Saturday, June 25, 2011

Peace Daily online paper is worth a look

I've discovered through Twitter an interesting compilation of peace-related news called The Peace Daily. It's an interesting mix of news, blogs, and peace resources. They've even had the (semi) good sense to link to my Peace Journalism home page.

Students, teacher assess Peace Camp experience

Even though PTPI's Peace Camp/Turkey ended about a week ago, I continue to receive dozen of messages (and FB picture tags) from the camp's young participants. The teens were asked on FB what Peace Camp meant to them. Here are some of their replies:

--The best experience of my life. I learn about so many things, meet the most amazing people. Peace camp change my life.
--The most life changing experience of my life. Its made me open my eyes to so many things and has giveing confidence to acheve what ever I want. Peace camp is a life changer in so many ways!!
--Just like a candle in a dark room. People far from it will say "That's nothing" but people close to it will feel everything. Warm, bright and kinda "energetic". That was my peace camp. I'm sure this candle will light forever inside me.
--I experienced something that I had only learned from a textbook before: There is so much more to the world than just my country, and I love all these people from the rest of the world. But it doesn't matter where we are, what we eat, how we live, because what matters is the people and the connections you make with them.

What Peace Camp meant to me was an affirmation not only that most people are fundamentally good but that the political, nationalistic, racial, and religious barriers between us are only obstacles if we choose to see them as such. These teenagers chose to ignore the barriers, and the result was wonderful. (For more on peace camp, see previous posts below)

Monday, June 20, 2011

Great kids make for memorable Peace Camp experience

Why would anyone voluntarily agree to spend 11 days with a bunch of teenagers?

If you believe the stereotypes about these alleged slackers—lazy, self centered, video heads, drugged out, dispassionate—then this prospect must seem like 11 days in purgatory.

Fortunately, the popular “wisdom” was wrong. The energy, compassion, intelligence, and camaraderie of these teens have given me renewed hope for the future.

I was a volunteer group leader for People to People International’s Peace Camp in Turkey. 28 teenagers from 23 countries discovered Turkey, studied about peace, practiced peace journalism by producing a newspaper (click here to view), and mostly learned about themselves.

The Turkey trip came at a good time for me. I was pretty burned out and cynical after 10 difficult months teaching and learning in Uganda. This was a rewarding experience, yes, but also tough because of the poverty and suffering I witnessed there. This experience with the teens in Turkey helped to re-charge my batteries emotionally and renew my optimism.

At the Peace Camp, we visited Istanbul, Cappadocia, Izmir, and Antalya. Some of our most powerful memories were formed at the camp’s last session in Antalya, a Russian resort on the Mediterranean. (We weren’t technically in Russian territory, of course, but the place was packed with 95% Russian tourists). At this last session, the kids made the camp’s leaders and organizers proud as we discussed what the youngsters would do to make a positive difference in their communities. Their worthwhile plans included launching projects to serve children and the elderly, establishing People to People student chapters at their schools, starting a club to facilitate micro-loans to the developing world, and launching Model United Nations teams. Perhaps the most audacious proposal came from an Israeli student who wants to connect Israeli student organizations with their counterparts in Palestine, Egypt, and/or Jordan.

As the peace journalism instructor at Peace Camp, I was especially gratified to hear several youngsters promise to write newspaper articles and host radio programs promoting peace.

The students were no doubt inspired not only by one another but by two of the adults on the trip, Mary Eisenhower, CEO of People to People International, and Barb Capozzi, one of the group leaders. Both are shining examples of how one person can indeed make the world a better place.

If these Peace Campers seem like great kids, it’s because they are. For example, a few days ago, four students and I were sitting on a short wall after lunch admiring a breathtaking view. One of the kids saw some trash scattered below, and asked if she could jump down a few feet to pick it up. Before I knew it, she was joined by three other students who had grabbed a trash bag. After a few minutes, trash bag full, the students clambered back over the wall. As they filed through the dining area, one of our guides told the youngsters, “You are my heroes.”

