From These Ashes

I was floored by the realization that what these kids have been through is comparable to the Nazis in Germany: the selection and ethnic cleansing, the concentration camps and all that went with that. It was (and is) shocking to think that the Yazidis can relate to this, on so many levels, and that Corrie’s experience will most likely resonate with them in ways we can’t even being to imagine

Several weeks ago I met with a woman who lives and works in northern Iraq/Kurdistan with ISIS survivors (Yazidi and Muslim), most of them former slaves (and mostly children). Dina* had heard about the Curriculum and wanted to know if it was something she could take back to Kurdistan with her, to use in her restorative therapy center. Sitting there with her, listening to her tell story after story about these communities and what they have been through in recent years, was both devastating and intensely hopeful – a tension I wasn’t sure how to navigate emotionally. I just listened in silence, stunned by the extent of the suffering these children have been through, awed by the work that she and her staff are doing to help these kids heal and give them hope for a better future, and completely humbled by her desire to use the Curriculum to that end. Continue reading “From These Ashes”

Messages of Hope

“Do one good thing every day that everyone else is scared to do” — Leymah Gbowee

In honor of International Day of Peace, celebrated on September 21st, it gives me great pleasure to share a couple of short videos from two of our peace heroes, Leymah Gbowee from Liberia, and Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish from Gaza, Palestine. These messages are directed towards all students of the Peace Heroes Curriculum.

For a description of our interaction with Leymah Gbowee during the women’s peace march that took place in October 2016, please read the blog post entitled “When Lives Collide.”

For a description of Dr. Abuelaish’s visit to one of our pilot schools in March 2017, please read the blog post entitled “Brave Is.”

May these messages of peace inspire each and every one of us to continue to play our part – big or small – in bringing hope to people, both near and far.

 

Miracle Mother

“Mum Shirl’s enormous compassion and her endless generosity towards all people in need were without equal . . . She will never be forgotten for her tireless work for justice for the Aboriginal people”

August 9th marks International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples. According to the United Nations,

Indigenous peoples are inheritors and practitioners of unique cultures and ways of relating to people and the environment. They have retained social, cultural, economic and political characteristics that are distinct from those of the dominant societies in which they live . . . Indigenous peoples have sought recognition of their identities, way of life and their right to traditional lands, territories and natural resources for years, yet throughout history, their rights have always been violated. Indigenous peoples today are arguably among the most disadvantaged and vulnerable groups of people in the world.

One of my favorite units to write for the Curriculum was the one on Australia, probably because I was least familiar with that country’s history and was absolutely fascinated by all that I learned. Though there are many inspiring Australians I could have written on, I chose to focus on the Aboriginal community’s history as well as its long quest for dignity and equality in modern-day Australia. The peace heroes featured in that unit are amazing individuals who found ways to make a change for good in that tangled and often tragic story. On this day, which honors the world’s Indigenous people, it is my privilege and honor to share an abridged version of one of these heroes’ biographies – an Aboriginal woman whose life of limitless compassion has left its indelible mark on Australian history. Continue reading “Miracle Mother”

The Heart of the Matter

In learning about the peace heroes, students learn about what it means to be human, first. Yes, they learn history in the process; they learn some geography; they learn about key issues affecting people around the world. But the primary learning happens on a different level altogether. And that’s what makes all the difference

“History holds the potential, only partly realized, of humanizing us in ways offered by few other areas in the school curriculum” [1]

Someone recently asked me some very poignant questions about the way in which the Curriculum engages with today’s accepted historical method of inquiry. The conversation, though fascinating and insightful, made me realize how important it is to set down expectations about what the Curriculum is – and what it isn’t. The purpose of the Curriculum is not historical inquiry. Rather, the Curriculum aims to develop students’ ability to take historical and current narratives and find ways to connect these to their own life-circumstances in a way that inspires them to step out and take responsibility for the realities around them. In other words, it’s not about gathering and analyzing information, but about transformation – on a personal, communal, and even global level. More important than the historical details are the values that will hopefully be remembered and applied. Continue reading “The Heart of the Matter”

Girl Against All Odds

Malala knew she was putting her life at risk, but being denied her basic human right to education was not something she was willing to accept quietly, without a fight. Silence was what the Taliban wanted of her. Silence was what she refused to give them

Several weeks ago I had the honor of visiting one of our Israeli pilot schools, where the 8th graders were giving presentations on the first peace hero they had studied. The teachers were quick to point out that this was a special event (“8th graders don’t do presentations!”), and the school even opened up its auditorium for the occasion. In total, six groups presented on Malala Yousafzai, each of them focusing on a different aspect of her life and work. Two of the teams did presentations that looked at Malala and children’s rights (the right to education) and Malala and women’s rights, and the various issues that arise from a violation of these rights and freedoms. It was fascinating watching Israeli students talk about their Muslim counterpart (Malala was a student just like them). The discussion that followed the presentations was also quite remarkable, as the teacher deliberately guided the students into an examination of these issues as they are manifested here in Israel. For many of the students, it was an exercise in awareness – suddenly they were able to transfer what they had learned about Malala into their own personal context, which, in turn, raised some very poignant questions and led to a very passionate/heated debate. I was pleased to see how interacting with this peace hero was making the students grapple with their own reality. That, I thought, is exactly the point of the Curriculum.

