One Pencil Can Help Bring Peace

Honors College course uses social media to change perceptions about Afghanistan and help its children.



By Daylina Miller

USF News


TAMPA, Fla. (March 1, 2011) – This spring, the Honors College introduced “Social Media, Social Change: One Pencil Can Help Bring Peace,” a class that requires students to use social media like Facebook, Twitter and a Wordpress blog to promote the School Supplies for Afghan Children drive and break down misconceptions about the country.


The class is the result of a suggestion from Carmel Delshad, a graduate school student at the City University of New York, who was a former student of University of South Florida adjunct professor Liisa Temple.


The school supply drive began after SMSgt Rex Temple, Liisa’s husband, met an 8-year-old boy in Afghanistan while on active duty in the U.S. Air Force. The boy asked to have his pen for school because his family could not afford to buy him one.


Since its start in 2009, the school supplies drive collected, shipped and distributed more than 15,000 pounds of donated school supplies with the help U.S. students, teachers, U.S. troops in Afghanistan and more.


The class fulfills a “Major Works, Major Issues” credit and requires students to blog about their experiences, collect and pack up school supplies to ship to Afghanistan and promote and engage people on discussion about Afghanistan and the drive through Facebook and Twitter.


The class will be renewed for the fall 2011 semester and students are actively working towards making it into an official student organization on campus.


Until then, the class promotes their fundraising efforts and experiences on the class blog, an offshoot of the blog SMSgt Temple kept overseas called “Afghanistan: My Last Tour.” He wrote, “I may not be able to capture Osama Bin Laden personally, but I can defy the Al Qaeda and Taliban ideology by helping to educate tomorrow’s leaders in Afghanistan.”


“The class teaches them a different way of utilizing social media and what social and media put together can really truly mean, especially in a project where you’re trying to impact perception,” Liisa Temple said.


Last November, Georg Kleine, assistant dean of the USF Honors College, told The Oracle that “he approves of the course and found it depressing that no classes that deal directly with the war in Afghanistan have been included in the curriculum until now.”


He also said, “It's negligent that we're living in this cocoon of ours where it's so easy to forget that (the war) is going on and has been for a very long time. Community service is too frequently only related to our immediate environment. I think that extending it in this direction and allowing students to acquire skills that may be transferrable to other organizations in the future is a good thing."


There are 16 students taking the class and their enthusiasm is evident. Zoe Stiling’s eyes light up when she talks about the positive response she gets from her blog posts, especially to her January 25 post.


“I shudder to think about how many pencils and other writing utensils I have used in my schooling lifetime,” Stiling wrote. “The amount of pencils I have carelessly lost. The quantity of pencils I throw away, just because the eraser is not perfectly clean and robust. The excess of over-flowing pens, highlighters and pencils in my desk drawer, hoping to be the next one put to the page…This semester I will aim to urge residents of the Tampa Bay community to reach in between their sofa cushions to find the lone pencil lodged underneath them and make them realize that was an act of leadership.”


Stiling said she always used her Facebook for trivial reasons, party invites and status updates, so she was against turning her personal platform for communication into a tool for the class.


“I think because they had only used it for their personal use and they had never used it for anything else, the idea of using it to promote a cause was a foreign concept to them,” Liisa Temple said.


Now Stiling proudly promotes the school supply drive online.


The president of the Muslim Student Association, Mohammad Ismail, is also taking the class and admits that it has forced him out of a bubble.


“It’s our responsibility to help the rest of the world as much as we can,” Ismail. “In Islam, it teaches us that one of the main things we are suppose to do is charity. The community has to be successful for life as a whole to be successful.”


SMSgt Temple guest lectures for the class and is thrilled to see them take the project and passionately run with it.


“It’s kind of exciting that you have all these young bright minds and I’m hoping they’ll think of things I didn’t to expand on this effort,” SMSgt Temple said.


The class is holding a school supply drive at the Wednesday Bulls Market on March 30 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. in front of Beef O Brady’s. Students who donate supplies will get a free piece of pizza or they can purchase a piece for $1 to support shipping costs for the supplies.


Interested in donating supplies? There are drop-off locations in the main lobby at WUSF and the USF Honors College. New and gently used school supplies are accepted.


Daylina Miller covers student activities and trends. She can be reached at 813-500-8754.