“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.” — Mark Twain, “Innocents Abroad”

Mark Twain’s enduring endorsement of foreign travel appeared in his book, “Innocents Abroad,” back in 1869, but is perhaps even more relevant today. 

Just ask the dozens of Key West High School students who, since 2011, have visited different countries with art teacher Shannon Perkins and the One World One Canvas nonprofit program.

“Our traveling teenagers benefit from a worldly sophistication as we become ambassadors for our country,” Perkins said.

The program started with a trip to Haiti in 2011, following the devastating 2010 earthquake that claimed an estimated 200,000 lives and destroyed even more homes in the already-struggling nation. 

The mission of One World One Canvas is to “unite cultures through the power of art,” and each trip comes with a specific set of objectives. Students have brought humanitarian items to Haiti, and have helped rebuild and paint schools, churches and homes. They also bring plenty of art supplies and complete projects with young people for whom such supplies and projects are an unfamiliar luxury.

One World One Canvas has visited Haiti several times, as well as Costa Rica, Nicaragua and Panama. The June 2022 trip will be the first foray to Australia, where students will work alongside wildlife conservation experts to help koalas and other animals that were displaced or injured in the country’s searing wildfires. The two-week trip was initially scheduled for this year, but had to be postponed due to COVID travel restrictions.

Students raise their own money for the adventure, and participate in group fundraisers, Perkins said.

“I’m so excited, I’ve been fundraising like crazy,” said KWHS senior Emma Carter. “I’ve never been out of the country before. I’ve actually never been out of the southern United States. And I use a wheelchair, so I’m a little nervous, but I think I’ll be fine.”

One World One Canvas has received a $12,000 matching grant from the local Marion Stevens Fund, which is managed by the Community Foundation of the Florida Keys and was created by the late Marion Stevens, a Key West arts patron.

The fund is intended “to benefit children, particularly in the areas of health, education and teenage pregnancy; to support the visual and performing arts; to sustain those persons and groups which strive to abolish discrimination in all of its forms; to advance the cause of those individuals and entities which seek to improve the quality of life for all of us, for humanity and for our future generations.”

One World One Canvas checks nearly all of those boxes, and is exceedingly grateful for the grant, which will help defer costs for each student, Perkins said.

Individual donors also support the trip, often as repeat benefactors.

“Hopefully people can see the value of their investment coming back into our community, as our students experience other cultures and learn from doing and traveling,” Perkins said.

“The objectives of this trip are to give local teenagers the opportunity to travel to Australia to learn about the art of photography, to help with rescue, conservation and sanctuary of Australia’s wildlife affected by the fires, and to provide art workshops to Aboriginal children. We remember Marion Stevens as an art lover and hope that this trip will instill a similar passion for art and travel in our teens.

“In Australia, One World One Canvas travelers will care for sick, injured and orphaned koalas, while learning about koala conservation. We will volunteer with rangers, caring for kangaroos and wallabies, including planting and gathering food, feeding and cleaning the animals and their area. Additionally, the One World One Canvas teens will teach art projects to underprivileged, indigenous children, including design of functional items like hats and T-shirts,” states the trip description.

After each trip, students submit an essay and photographs that are published in a professionally bound and printed hardcover book.

“The One World One Canvas experience gives teens proficiencies that solidly back college applications, help with scholarships, and even guide career paths,” Perkins said.

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Mandy Miles drops stuff, breaks things and falls down more than any adult should. She's married to a saintly — and handy — fisherman, and has been stringing words together in Key West since 1998.