General Assembly: GA Presentations: Presenter views and opinions do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the UUA.

Building a Just World—Beginning with Our Children

General Assembly 2014 Event 265

This event was sponsored by the Unitarian Universalist Society of Oneonta (UUSO), NY.

Program Description

Building a peaceful and just world takes both will and skill; some of our hope for the future lies with children. Learn about resources, activities and attitudes for planting the seeds of social justice both at home and church. An example is our congregation’s partnership with a school in Mali.


  • Suzanne Miller, Ph.D., former teacher educator State University of New York, early childhood teacher, Peace Corps Volunteer in Micronesia, helped to start a primary school in India as co-director of SUNY Semester in India program. Contact:
  • Susan Ryder, Director of Religious Education Unitarian Universalist Society of Oneonta, NY, chair of Mali Task Force, former early childhood teacher, visited Youchau’s School in Mali, West Africa and participated in taking college students to Vietnam. Contact:
  • Zanna McKay, Ph.D., teacher educator State University of New York, former elementary teacher, teacher at International Schools in Mali, West Africa and in Vietnam. Co-taught The Environment and Education of Vietnam in which 22 college students traveled to Vietnam. Contact:

Resources for Adults

  • Bigelow, B. & Peterson, B. (2002). Rethinking globalization: Teaching justice in an unjust world. Milwaukee. WI: Rethinking Schools.
  • Church World Service (2007). Making poverty history: Hunger education activities that work! Elkhart, IN: Church World Service.
  • Daley-Harris. S. & J. Keenan. (2007). Our day to end poverty: 24 ways you can make a difference. San Francisco, CA: Berrett-Koehler Publishers.
  • Jayaraman, S. (2013). Behind the kitchen door. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.
    Kielburger, C. & Major, K. (1998). Free the children: A young man fights against child labor and proves that children can change the world. New York, NY: Harper Collins Publishers.
  • McKay, Z. (2009). The silver lining: Third Culture Kids stories of success. Among Worlds. Lawrenceville, GA.
  • McKay, Z. (Fall 2007). Seeing and being seen: Pedagogy for students of majority. Multicultural Review.
  • Miller, S. (2010). Head, hands, heart and hope: Helping to end global poverty. Young Children.65 (4): 64-69.
  • Miller. S. (2009). Make it personal: The India connection. Educational Leadership.66 (8):76-77.
  • Miller, S. (2005). Building a peaceful and just world- Beginning with the children.  Childhood Education, 82(1):14-18.
  • Mollison, J. (2010). Where children sleep. New York, NY: Distributed Art Publishers.
  • Nunn, M. (2000). Be the change! Change the world. Change yourself. Atlanta: Hundreds of Heads Books, LLC.
  • Oliner, S. & Oliner, P. (1988). The altruistic personality: Rescuers of Jews in Nazi Europe. New York, NY: The Free Press.


  • Unitarian Universalist Service Committee (UUSC). UU human rights organization that fosters social justice and works toward a world free of oppression in 15 countries throughout the world. The website describes several ways to become involved. The current major initiatives are sustainable recovery in Haiti, the human right to water and choosing compassionate consumption related to worker’s rights.
  • United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF). Educational materials including videos available. Sponsors Trick or Treat for UNICEF.
  • Heifer International. Organization working to end hunger and poverty around the world by providing livestock and training to struggling communities; educational materials and videos available.
  • Oxfam America. A global organization working to right the wrongs of poverty, hunger, and injustice in more than 90 countries to create lasting solutions. Oxfam works to develop long-term solutions to poverty, and campaigns for social change.
  • The One Campaign. One-by-one effort to fight the emergency of global AIDS and extreme poverty. Advocacy to allocate an additional one percent of the U.S. budget toward providing basic needs like health, education, clean water and food to transform the futures and hopes of the world’s poorest countries.
  • NINASH Foundation. Instrumental in helping communities and starting schools for underprivileged children in India.
  • Watch Me Go. The goal is to create access to education for adolescent girls living in urban slums by identifying smart, but needy girls who are unable to afford high school tuition. Scholarships are provided by connecting them to donors.
    Watch Me Go—Edison and Team at Riverside Elementary School in Oneonta, NY. Find out more about UUSO RE member Edison and his friends who helped raise over $1000 for a girl from Kenya, Vivian, to go to high school. There are links to videos of Vivian thanking the Riverside kids and then Edison and friends singing a song for her.
  • Sarah Pirtle is an award-winning author and musician who writes and sings for all ages. She works to build supportive communities for young people. She is recognized as a national expert on teaching social skills and nonviolence. She works with Music as Ministry for all ages and currently has eleven CD's. Her most recent song (YouTube) is about stopping the Keystone XL pipeline, and about hope and community. She says that Northern Spirit Radio will have a full recording of this song and an interview about the body of her work. Her webpage is at The song “Across the Wide Ocean” taught at the session “Building a Just World—Beginning with the Children” is from her album “Two Hands Hold the Earth.”

