International Global Citizen's Award

encouraging young people to become better global citizens

Understanding other Cultures and Outlooks: Human Libraries and Indigenous People



Centres have commented that the Award section Understanding other cultures and outlooks is the one they find most challenging to implement.


Here are some further ideas and resources that I have recently encountered.


Human Library

The idea of a “human library” originated in Denmark 20 years ago. In the same way that people can borrow books from a regular library, the human library offered opportunities for people to “borrow” – or talk to – individual people, who offered experience or expertise in a specified area.


This project continues in Denmark (, and has been introduced in other countries too. A successful human library has been introduced in Mumbai, for instance ( (Human libraries were unable to operate during Covid lockdowns, and are currently re-establishing themselves.)


Orla Carlin, a teacher in an international school in Dubai, introduced the same idea in her school. She arranged for teachers from different cultural backgrounds in her school to act as “books” for students to interact with. Students prepared ten open-ended questions to ask the “book” they “borrowed”. The exercise aimed to benefit students’ oral work, as well as to inform them about other cultures.


Adapting this idea in IGCA centres could be an engaging and valuable way for IGCA participants to find out more about other cultures.


On a similar theme, the IGCA has developed a structured interview for participants to use in asking questions to a person with a different cultural/socio-economic background – Face-to-Face.

Two versions are attached: one developed by me (BR) for use with older students (aged 15+), and another modified by Andy Greenall (AG) for use with younger students.



Indigenous people

Finding out about indigenous people can be an interesting way for participants to find out more about other cultures and outlooks. Looking at the lives of indigenous people can provide an opportunity to learn about other and very different ways of life, and to raise questions about our own lifestyles.


One common issue with finding out about indigenous people is that they sometimes be portrayed in exotic or stereotypical ways, which are more “colourful” but do not reflect the complexities of their 21st century lives.


Here are some guidelines, when finding out more about indigenous people.


  1. Try to stand back from existing ideas, stereotypes and prejudices – set to one side what you think you already know about these people, and let them speak or show you things for themselves.


  1. Where possible, avoid resources produced by Western or other people, which may be misrepresentations or focus on stereotypes. There is a tendency to romanticise the ways of life of indigenous people and focus on what may be considered “primitive” or more “exotic” aspects of their life – to focus on aspects of difference from our lifestyles.

For instance, it may seem more interesting to think of Inuit people living in igloos rather than houses, or people living by the sea using sails to propel their boats rather than petrol-driven outboard motors.


  1. So, learn about indigenous people in their own words or using resources they have produced themselves.


  1. Consider the challenges to their ways of life from the actions of other people, governments and companies.


  1. Consider how indigenous people are interacting with and benefiting from resources produced in other societies, for instance manufactured clothes, or medicines produced by pharmaceutical companies. Consider the complexities of their lives, combining traditional aspects of lifestyle with influences or resources from other societies.




Native Knowledge 360 produced by the Smithsonian Institution has lesson plans and resources all designed to incorporate Native American perspectives and more accurate historical accounts.


The Amazon Rainforest Was Profoundly Changed by Ancient Humans

An article in The Atlantic presenting research than shows that the Amazon has been shaped by human activity and cultivation over 8,000 years. It indicates that indigenous people have manipulated the forest to produce the forest what we know today.


 Angry Inuk is a one-hour documentary with an Inuit director, about Inuit seal-hunters (available on Vimeo:; also available on Amazon Prime).


Ka'a Zar Ukyze Wà - Forest Keepers in Danger is a short indigenous-directed documentary about the uncontacted Awa people of Brazil.


Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer is a book by a Native American and professor of environmental biology. This highly accessible book talks about the synthesis between Indigenous culture, Indigenous knowledge of plants and ecology.


(The guidelines and resources above draw on an article by Callum Mason


Deadly Story

A website produced by aboriginal people in Australia for young indigenous people.

It includes factual background and personal stories from various aboriginal people.

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