I couldn’t have said it better myself.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Outstanding student-produced newspaper posted

The 2011 Peace Gazette newspaper has been posted online. To see this .pdf file (and to print it out if you like), click here. This 10-page paper is outstanding work especially since it was produced under very tight time constraints. I'm very proud of all of the student writers and photographers, and especially of the four editors of the publication. Congratulations.

Also, see newly posted photo album containing misc photos and a few leftovers from Perge, Ephesus, the Virgin Mary's last home, etc.

For an overview of all the Peace Camp photo albums I've posted, click here. This page also contains all my Uganda peace journalism project photos.

Coming soon--My wrap-up Peace Camp column.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Peace Campers relax, reflect in Antalya

ANTALIA, TURKEY—Amid hugs and tears, 28 young people from around the world are saying goodbye to one another at People to People’s Peace Camp here in Turkey. The students have worked hard (producing a newspaper, and learning in sessions about peace) and played hard (tours of ancient sites, boating/swimming trip at the sea).

Also newly posted is a photo spread from the campers recent visit to the ancient Greek city of Ephesus. Spectacular. Click here to view.

On the same day we visited Ephasus, we visited the last home of the Virgin Mary, which is located near the ruins. (Photo--Group leader Barb Capozzi exploring the Virgin Mary's home).

The peace campers head for home tonight and tomorrow. Safe travels.

NEXT WEEK—One last Peace Camp column, and several more photo spreads, will be posted here on Monday or Tuesday.

Also, the campers’ newspaper, The Peace Gazette, will also be posted/linked here early next week. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Peace Campers Display Creativity, Visit Historic Ephesus

Last night, PTPI Peace Campers spend a few hours before and after dinner working on peace murals, which were as colorful as they were creative. Click here for photo album of the mural-making.

Today, the 28 campers and their four escorts visited inspiring Ephesus (pictured), an ancient Greek city located near Izmir, where we are staying. The students loved everything, especially the 20,000 seat ampitheater. Very, very impressive.

Religon, Spirituality Take Center Stage at Turkey Peace Camp

IZMIR, TURKEY—Take some Jews, Christians, Muslims, agnostics, and Hindus, stick them in a room, and see if they'd like to discuss their spiritual beliefs.

Under normal circumstances, such a chore would come with a “may cause serious injury or death” warning. Fortunately, at Peace Camp, which brings together 28 of the world’s finest teenagers, this kind of otherwise dangerous dialogue can be done in a mature, respectful, and accepting manner.

The session began with a religion quiz administered by facilitator Barb Capozzi, who deserves a Nobel Prize for her ability to getting the participants to open up without feeling apprehensive. The quiz was really hard—I got 11/20, and probably did better than most. Following the quiz, Barb asked each of the Peace Campers to get up and explain their spiritual beliefs.

Christians were the largest segment of the teens, which come from 23 countries. They had an interesting discussion about the fact that they don’t agree on the date of Christmas (Jan. 7 for some orthodox; Dec. 25 for others), and also explored how rituals vary from denomination to denomination. They were followed by students intelligently discussing Judaism, Sikhism, and Islam.

The last group of youngsters to speak was loosely labeled non-believers, and consisted of atheists, agnostics, a secular humanist, and several students that said of their spiritual beliefs, “it’s complicated”. Their comments were especially interesting since these beliefs, though widely held, are often hidden because of fear of being ostracized.

A few of the students came right out and said that they do not believe in a higher being. One said that “science facts” turned him away from religion. One other said he believed in a higher power, but that she could not adhere to a religion because of the “bad things it did in the past.” Another commented that she has a “higher regard to reasoning, that which can be proven.” The “it’s complicated” student noted that he is not religious but does have strong spiritual beliefs. Perhaps the most interesting comment was when a Peace Camper said, “I don’t believe in God, but I might one day.”

Several of the non-religious students also commented on the stigma they might face if they openly discussed their beliefs back at home. About half said that they would feel free and open letting others know that they aren’t religious. Others said that “people wouldn’t be happy” and that they would receive negative comments. The most revealing comment was perhaps when a student noted, “People don’t believe that you’ve decided (to not be religious). People say oh, you haven’t searched enough. It’s definitely taboo.”

