When I first applied for an internship at Kids4Peace, I anticipated a unique experience that would allow me to try new things while practicing writing and photography, two hobbies of mine. In school I have taken photography classes for two years, and writing has always been something I enjoy. Coming from a Lebanese background and being someone who has an avid interest in feminism and equality, this opportunity seemed to suit me perfectly. Little did I know, this experience would have a great impact on me.
It has restored my faith that peace can be made and that there are people working hard to make it happen. As I reflect on how I see the world today, I realize the division and disconnect between members of society. Especially in America during a very divisive election, it can be easy to get caught up in the hate that is being spread by politicians and celebrities.
The idea that our world is doomed and that we should all be living in fear has become an epidemic. I have found myself being affected by this pessimistic energy and perpetuating it by talking about politics and current events in a negative light, rather than focusing on the positive.
When I met the participants in the Global Institute, it felt like a breath of fresh air.
These were engaged teenagers who cared about the issues facing our world today.
They were hopeful, optimistic, and unapologetically confident in the work they’re doing.
When I walked into the room full of the participants and staff, I didn’t know what to expect. But from the moment I sat down with their discussion circles and listened to what they had to say, I was astonished. The youth expressed that they were nervous about the Global Institute, and they even shared what they needed in order to feel supported.
Their abilities to open up and share their thoughts and emotions in front of people that they didn’t know, as well as people who came from very different backgrounds from them, was completely foreign to me. I wasn’t used to seeing kids my age being so honest while also focused on working productively. That first impression was a lasting one.
I also learned more about the career path that I hope to pursue throughout my summer with Kids4Peace. During the Global Institute, we visited the State Department, The U.S. Institute of Peace, USAID, and The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, to name a few, meeting with senior officials from each institution. We even had the opportunity to meet with staffers from fifteen legislative offices in order to discuss a bill that would increase funding for peace organizations in Israel and Palestine.
These experiences gave me an inside look on how international policy and peace-building functions on a federal level, and it furthered my interest in studying matters like this later in life.
I was inspired when meeting the people who are doing the work I hope to someday do in my career.
For example, we met with Mati Amin, chairman of the board for School of Leadership, Afghanistan, the first and only all female boarding school in Afghanistan.
I am passionate about fighting for women’s rights around the world, and through learning about his path towards women’s rights advocacy I learned how I too can pursue a career in this field.
For example, I asked him during dinner what he studied in college to be able to do this kind of work. Instead of telling me a specific major as I expected, he told me to study what I love, and the career that follows college will be successful. It was a good reminder that passion is what makes seemingly lofty goals achievable.
The Global Institute has also allowed me to learn about other cultures and have an inside look on their point of view of issues the world is facing. In the past year, I have listened to anti-Muslim rhetoric in the media, and among my peers.
While I am strongly against it, I have felt its impact on my outlook. On the second day of the Global Institute, I tagged along while the Global Institute attended a Muslim prayer service that was held in a church. This alone is remarkable; it represented to many of the participants as well as myself the unity and solidarity that is achievable between these two religions. This was the first Muslim service that I had ever experienced, and I didn’t know anything about what it would be like as I first walked into the church. I saw men and women of all ages take their shoes off and begin gathering in the center and sides of the church, as I sat in the pews.
As the service went on, I was able to see how Muslims pray and practice their religion, as well as listen to powerful words spoken by the Imam. He discussed the hatred towards the Muslim community during the election, and the hardships that the Muslim community faces these days. Hearing this issue being spoken about to a group of Muslims who are the people directly impacted by this, instead of by people simply sharing their opinion on the matter, made his words all the more significant. But instead of focusing his attention on these challenges, the Imam spoke about making peace as a community, and even encouraged those in attendance to attend the Catholic prayer on Sunday to show solidarity after the killing of a Catholic priest. While I was touched by the wise words of the Imam, it was painful to hear him discuss the Islamophobia occurring in my own country. It reminded me of why I must never ignore it, and keep fighting for peace.
Perhaps the most inspiring part of the Global Institute was simply having conversations with the participants themselves. I was able to hear their stories, each one very different from the next, and their thoughts on the experiences throughout the week. From talking to the participants after visiting each place of worship, I learned that each experience reminded them of how similar the different religions truly are. They explained how each advocates for creating peace and unity, despite the prejudices that many have about certain faiths. They expressed how it felt to overcome their nervousness and gain confidence with public speaking, and what they learned from the speakers they met. They discussed the frustration they felt when disagreeing with their peers on serious issues such as solutions to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Writing blogs for the Global Institute forced me to continually ask the questions that led to hidden parts of each participant’s story. Because of this, I have learned to connect with people that I barely know and I believe of all the skills I acquired from working with Kids4Peace, this will take me the farthest.
I would like to thank Shoshana Abrams for giving me the opportunity to participate and be a part of the Kids4Peace team. Being able to help the participants share their stories and perspectives as well as helping more people learn about the great work Kids4Peace is doing was truly a once-in-lifetime experience that I will never forget. I have learned so much about myself and others, and I have made many new friends. While I thought entering this experience that I would be helpful towards the program, I have instead found it to be helpful towards my growth as a person.