How do we foster empathy in our children? (Particularly empathy for people living in poverty – both in countries far away and neighborhoods closer to home?) We ask this question as parents and professors who are dedicated to global health research and education. As college professors, we are deeply invested in cultivating well-rounded global citizens who not only think about inequity in their backyard but also think about what inequity looks, feels, and tastes like in other cultures and places. Why is this important? We see value in this understanding because we feel that without connecting with the suffering of others, it is easy to ignore others’ suffering, how that suffering came to be, and the obligation of global citizens to do something about it. We believe that global health issues should be introduced to children in order to promote empathy at a relatively early age – late elementary school, middle school and high school. Because of this Emily has edited a series of books containing global health narratives for youth; this project has been ongoing for nearly a decade.
What is the pivotal moment that cultivates a moral obligation to recognize and do something about the suffering of others? Emily remembers sitting on a train in the Copper Canyon of Mexico as a middle schooler and thinking about why her life in rural Iowa looked so differently than that of the young Tarahumara girl she had interacted with earlier that day. Peter, on the other hand, remembers a moment in a “Cultures of Africa” course in his undergraduate curriculum that sparked his curiosity and longstanding career devoted to understand why some people suffer and die from diseases he had never heard of.