Nobel Peace Prize winner tells Rock Bridge students to make a difference in the world

Sunday, June 3, 2007 | 2:47 a.m. CDT; updated 1:15 a.m. CDT, Monday, July 21, 2008

An early morning phone call from Bangladesh could possibly change the lives of students at Rock Bridge High School. At least that’s what World Studies and Contemporary Issues teacher Matt Cone is hoping.

At eight o’clock Friday morning, Cone made an international phone call to Muhammad Yunus in Bangladesh. During the call, students asked questions about his work through Grameen Bank and his concept of microcredit. He founded the bank to offer small amounts of credit to people in Bangladesh who are otherwise incapable of receiving loans from other banks. His efforts in economic improvement for less-privileged people earned him the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize Award.

One response to a student’s question gave listeners an insight into how Yunus feels about founding Grameen Bank and microcredit.

“You know, I didn’t know whether it would work myself,” Yunus said. “But I had faith and I asked myself, ‘Why not?’”

Yunus said he believes that the problem of poverty can be overcome with the smallest steps. He said that although you can’t pull every single person out of poverty, you can start with one person or one family and then help a second person or family. Small steps like these ultimately led Yunus to help almost 7.2 million Bangladeshi families rise up from poverty.

One student asked Yunus was what life was like after receiving the Nobel Peace Prize.

“It is a fantastic thing,” Yunus said. “For many years, I screamed but no one would listen. Now, all I have to do is whisper and everyone listens. It’s a big opportunity for me to talk to people about this issue.”

One student in particular was especially touched by the opportunity to speak to Yunus.

“My parents are Bangladeshi and we know that you never hear anything good from Bangladesh,” said sophomore Mahir Khan. “It’s true what Professor Yunus said about Bangladesh being the most corrupt nation time and time again, and I see Professor Yunus as a model of progress.”

Khan was moved to take action after studying figures such as Yunus who changed the world around them.

“I’m probably going into medicine, and I like the idea of activism,” Khan said. “If I could become like him, that would be awesome. I may not be able to change the world, but it’s almost mandatory to try to change one person since we have (all this privilege).”

Khan hopes to partake in Doctors Without Borders, an organization where trained doctors go into Third World countries to tend to the medical needs of the poor.

This wasn’t the first time that students spoke with someone through a conference call. In previous years, notables such as Colin Powell and Paul Farmer, a doctor and fighter against poverty, have also had phone interviews with Rock Bridge students.

“Basically, the class gives students a chance to look at complex issues that don’t always yield direct answers,” Cone said. “We all want the situation with Darfur to improve but how do we do that? It’s a tough nut to crack.”

Other Rock Bridge teachers brought their classes to the conference call. This, in addition to visiting alumni, meant almost 145 people were packed into one classroom.

Heather Hadley, another social studies teacher, observed the changes in students’ attitude after phone conferences such as this one.

“I see that students, after attending these events, are changing career goals, going to other countries, going on mission trips,” Hadley said. “These students are realizing, I can be an engineer here in the U.S., but I want to go to a poverty-stricken country. It doesn’t take someone extraordinary to make a difference.”

In response to a question about how Yunus came up with the idea of the Grameen Bank, he said: “Anybody could have done it.”

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