Inspired by this school visit and in honor of International Women’s Day, I thought I’d share an abridged version of my write-up on Malala from the Peace Heroes Curriculum. May her life story inspire each and every one of us to look at our own contexts with new awareness of and sensitivity for the rights and freedoms of those within our sphere of influence.

Continue reading “Girl Against All Odds”

Radical Welcome

Love – in its essence – is boundless. It has no borders; no stop signs; no inherent law that says “thus far and no further.” On the contrary: the nature of love is to grow, not diminish. Peace heroes are those who understand the worth and value of all life, and who are propelled to action by the desire to restore dignity to a broken world

In March 2016, Muslim extremists carried out a terrible attack in Brussels, Belgium, killing 32 innocent people and injuring more than 300. Two days later, on Holy Thursday, while Europe was still reeling from the bombing and anti-immigrant/Muslim sentiments were on the rise, Pope Francis washed the feet of twelve asylum seekers, including Muslims from Syria and Pakistan. “Today, at this time,” said the Pope, “let us all make a gesture of brotherhood, and let us all say: ‘We are different, we are different, we have different cultures and religions, but we are brothers and we want to live in peace.’” It was a powerful expression of what can only be described as radical welcome.

Continue reading “Radical Welcome”

Where There is Hope

“True change begins with the strong, beautiful, broken individuals in a nation”

These days it is easy to fall prey to a growing sense of despair – I’m almost afraid to read the news, afraid to hear of the latest development, be it locally or abroad, that is guaranteed to increase the rift between peoples, obscuring the inviolability of our shared humanity. While I was feeling increasingly helpless and hopeless, it was the students participating in our pilot program who reminded me that despair is, in itself, a kind of illusion – a willed forgetfulness. For isn’t it fundamentally true that so long as there is even one person working to heal the wounds of his or her fellow human beings, there is still hope – a light shining in the darkness, robbing the darkness of its killing power? Continue reading “Where There is Hope”

Starved for Dignity

The beggar in downtown Jerusalem taught me that the greatest gift we can give each other is the gift of acceptance. It might seem like a small step, but in choosing to affirm human dignity – to accept people because they are people – we inadvertently declare war on one of the most consistent violators of human freedom

Many years ago I was walking in downtown Jerusalem and came to a major intersection where I had to wait for the pedestrian light to turn green. In that short minute, an old, hunchbacked beggar shuffled up to the crowd of delayed pedestrians and began shaking his little coin-filled plastic cup in our faces – something all of us tried very hard to ignore. I was relieved when the light turned green and I could hurriedly walk away from this awkward encounter. But as I reached the other side, the sudden blaring of car horns made me turn my head, and I was horrified to see the old man slowly limping his way across the busy street. Muttering under my breath, I ran into the street, grabbed the beggar by his elbow, and led him to safety. Feeling a touch of guilt, I grabbed a few coins from my pocket and tossed them into the beggar’s hand. But before I quite understood what was happening, he gently placed the coins back into my hand, leaned forward and whispered, “Thank you – for touching me,” before slowly making his way to another group of delayed pedestrians.

I stood there, in the midst of all the city’s chaos, completely stunned.

Continue reading “Starved for Dignity”

Only Love Can Do That

There is a certain irony to the fact that the very first fire to break out when the high winds began was at the Jewish-Arab village of Neve Shalom-Wahat al-Salam – the only place in Israel where Jews and Palestinians live together in an intentionally shared community

When our 5th/6th grade teacher asked the students to rewrite Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous quote that “Hate cannot drive out hate – only love can do that,” one of them offered this alternative: “Fire cannot put out fire, only water can do that.”

For the past few days, countries in this region of the Middle East have experienced unusually high winds that have caused an unprecedented outbreak of fires [1]. The strong winds are coming from the east – from the desert – meaning that the air is almost completely devoid of moisture. The combination of wind, dry air, and a parched landscape still waiting for the winter rains to arrive has turned any outbreak of fire into a potential disaster, on both the environmental and humanitarian levels. Forests and houses have simply gone up in flames.

In Israel, negligence and arson have both been cited as the causes behind these fires [2]. In the current political climate, it didn’t take long for politicians to start throwing accusations in the direction of the local Palestinian population as a whole, which, helped along by the media, only added fuel to the emotional fires that have been burning out of control for quite some time. Meanwhile, on the Palestinian side, there were those who did not attempt to hide their delight at Israel’s misfortune, with some even calling on people to deliberately start more fires.  Continue reading “Only Love Can Do That”