In a brilliant move, Penn Museum hires refugees as guides to exhibits from their homelands

Imagine walking through a museum exhibit from the Middle East with a personal guide from that region explaining the artifacts. Imagine having the same experience as you move through galleries from different parts of the world, each time with a docent from that region who lends a personal touch by sharing first-hand perspectives.


That's the basis of Penn Museum's Global Guides program, which hires docents (the people who explain exhibits and show people around the galleries) from the regions being showcased. It's a brilliantly simple concept—a museum staff that is culturally representative of the artifacts it houses—but one that has not often been implemented. That may be one reason the program has taken off with great success.

Another reason may be because the docents the museum has hired come from the refugee and immigrant community—a win-win situation for both the people serving and the people being served.

According to NPR, Ellen Owens, director of learning and public engagement at Philadelphia's Penn Museum, noted that most of the museum's docents were aging. They were also mostly white. Owens thought that creating a more diverse group of docent might help the museum connect with more communities.

The museum is known for its collections from the Middle East, Africa, and Central America—regions that make up a large part of the global refugee community. So Owen and her colleague, Kevin Schott, decided to reach out to non-profit organizations serving refugees and immigrants to recruit new docents.

The Global Guides are trained in archaeology and ancient history and are able to share some of their personal stories with the people they guide through the exhibits. That personal touch makes all the difference.

"We really wanted to have the narratives of lots of different people, to bring the authentic voices of people that live in other places into the galleries of the museum," Owens told NPR.

For example, Clay Katongo fled the Democratic Republic of the Congo 33 years ago and now serves as a pastor in a West Philadelphia evangelical church. As a new Global Guide, he enjoys sharing African religious artifacts predating Christianity with museum-goers.

"I love this place," Katongo told NPR. "This is my culture. This is my story."

The Global Guides is truly a mutually beneficial program. "One of the big goals of this project was actually to provide jobs for people that are immigrants and refugees," Owens told NPR. Guides work part-time and are paid about $20 an hour. The Barra Foundation grant that funds them also helps them navigate employment details, such as filling out tax forms and going through HR procedures.

The museum, in turn, not only gets first-hand accounts from the areas of the world it's showcasing, but the new docents have also proved invaluable in helping to translate documents and helping with on-the-ground research.

Attendance at the museum has skyrocketed since the Global Guides program was implemented, with a third of visitors coming specifically because of it. Other museums around the world have begun implementing similar programs as well.

Well done, Penn Museum. Thank you for leading the way.

True

In 1945, the world had just endured the bloodiest war in history. World leaders were determined to not repeat the mistakes of the past. They wanted to build a better future, one free from the "scourge of war" so they signed the UN Charter — creating a global organization of nations that could deter and repel aggressors, mediate conflicts and broker armistices, and ensure collective progress.

Over the following 75 years, the UN played an essential role in preventing, mitigating or resolving conflicts all over the world. It faced new challenges and new threats — including the spread of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction, a Cold War and brutal civil wars, transnational terrorism and genocides. Today, the UN faces new tensions: shifting and more hostile geopolitics, digital weaponization, a global pandemic, and more.

This slideshow shows how the UN has worked to build peace and security around the world:

1 / 12

Malians wait in line at a free clinic run by the UN Multidimensional Integrated Mission in Mali in 2014. Over their 75 year history, UN peacekeepers have deployed around the world in military and nonmilitary roles as they work towards human security and peace. Here's a look back at their history.

Photo credit: UN Photo/Marco Dormino

Who would have thought that giving the world access to all human knowledge via the internet, the ability to follow and hear from experts on any subject via social media, and the ability to see what's happening anywhere in the world via smartphones with cameras would result in a terrifying percentage of the population believing and spouting nothing but falsehoods day in and day out?

Those of us who value facts, reason, and rational thought have found ourselves at some of our fellow citizens and thinking, "Really? THIS is how you choose to use the greatest tool humanity has ever created? To spew unfounded conspiracy theories?"

It's a marvel, truly.

Between Coronavirus/Bill Gates/5G conspiracies and QAnon/Evil Cabal/Pedophile conspiracies, I thought we were pretty much full up on kooky for 2020. But apparently not. The massive fires up and down the West Coast have ignited even more conspiracy theories, some of which local law enforcement and even the FBI have had to debunk.

Keep Reading Show less
True

In 1945, the world had just endured the bloodiest war in history. World leaders were determined to not repeat the mistakes of the past. They wanted to build a better future, one free from the "scourge of war" so they signed the UN Charter — creating a global organization of nations that could deter and repel aggressors, mediate conflicts and broker armistices, and ensure collective progress.

Over the following 75 years, the UN played an essential role in preventing, mitigating or resolving conflicts all over the world. It faced new challenges and new threats — including the spread of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction, a Cold War and brutal civil wars, transnational terrorism and genocides. Today, the UN faces new tensions: shifting and more hostile geopolitics, digital weaponization, a global pandemic, and more.

This slideshow shows how the UN has worked to build peace and security around the world:

1 / 12

Malians wait in line at a free clinic run by the UN Multidimensional Integrated Mission in Mali in 2014. Over their 75 year history, UN peacekeepers have deployed around the world in military and nonmilitary roles as they work towards human security and peace. Here's a look back at their history.

Photo credit: UN Photo/Marco Dormino

I worked as a substitute teacher in my early 20s, almost exclusively in middle schools and high schools—my age of specialty. Once, I accepted a two-day subbing assignment in a first grade classroom. Only once. Halfway through the first day, as the kids ate lunch in the cafeteria, I sat at the teacher's desk in an exhausted daze. Teaching little kids was a completely different animal than teaching big kids. While adorable, they had so many needs and so little attention span. It was like herding a bunch of flies that constantly needed to go potty.

Trying to herd those flies virtually during a pandemic is too much to even fathom.

So the real-time story that mom and writer Stephanie Lucianovic shared on Twitter of what happened when her son's second grade teacher dropped from the class Zoom call was not the least bit surprising. Hilariously entertaining, but not surprising.

Keep Reading Show less
Katie Neeves (L) photo by Jayne Walsh, JK Rowling (R) photo by Sjhill, CC BY-SA 3.0

Dear JK Rowling,

I am writing this letter to say a big thank you to you. You may think it strange that a gobby trans woman such as me would wish to thank you after all your recent transphobic outpourings, but let me explain…

I certainly don't thank you for your lengthy essay last month where you describe the abuse you have suffered (for which you have my sympathy) and in which you stated that you do not hate trans people, while at the same time peddling even more anti-trans mis-information. Sadly, your diatribe directly caused some trans children to self-harm and other to attempt suicide.

Keep Reading Show less