we are all interdependent.

>We will empower youth to think critically, listen empathically, and act powerfully.

When brown and black bodies are threatened and incarcerated,

We will provide Anti-Oppression – Pro-Justice trainings, so that every youth participating can gain the skills to become an ALLY when they fall in privileged categories, and learn to overcome internalized oppression when they fall in the targeted categories.

When women’s rights and their right to control their own bodies are at risk,

We empower young people of all genders to raise their voices strongly.

>We will empower youth to think critically, listen empathically, and act powerfully.

When our ability to create a sustainable future is jeopardized,

We will plant trees, provide youth the skills and motivation to reduce their ecological footprint, and powerfully voice their opinions on what kind of planet is desperately needed —using an array of platforms to get their message across.

When we are told to keep our mouths shut if we disagree,

We will host free workshops for the community at large to learn how to make one’s voice count in D.C. and locally. (Feb 16, Thursday, 6-8:00 pm is first one and we will lobby on Feb 24, Friday.)

We, this beloved and inspired GV community, have been at this for 20 years now. And, will be for the next 20….

>We will empower youth to think critically, listen empathically, and act powerfully.

Allow me to say before I close: I have just returned to GV after taking three months off to take care of my health. I am deeply grateful to the staff, the Board and the entire GV community for forwarding our collective work.

As I return to work, I am acutely present to the urgency and importance of our mission.
As an Israeli Rabbi whom I sat next to on a flight once told me: “You [U.S.] Americans have a Statue of Liberty on the East Coast. What you need is a statue of responsibility on the West Coast to balance it out.”

This is my call to action and with this, I express my immeasurable gratitude for your support, your action, your investment and the collective responsibility we feel to:
Create a space for youth to lead the way;
Defend everything we stand for in our mission;
Partner with us as we empower youth to critically think, empathically listen and powerfully act.

In solidarity and in peace,

Co-Founder, Chris Fontana


Soon, GV will feature commentary and perspectives from the GV Guatemalan staff and Guatemalan youth leaders. Guatemala elected a stand-up comedian for their President a year ago. They have had, sadly, a wealth of experience with “strongmen” as their leaders.

Summer Immersion Update – From Mykal!

This immersion has been a roller coaster for myself as a leader. I have  been up and down and at times I didn’t know if I was up or down or how I felt. At times I felt as if I wasn’t fit for the role of Junior Leader, and during other times, I felt like I knew exactly what to do and how to do it.

I have realized on this immersion that I am too hard on myself, like many others in the United States. I have to learn how to not keep measuring myself against what everyone thinks is perfection. I know that I still have a long way to go as a leader and realize that I am still learning along the way to becoming a great leader. It definitely does not happen overnight. I have learned that I can’t “should” on myself or anyone else because that would mean I am not looking to the future and how to become a better leader. I would still be looking at what I or someone else did or didn’t do. We are only ready to do something when we do it. And I think I am ready to begin a new chapter, or book, if you will, with what I have learned on this immersion and will be taking back with me to Seattle. This day and this immersion has been a gift, a really special one that I didn’t know I needed in my life at this moment. I would especially like to thank Maria Fontana and Dalton for having me realize what a gift this immersion has been as well as my mindset shift in order to grow as a human being. One thing is for sure, it’s not in the genes (jeans, haha).

Con mucho amor,

Christopher Mykal Green

Summer Immersion Update – From Denisse!

What defines a leader?

To me a “leader” signifies one who works side by side with others, one who understands, reflects, and shows empathy. A leader is an equal, a comforting shoulder, and a genuine smile.

This immersion has challenged me in ways I had no idea it would. I went through three different phases: confusion, frustration, and then lasting understanding and confidence in my continuous self-growth. I’ve not only seen myself break down socially constructed barriers, but I’ve also had the honor to be a witness to little changes as well as complete 180 degree turn arounds in others throughout this immersion.

Listening to the participants discuss topics that can be very intimidating in such an open-minded manner is truly inspiring. Not only do they question the “why?” “who?” and “what?” but they also find actual solutions; short term plans as well as long term plans. With this group, encouraging and establishing that everyone and anyone matters is a popular topic. I think change begins when we realize the power we all hold within and the strength in solidarity. One person can make a difference.

I would like to thank the GV Summer 2016 group for teaching me to be patient, in tune with my emotions, and to always dance like no one is watching.