Thanks to the camaraderie of the Peace Camp, and the warmth and sense of security generated by Barb Capozzi, nothing was taboo today in Izmir.

--Also follow me on Twitter-- @PeaceJourn

Monday, June 13, 2011

Peace Murals Cap Off Long Day

After a 3:30am wake up call to catch a plane, the PTPI peace campers arrived in Izmir, Turkey late this morning. It was a busy, full day that was capped off by an exciting activity--creating murals that depict peace. This is still a work in progress. A complete photo album will be posted tomorrow.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Peace Campers arrive in stunning Cappadocia

We arrived in Cappadocia yesterday, and were stunned by the surreal majesty of the landscape, which features geological formations that rival those anywhere. All the more fascinating is the fact that these conical formations have been carved out and used as homes, monestaries, castles, and forts for hundreds of years.

For a complete photo album of Cappadocia, including the fascinating geography and the dinner at the Turkish home described below, click here.

Home visit facilitates invaluable people-to-people connections

CAPPADOCIA, TURKEY—I watched the students closely as they walked up the stairs and into the living room of a typical Turkish family. If I had to choose one word to describe their demeanors (and mine), I would say we were all apprehensive.

Two hours later, our demeanor would be more than slightly different.

The four students and I were at a Turkish home as part of People to People Peace Camp, which is bringing 28 young people from 23 countries together to experience peace. Several couples from a parallel adult program also joined us.

The idea of the in-home evening was to expose us to a typical Turkish residence and some home-cooked Turkish delicacies.

As we sat down around a table in the living room, there was an awkward silence. I know the kids and I were thinking the same thing—what should we talk about? We were saved as the food began arriving. The delicious dinner broke the ice, and gave us all something to discuss, namely what it was and how it was prepared. I was proud of our Peace Camp kids, who cheerfully ate everything that was put in front of them. The dinner consisted of traditional salad, tasty really long grained rice garnished with yogurt, spectacularly delicious lentil soup, and an interesting pudding made with honey and tiny bits of chicken. I honestly enjoyed everything. The kids were wonderfully diplomatic and gracious, even though the odds were against them liking everything that was served.

The conversation picked up during dinner, and reached overdrive as we sipped flavorful, strong tea in a sitting room. I talked politics and sports with our genial host Ismail, who moved about the room making it a point to spend at least a few minutes with each guest. Ismail’s nephew Ahmed, 12, also hung around, curious but shy. Finally, I called him over, and he walked sheepishly to the comfortable stuffed chair where I sat. I found out that Ahmed is learning English, so we practiced a few greetings. Then, Ahmed taught me some Turkish (table, for example, is masa).

Our students educated their hosts about their home countries like Lithuania and Morocco, and we all shared a warm feeling when Ismail’s sister-in-law brought out colorful head scarves as gifts for the ladies in our party.

As we left, I watched the students again closely. Their body language was much different than when they arrived, especially as they exchanged handshakes, hugs, email addresses, and cheek kisses with our hosts. Ahmed was pretty excited when I told him to email me his English assignments for feedback.

The idea behind People to People is that individuals can make connections that governments can’t or won’t, and that these connections can lay the foundation for peace. Anyone who doubts the viability of this idea wasn’t at dinner with us last night in Cappadocia, Turkey.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Peace Campers Provide Surprise, Delight


Peace Camp 2011 has thus far been full of surprises.

I was surprised yesterday when our 28 students from 23 countries visited an educational center for special needs children. The center was spotless, modern, and well-run, and included many different kinds of programs ranging from cultural education to art.

During our visit, our students got a chance to meet and interact with about 15 differentially-abled Turkish youngsters who were working on pottery and craft projects. I was surprised and pleased at how our students jumped right in and interacted. I saw several even taking up a paint brush to help. As a teen, I would have been reluctant, even a bit scared, in a similar situation, but not our peace campers. You can’t fake the smiles that radiated from both the creative kids at the center and our peace campers as they got to know one another.

