Why retired teacher went all-out to take teens on trip to visit U.N.

Reading books and looking at pictures is great, but nothing facilitates learning like travel. Not only do children get to see a world beyond their neighborhood, they get to experience it — feel it, taste it, hear it, and better understand the world around them.

After nearly four decades in the classroom and traveling the world, Phyllis Duvall Bailey knew this perhaps better than anyone.

And so after moving to Atlanta and becoming involved with the Kappa Omega chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc. and the work it is doing educating children about the United Nations, there was no doubt in Bailey’s mind the lessons would mean so much more if the students could see things for themselves.

It wasn’t just that. Bailey and Tiffany Irene Coulibaly, Southeast regional representative of United Nations USA, a grassroots organization dedicated to supporting the United Nations, had been teaching students in the chapter’s A.S.C.E.N.D. mentoring program about the United Nations long enough to realize that most of them had never traveled outside their neighborhood, let alone Georgia.

If they couldn’t even grasp a world outside of Georgia, they thought, how could they grasp the work of the United Nations?

It made sense.

Even if you’ve heard of the United Nations, you may not know what it actually does, how it works, or why. You may not know even that the organization was founded after the Second World War or that its mission is to maintain international peace and promote social progress, better living standards and human rights.

Starting in 2015, Bailey, 82, set out to take her students to the U.N. in New York City, to give them a "Window Seat to the World" and thus transform them into global citizens.

LeKeisha Jackson, president of the Kappa Omega chapter, liked the idea. It fit perfectly with the mission of A.S.C.E.N.D., also known as Achievement, Self-Awareness, Communication, Engagement, Networking and Developmental Skills.

“We were 100% behind it,” Jackson said. “We saw it as a great opportunity to give our students national and international exposure.”

RELATED: Former Morehouse professor’s serve America tours win AARP grant

Bailey saw the students as future leaders and was desperate to expose them to the United Nations, its mission, its agendas and its supporting organizations. The Window Seat to the World Initiative, a joint program of the United Nations Association of the United States of America and the Kappa Omega chapter, promised to do just that.

For the next four years, Bailey and Coulibaly sought funding from local business and civic organizations to help underwrite the cost of the trip. Southwest Airlines gave them a group rate for air travel, a private donor contributed $1,000 and Kappa Omega, among others, made donations, but it wasn’t enough.

“Finally, one day I woke up and thought, I’m not getting where I want,” she told me recently.

Bailey decided to give $10,000 of her own money to pay for the late June trip, enough to take 10 students aged 14-17 on a four-night stay in New York.

“I was in complete awe,” Coulibaly said.

There, they had guided tours of the United Nations Headquarters and the New York City harbor. They dined on Indian to Peruvian cuisine, visited the 9/11 Memorial and on the final day participated in a spirited worship service at Salem United Methodist Church of Harlem.

RELATED: Nathaniel Brown’s journey from foster care to PhD. candidate

It was Quenyaun Payne’s first trip to the city and Taylor Sappington’s second.

Payne, 17, is a rising senior at McEachern High in Powder Springs. Sappington, 15, is a rising junior at Therrell High in Atlanta.

Both said their visit to the United Nations was inspiring.

“I liked how countries are not only working together, they’re focused on common goals like global warming and keeping the peace,” Sappington said.

Said Payne: “The trip was amazing. I’m so thankful Mrs. Bailey made it possible.”

Actually, there are a lot of people grateful for the retired teacher’s effort.

The United Nations Association of Atlanta recently gave Bailey its Humanitarian Award, the United Nations Association of the USA awarded her with the National Education Award, and members of the Kappa Omega chapter will recognize Bailey during their annual awards banquet this fall.

Credit: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

And to kick off the establishment of the Phyllis Duvall Bailey Humanitarian Scholarship by the United Nations Association of Atlanta and Kappa Omega, the organizations gave her a $1,000 check.

To be clear, Bailey wasn’t looking for recognition or even gratitude.

Over those four days in New York, she’d already felt it, seen it in the eyes of those 10 teens, Payne and Sappington included, who made the trip.

“It has been a real joy to get to see and watch their reaction to new experiences,” she said.

Find Gracie on Facebook (www.facebook.com/graciestaplesajc/) and Twitter (@GStaples_AJC) or email her at gstaples@ajc.com.