Children’s Literature: A Sample of Picture Books from Suzanne Miller

  • Ajmera, M. & Ivanko, J. (2004). Be my neighbor. Watertown, MA: Charlesbridge.
  • Ajmera, M. & Ivanko, J. (2001). Our grandparents: A global album.  Watertown, MA: Charlesbridge.
  • Berenstain, S.& J. (1999). The Berenstain Bears think of those in need. New York: Random House.
  • Bunting, E. (2006). One green apple. New York, NY: Clarion Books. (Picture book story of an immigrant child on first day of school.)
  • Cave, K. (1998). W is for world—A round- the- world ABC. London: Frances Lincoln Limited in association with Oxfam.
  • Cohn, D. (2002). Isi, se puede! Yes, we can. El Paso, TX: Cinco Puntos Press. (Based on a true story of janitor’s workers strike in LA in 2000 and how children became involved.)
  • Deedy, CS.(2002). 14 cows for America. Atlanta, GA. (Based on a true story in which the Maasai people of Kenya symbolically gave 14 cows very precious to them to America\ in a gesture of support and friendship.)
  • Hollyer, B. (1999). Wake up, world! A day in the life of children around the world. New York, NY: Henry Holt and Company.
  • Hoose, P. (2002). It’s our world, too! Young people who are making a difference. New York, NY: Little Brown and Co.
  • Howard, G. (2002). A basket of bangles: How a business begins. Brookfield, CT: The Millerbrook Press. (Children’s picture book about how a loan helped women in India earn money for their families.)
  • Jackson, E. (2003). It’s back to school we go! First day stories from around the world. Brookfield, CT: The Millbrook Press.
  • Kerley, B. (2005). You and me together--Moms, dads and kids around the world. Washington, D.C.: National Geographic Society.
  • Klamath County YMCA Family Preschool (1993). The land of many colors. New York, NY: Scholastic.
  • Krull, V. (2003) Harvesting hope: The story of Caesar Chavez. New York, NY: Harcourt Children’s Books.
  • McBrier, P. (2001). Beatrice’s goat. New York, NY: Atheneum Books. (Based on a true story of how the gift of a goat through Heifer Project made it possible for a child in Uganda to go to school.)
  • Morris, A. (1990). On the go. New York, NY: Scholastic.(Picture book of transportation around the world.)
  • Morris, A. (1992). Houses and homes. New York, NY: Scholastic. (Picture book of homes around the world.)
  • Mollison, J (2010). Where children sleep. New York, NY: Distribution Art Publishers.(Pictures and narrative of how where children sleep around the world.)
  • Rayner, A. (2002). A life like mine—How children live around the world. New York, NY: DK Publishing.
  • Scholes, K. (1989). Peace begins with you. Boston, MA: Little, Brown & Co.
  • Shoveller, H. (2006). Ryan and Jimmy and the well in Africa that brought them together. Tonawanda, NY: Kids Can Press.
  • Smith, D. (2011). This child, every child: A book aout the world’s children. Tonawanda, NY: Kids Can Press Ltd.
  • Thomas, S. (1998).Somewhere today—A book of peace. Morton Grove, IL: Albert Whitman & Company.
  • Warren, S. (2012). Dolores Huerta: A hero to migrant workers.  Tarrytown, NY: Marshall Cavendish Children.
  • Winter, J. (2008) Wangari’s trees of peace: A true story from Africa. Orlando, FL: Harcourt Brace. (Based on the work of Nobel Peace Prize winner Wangari Maathai.)

Books and Stories Susan Ryder Uses when Teaching about West Africa

  • A Country Far Away, Paperback by Nigel Gray (Author), Dupasquier Philippe (Illustrator) New York: Orchard Books, 1988.
    This is mostly a picture book with simple text. Each page shows children engaged in a regular activity in their daily life. The top portion shows the rural African children and the bottom part of the page shows urban North American children. The message is that although it may look different, we are often all doing the same things – playing outside with friends, staying up late, helping out at home, getting ready for bed, etc.
  • Yatandou (Tales of the World) by Gloria Whelan, Peter Sylvada (Illustrator) Chelsea, MI: Sleeping Bear Press, 2007.
    Yatandou is a young girl in a rural Malian village. She pounds millet with a heavy wooden stick for much of her day. All of the women and girls spend at least three hours every day pounding millet to grind enough for their family’s meals. They find out about an expensive millet-grinding machine. Yatandou must decide if she will make a big sacrifice to help buy the machine. This story is about the daily life of many Malian women and girls and how one girl works for change in her community. I like to pair this story with actually pounding millet. (We have a log with a hollowed out top, put millet in there and pound it up and down with a wooden baseball bat. If you can actually do this it is easy to see how rhythms and songs go along with it.)
  • Somewhere Today: A Book of Peace (Albert Whitman Prairie Books) Paperback, by Shelley Moore Thomas. Morton Grove, Illinois, 1998.
    This is a book of photographs with very little text for the youngest UUs. The beautiful photos are of activities that are alternatives to violence. These are peaceful activities engaged in by people from all over the world.
  • Sundiata: Lion King of Mali Paperback by David Wisniewski. New York: Clarion Books, 1992. 
    King Sundiata is one of the great ancient heroes of Western Africa. The story has been handed down through the generations by revered storytellers called Griots. As such, it is a blend of history and myth. The popular Disney movie, The Lion King, is based on the story of Sundiata. I usually tell a simplified version of the story while showing the pictures as it is a bit wordy for reading aloud in one sitting.
  • The Magic Gourd (Aesop Prize (Awards)) Hardcover by Baba Wague Diakite (Illustrator). New York: Scholastic, 2003.
    Sometimes I’ve told this story using a big wooden bowl as the “magic gourd.” This is a magic gourd that fills itself with whatever the owner wants. This leads to trouble, of course, and it is resolved by a magical trick. It is a lesson about greed, bounty, and generosity. Other times I read the book and we look over the illustrations that are representations of bogolan (mud cloth) art. Bogolan are West African textiles that are painted with patterns of symbols using a special mud dye process. For an activity, I use an Adinkra symbol handout that I found online to create our own Bogolan patterns either on small pieces of cloth or as cards.