Spring Immersion Update: From Richard!

The immersion experience in Guatemala is coming to a close and as I look at the participants around me I feel like my job has been completed. The participants are no longer individuals, but one whole community. They support one another through happiness, through saddness; they have a connection with each other that is special and unique. No one but those around them right now will truly be able to understand what they have gone through these past two weeks. Even participants from the past and the future cannot understand because each group of first-years contains different individuals that make each program one of a kind.

Parents, don’t worry, your children will eventually find words that accurately reflect their emotions, but until then, let them think, let them contemplate all that they have been through. You have watched them grow from crawling unaware toddlers to the proud and confident teenagers they are now; and waiting a few days is nothing compared to that.

I am grateful to have led such an empathetic group of high school students. Everyone has displayed an incredible amount of respect for one another and shared stories that their closest confidants have yet to hear. Looking at the leaders of the future here in Guatemala with me, I have no doubts that the future will be filled with equality, with compassion, with global visionaries.

Richard Wang
2nd Year Junior Leader

Spring Immersion Update: From Megan!

The warm sun beats down upon us. Roosters begin to crow at 4am in the morning. Bright red, yellow, green, blue houses down every street. The lively beats of bachata, reggae-ton, and salsa twirl through the crisp refreshing San Miguel Escobar night.

The GV office in Guatemala, the baroque styled church in San Miguel Park, the participant drop-off routes. Everything is so familiar to me. The 2-hour long weekly meetings since September helped prepare me for these two weeks. The feeling of being back in Guatemala is so surreal to me, and I am still so grateful to have this opportunity. 

Spending two weeks in Guatemala around the same time frame as my first immersion trip least year, I can sense definite similarities. However, distinct differences completely make this experience unique on its own. Obviously, the people I am traveling with are different.   And working in the hospital of Hermano Pedro rather than in the coffee fields is new, as is my role, that of a Junior Leader.

As a Junior Leader, I understand the amount of responsibility I have with technical aspects regarding the energy, the well being, and cultural understanding of the group. I’ve noticed every time my peer Ray and I get home, walk up the stairs and finally close the doors, I feel so tired yet very content at the end of the day. I love watching the epiphanies participants have after compiling the knowledge that they have accrued on this trip with what they previously know. I have seen so much development with leadership skills among the group. 

Work Teams are a crucial component of this two week immersion experience. Working in the hospital allows me to understand another aspect of this society- its healthcare. Every day we visit two wards, attempting to provide love and attention to these patients. I have made so many connections with patients and have become so close with my hospital work team. Personally, when patients smile, laugh or have their fears assuaged, I feel immense joy –  not because I feel I have reached a “goal” but rather the presence of a tacit understanding of a mutual feeling of compassion and love. This is why every time I leave a ward, my heart aches, and why I am giving these last two work days my all. 

In conclusion, these facets of my immersion have helped me gain a deeper understanding of the world and become a better leader. Whether it’s my new found confidence I acquired from the Spanish language classes, or my greater cultural understanding, I am so grateful for all the conversations I have had with my homestay family, the GV Staff, all my Guatemalan friends and everyone I have encountered on the trip. I am so thankful for this experience.

Megan Lee –

2nd Year Junior Leader

Spring Immersion Update: From Ray!

Hey! I am Ray and I am the Junior Leader on the Cafe work team – we are the Coffee work team.  I think that being a Junior Leader has been of the most challenging and rewarding experiences of my life. Rewarding because I have seen shy kids change into confident Spanish speakers and loud kids change into careful listeners. I have been able to witness the emotional learning experience that Guatemala brings you on a first hand level and I think that has been amazing. Witnessing the vulnerability and authenticity that is evoked from this experience has helped me grow as a leader, person, and friend. Learning how to feel the complicated range of emotions from a group of teenagers has been a challenge and so with each passing day I strive to give the group the kind of leader they need.

Another challenge that I have faced is being a leader but also being a person, too. Knowing how to balance the intensity of being a 24-hour leader and keeping yourself happy and healthy. I get inspiration from the amazing stories I hear every day, and I am constantly trying to absorb as much passion and learning from the people around me as I can. I hope that as the next few days pass, I can learn and grow as a person –  because that is what I think being a Junior Leader is all about.