Honestly, however, I wasn't surprised yesterday at how much the students enjoyed our sightseeing at the Grand Bazzar (photo below) and Spice Market. This included a stop in a local restaurant for tasty doner kebap (see picture right).

I was equally surprised today by the peace journalism session I taught this afternoon. I knew our peace campers were exceptional, but I was really floored by the level of discourse during the lecture. The students asked analytical, sophisticated questions, and did not hesitate to challenge me. If I had closed my eyes, I would have thought I was back at Park University teaching juniors or seniors. Only three of the 28 students here are currently in college, while the rest are just in high school. I could barely walk and chew gum in high school, let alone engage in a nuanced discussion about the role of the media in preventing conflicts.

Now, the students have been tasked with writing and producing a newspaper covering the camp and international peace issues. Based on our first few days together, my expectations for this student newspaper are sky-high. (It will be posted and linked from this site, so stay tuned).

Tomorrow, we fly to Cappadocia for what should be a thrilling few days of sightseeing and learning about peace.

NEW--Photos from the second day of the peace camp which included a visit to the Grand Bazzar and Spice Market and a presentation on conflicts and resources, click here.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Mediocre Day Two Photos Posted!

For some bland photos from the Grand Bazzar, Spice Market, and Peace/Resource Conflict sessions from day two, click here!

Students Model Civility, Explore Breathtaking City

ISTANBUL, TURKEY—PEACE CAMP, DAY ONE--It didn’t take long for the Israeli-Palestinian issue to come up today, at the first day of People to People International’s Peace Camp. However, since establishing dialogue between different people is one of the goals of the camp, no one objected.

At Peace Camp, 28 students from 23 countries have gathered to discuss, well, peace. We have one student from Palestine (the West Bank), and another student from Israel.

At lunch, our Palestinian student (Zain) and our Israeli student (Yuval) discussed peace prospects in their region. (They are pictured here, with Zain on the left, visiting the Hagia Sofia). While not much new ground was broken, I was taken aback by the civility and politeness of the discussion. Indeed, the respect shown by both students was remarkable—indeed, something the world’s “adult” leaders could emulate.

Later, one of our group leaders, the irrepressible Barb Capozzi, reported that one student told her that she couldn’t believe that she was actually having a civil discussion with an Israeli.

Creating an atmosphere where the students can open up like this is certainly one of the goals of this endeavor, which kicked off with a discussion about expectations for the camp and was followed by some get-acquainted activities.

Then, the group toured some of Istanbul’s treasures—the Hagia Sophia, the Topkapi Palace, the Blue Mosque, and the underground cistern. All were exhausted but exhilarated by the day’s end, which featured a visit to an island restaurant for some of Turkey’s best kebabs.
(PJ Camp group leader Christine Knutter takes a much-needed break on the bus on the way back to the hotel).

For a complete photo album of the day's festivities, click here.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Safe in Turkey; Ready to make Peace

Safely arrived in Istanbul with five American students in tow late this Tuesday afternoon. All well, routine. Most of the 28 students from 23 countries have arrived. We had a lively group dinner tonight at a great restaurant near the hotel. (At least the students were lively. I'm jet lagged and more disoriented than usual. Am I still in Africa??) The youngsters are really fired up and enthusiastic about the upcoming People to People's Peace Camp, which begins in earnest tomorrow with a morning session about the nature of peace followed by an afternoon tour of the city.

It's pushing 10:00pm now, and I'm running on fumes. Hope I can sleep.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Off to Turkey; Follow our adventures here

Last minute preparations today for trip tomorrow to Instanbul. I'm a team leader for People to People Peace Camp, wherin 28 youth leaders from 23 countries will gather to learn about and create peace. I'll be teaching Peace Journalism and Non-violent conflict resolution. Stay tuned to this space for regular posts and links to photo albums. I'll also update on Twitter- @PeaceJourn

Flooding in Parkville

There will definitely be Missouri River flooding in Parkville, Missouri, my home base. The question is: how severe? Read The Parkville Luminary online for the latest updates. Our best wishes are with you, Parkville. Please stay safe.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Re-adjusting to the comforts of home

From the Parkville Luminary

On my first day back in Parkville after 10 months in Uganda, I backed out of a parking space and wheeled the car into the proper position on the left side of the road. A patient driver coming my direction just stopped, no doubt perplexed by my odd behaviour.