Any Anansi the Spider story! There are many told in many different books. Anansi tales are stories from West Africa about a trickster spider. They are funny stories and have a moral.

  • Anansi and the Moss-covered Rock Paperback by Eric A. Kimmel (Author), Janet Stevens (Illustrator) New York: Holiday House, 1988.
    Anansi the Spider uses a strange moss-covered rock in the forest to trick all the other animals to give him their food, until Little Bush Deer decides he needs to learn a lesson. It is fun to bring in examples of all the things Anansi steals from the animals as well as a funny looking rock to use while telling this story.

A Song and a Puppet Show for Teaching about Building a Just World

Across the Wide Ocean, by Sarah Pirtle

Song used in RE program by Susan Ryder, DRE, UUSO, Oneonta, NY.

From the Two Hands Hold the Earth CD by Sarah Pirtle.

Across the wide ocean, Across the wide ocean
I hear you calling me, Oh my friend
I hear you calling me, Oh my friend.

We are the change bringers,
We travel through the light,
We’re not afraid of darkness
We’re like a bird in flight
I hear you calling me, oh my friend
I hear you calling me oh my friend

We are the change bringers
The change begins to start
The bird of peace is rising
I feel it in my heart.
I hear you calling me oh my friend
I hear you calling me oh my friend
I hear you calling me oh my friend.

The Little Red Hen Revisited by Suzanne Miller—A Puppet Show

(In this revision of the classic story, the little red hen asks for help, but understands why some of the animals are unable to help while others are quite willing. In the end they all share in eating the delicious bread.)

Red Hen: Today I'm going to tell you a story about making bread. One day I found a grain of wheat. I asked my neighbors who would like to help me plant the wheat. Hello Skunk, how would you like to help me plant a little wheat?

Skunk: Hi Red Hen. My baby is real sick and she needs me. I'm sorry I can't help.

Red Hen: That's ok. I'm sorry your baby is sick and hope she gets better soon. So I planted the wheat and it grew and will be ready to be harvested soon. Well maybe horse can help me cut it. Horse, how are you doing today?

Horse: Not too good. This getting old is kind of hard—I have so many aches and pains—my knees, my back, my neck all hurt so I'm not much good for hard work. But later on I can sit on the chair in the kitchen and help you bake the bread.

Red Hen: Thanks--that'll be great. Well there's rabbit listening to music. Rabbit, I need some help in harvesting the wheat to make bread. Rabbit—could you turn down the music so you can hear me. Thanks.

Rabbit: What's up?

Red Hen: I need some help with the cutting the wheat.

Rabbit: Sure I'll do that—if I can keep listening to my music

Red Hen: Sure, we can all enjoy it. There's cow. I bet she'll help too.

Cow: Hi Red Hen. I heard you talking about making bread. I'd be glad to give you some milk. I can mosey out to the field and help there too.

Red Hen: Great. Oh there's squirrel. I need some help in taking wheat to the mill to grind into flour to make some bread.

Squirrel: I'd like to help, but I need to gather nuts. As a migrant worker I get paid for each basket of nuts I gather and that's how I feed my family. I work from very early in the morning ‘til late at night so I'm sorry I can't help you.

Red Hen: That's ok. I think we'll get on with the work. So we did all the tasks for making bread and several delicious warm loaves came out of the oven ready to eat.

Rabbit: Wow delicious bread! I think only those of us who did the work should get to eat the bread!

Red Hen: No, we're going to share the bread with everyone. Skunk would you like some bread?

Skunk: Thanks so much. I appreciate it. It's been kind of hard getting enough food since father skunk left soon after the baby was born.

Red Hen: How bout you squirrel? Would you like to take a loaf of bread to your family?

Squirrel: Oh yes. As a migrant worker I don't make much money. Thanks!

Red Hen: Well let's all eat!

Rabbit: Hey this is a great party!!

Red Hen: That's the story, folks, of our making some bread.

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