To the spring parents, you are so lucky to have such courageous and curious kids and I am thankful; you let them spend these two weeks with me helping both of us grow!

Testimonial from a GV supporter – Bill Ellis

GSLI2015During the nine years that I have been a supporter of Global Visionaries, it has been wonderful to witness its evolution and growth.  Its programs have deepened, with increased opportunities presented for youth to find and bring out their “inner leader”.  You can see their self-confidence build, like an expanding balloon.  Recently, GV has extended its reach with the powerful Global Leadership Summer Institute.  I wanted to call out this less well-known aspect of Global Visionaries since it is an incredible addition to the overall program.

The Global Leadership Summit is a week for educators – with some strong speakers.  Terry Bergeson, the former 12 year Superintendent of Public Instruction of Washington State and GV’s CEO Chris Fontana will be spending 5 days with regional educators, administrators and leaders interested in youth education to grow acumen in the area of bringing democracy to the classroom.  If it is engaged global leaders we want as an outcome, then we need to change the way we are teaching our youth. GV is providing teachers a pathway for they themselves to become global leaders. And this enables teachers to create learning environments in which students take charge of their learning.  I am increasing convinced that, with this full-circle approach to education (providing student and educator learning opportunities), GV is on track to make real changes in the leadership of the future.

This is just one of the reasons I’m looking forward to seeing what the next nine years will bring for GV!

– Bill Ellis
GV Supporter

Chris Fontana i…

Chris Fontana is the executive director of Global Visionaries in Seattle, Washington, an organization dedicated to creating true global citizens through leadership training and work with high school students of different ethnic and economic backgrounds. Diverse groups of students selected to participate in the program study Spanish and Guatemalan culture for many months before taking a two-week trip to Guatemala, where they live with a local family and work on a specific project they have chosen. That work might include planting trees in an area that has been deforested or helping to build a new school alongside local residents. It might include spending time in a hospital with the elderly or disabled patients who live there full-time, holding their hands and sharing stories. Sometimes it involves working with Guatemalan families who make their living growing and selling coffee.

With free-trade and even fair-trade practices, the farmers receive only a shockingly small percentage of the total cost of the coffee when it is sold in stores. In fact,it is such a small amount that they can never really get ahead financially. Some Global Visionary students participate in a direct-trade program where they transport, roast package, and sell the coffee themselves. This results in a far greater percentage of the profits going to the farmers. The students benefit as well,for they are able to use their share of the profits to fund their trip to Guatemala.

The students claim that seeing the way people of other cultures live in the world helps to give them an expanded perspective. They often return to the United States feeling less of a need to accumulate material possessions and more of a desire to help others and the environment.

Some students have difficulty fitting back in with friends stateside who have not made the journey.

Chris Fontana started college with a desire to teach Spanish to high school students in his hometown of Chicago. In his junior year,he studied in Spain,which changed his idea of who he was and how he lived as an American. He started teaching in the public schools and found himself one day after Thanksgiving with no lesson plan. The bell rang,signaling the start of class,and Chris decided on the spot to talk about current events in South America . In that class the high school freshmen became outraged after learning that industrialized countries were cutting down the Amazon rainforest at a rate of one and a half acres per second,and they decided to take immediate action. They started an ecology club and wanted their school to begin recycling,but the administrators responded by informing the students that such a program was not necessary. The teachers and custodians took the students’ side,and for two weeks they all secretly saved and storing in cupboards the used paper that accumulated in the classrooms. At the end of two weeks, the students placed the mountain of paper in the middle of the cafeteria and called the newspapers to cover the event. A brand -new recycling program was implemented in the school immediately afterward.

Chris comes from a family of teachers and in 1992 he and his brother Joe Fontana, along with Jason Foster, one of Joe’s highly motivated students, decided to create a Youth Environmental Summit similar to the international Earth Summit that had been held for adults in Rio de Janeiro that same year. Jason helped to organize the summit along with other high school students, which included raising money and signing up speakers. In the years that followed, they held two successful youth summits that were well attended by young people from forty states and thirty-two countries. The summits gave participants and organizers a feeling of deep connection with the world and also a feeling that they could do anything. Following that experience, Jason Foster backpacked around the world for a year, returning with the idea of creating Global Visionaries. Chris and Joe thought it was a fabulous idea and hopped on board. (Jason went on to become an attorney and currently works for the United Nations.)