This must be what experts mean when they talk about reverse culture shock, which is loosely defined as difficulties re-adjusting to one’s native culture after living abroad. For me, reverse culture shock manifests itself mostly in my new penchant for driving on the left side of the road (like they do in Uganda), and for using odd British phrases and spellings (like the superfluous ‘u’ in ‘behaviour’ in the first paragraph).

While back home in Parkville, I’ve truthfully driven on the left side only a couple of times, and then for only a few seconds. Most of you have been patient with me, although I’ve gotten a couple of nasty honks as I’ve hesitated in mid-intersection thinking about whether to veer left or right of the median. Also, in left-hand driving countries, the car’s controls are switched around, too, meaning that the turn signal is on the right side. Thus, if you see someone signaling a left turn on Main Street by running his wipers, you’ll know it’s me.

I’ve also returned home infected by odd Ugandan/British takes on the English language. Uganda was a British colony, and thus unfortunately adopted British vocabulary like bonnet (hood), boot (trunk), lift (elevator), and pudding (not really pudding). Additionally, Ugandans will usually say “ummm” to acknowledge agreement. I admire this because it’s easier than saying “yes”, although to Kansas Citians, it sounds like you’re angry, deranged, or Frankenstein. I caught myself “ummm”-ing at a business meeting a few days after my return. After hearing my grunts, those meeting with me were probably waiting for me to blurt out something like “idea bad” or “me like synergy”. Also, Ugandans say “sure” when they mean “really?” or “are you kidding?” I haven’t used this yet, but it’s only a matter of time. Finally, there’s having to re-learn how to spell without the gratuitous British ‘u’ (e.g.-“labour”) or the missing ‘z’ (“agonise”).

While I’ve been combating reverse culture shock, I’ve also experienced an epiphany of sorts. Yes, it’s a sappy cliché: my lengthy stay overseas has instilled in me a renewed love and appreciation for America generally and Parkville and Park University in particular. My list of “things I now appreciate much more than before I left” is a mile long and growing. This list includes:

Roads—I’ll never complain about a few potholes again. Our roads are really, really good, even though it sometimes takes a millennium to get them fixed. I thought I would easily dodge construction on the White Alloe bridge near Park University. I did manage to avoid that mess, but by only a few weeks.
Bed—There is not a bed in Uganda as soft and comfortable as my bed at home.
Draft beer—There is no draft beer in Uganda. I will never whine again when a tavern runs out of my favorite draft beer. You say you have only Miller on tap? No problem!
Health Care—I fretted constantly while my wife and son were with me in Uganda about what I would do if they became seriously ill. I will never again take for granted having an ambulance and sophisticated emergency medical care only five minutes away.
Security—Uganda was in turmoil our last month there as protests expanded and become more violent. My project assistant was tear-gassed and nearly shot while trying to run errands recently. Naturally, we took every precaution to stay safe short of never leaving the apartment. Our forays into the community began to worry me more and more. I have a renewed appreciation of Parkville’s safety and serenity. (At least, it’s safe and serene for those of us who aren’t hot dog vendors).
Park University—I’m more appreciative than ever of my colleagues at Park who have encouraged my work and warmly received me upon my return. How many universities would be as supportive of a faculty member whose projects frequently take him away from campus for months at a time?

So, if you see someone with a contented, appreciative smile on his face driving on the left side making a turn with his windshield wipers on, feel free to ask, “Do you know you’re driving on the wrong side?” If the answer is “ummm”, you’ll know it’s me.

---Follow me on Twitter-- @PeaceJourn---