Global Visionaries is run in a democratic fashion that empowers students. The teens who return from Guatemala have the option of returning the following year to mentor newcomers. Students engage in fund-raising projects throughout the year in order to pay for their own trip expenses and to make a donation to the Guatemalan people they want to help. Throughout their training period, students in Seattle
make friends with other teens from areas outside their own neighbor­ hoods and ethnic backgrounds, thus expanding their understanding and cooperation skills.

Chris learned the power of people working together toward a common goal when he was a child. His mother raised her energetic family of eight in a unique way when she decided to bring democracy to the household. They held meetings regularly,and the children’s voices were heard and honored. All jobs were distributed evenly and no one could go out and play until the work was done. Chris laughs when he mentions that he was cooking family dinners for eight people by the time he was in second grade. If friends came over, they were also given chores to do. Some of them had never operated a vacuum before! There was a strong sense of unity in this family because of these practices. Chris wanted to bring this philosophy and feeling of shared accomplishment to his students in the Global Visionaries program.

Chris admits that when he began the organization he had no business skills, little money, and few contacts. His only support came from friends, family, and the parents of some of his students, but that did not hinder him. “No one is ever ready until they start,” he says. Life begins at the edge of your comfort zone.” He suggests that the best way to avoid getting overwhelmed or depressed about the state of the world is to take action:
Keep alive the possibility that you could actually achieve your dream. Action keeps me optimistic and that affects the outcome. Even when mistakes are made along the way, I keep saying“It’s going to work out! It’s going to work out!” And somehow it does. When I began this work I tended to think I had to do it all, but I found out that that attitude can quickly lead to burnout. Let other people contribute. Let them do what they’re good at and enjoy doing
If he does feel burned out or lost occasionally, Chris taps into mentors in the community and asks for their support. He used to think that lack of money was the biggest obstacle to achieving his goals for the organization, but he now feels that problems can be solved by staying connected to the community, to people and creative resources. “It’s people who make the difference. For a number of years we did a bunch of work with no money,” he says. This service-oriented group is creating peace on earth, social justice through education, and hands-on experience because a few dedicated people with a life-altering vision had the heart and courage to put their dreams for a better world into action.

Memories Monday is the new thing! We like to dedicate this post to Chris Fontana

The Quote is a book excerpt from Wizard of Us, written by Jean Houston. In the book, Chris told the author of his determination to start a non-profit that helps teens understand our fast-paced world today through international learning. 

Meet GV’s Guatemalan Staff


Since last August, three members of our Guatemalan staff have been working out of our Seattle office.  We thought you might like to meet them and hear a bit about what they’ve been doing during their time in the Emerald City and what they do back at the Guatemalan office.

This is Billy Lopez’s second time working up here, and he says he’s going back to Guatemala next week with a lot of new ideas for the office management and for the programs. As the Country Program Director, Billy is involved with all aspects of GV in his country, from developing curriculum to creating budgets and overseeing things when our student participants arrive for their trips.  “What I like most about the time I’ve spent working in the Seattle office is that I’ve gotten to really know the first-year participants.  When they come down to Guatemala I’ll be better able to understand who they are and what they need to make the most of their experience.”

This is the first time in Seattle for brothers Cesar (CheCha) and Ronald Vegas Gonzales.  CheCha is the Program Coordinator and Ronald is a Program Assistant with GV Guatemala.  In Guatemala, CheCha works on developing curriculum, logistics for the trips and works with the Guatemalan teen participants. Ronald is involved particularly with the donation program and coordinating with the organizations where the students volunteer.                                          

They have been incredibly busy during their time in Seattle.  Both were involved with the participants’ recruitment process.  They made presentations at twenty-eight high schools, met with parents to answer questions and helped during the first few Culture Nights.    The brothers think it was helpful for the students and their parents to hear from staff working in Guatemala.  Explains CheCha, “We could really explain to them about the Guatemalan culture and what they would be doing during their time in our country.”

All three visiting Guatemalans think their time in Seattle has been helpful for them and for the Seattle staff.  “We’ve all learned how to communicate better and we have a better understanding of what everyone does. “

Soon all three staff will be heading back to Guatemala.  They’ll be leaving with good memories of Seattle, improved English skills (which they are excited about) and ready to greet all the familiar faces of the Seattle youth when they arrive on their trips in the spring and summer.