What gets me up in the morning is working with young people, particularly in community colleges. I am always honored to be asked to present to the Community College Initiative Program students at Northern Virginia Community College (NOVA).
Today I met with these 30 students from 11 countries: India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Ghana, South Africa, Colombia, Brazil, Dominican Republic, Turkey, and Cote d'Ivore. They are in the U.S. for one year taking courses at NOVA. Comparable groups go to other community colleges in the U.S. Every year over 100 foreign students participate in the program.
With the students I focused on defining peace and then what they could do personally and professionally in their own countries to build peace. We first explored definitions of peace, emphasizing "means" over "ends." It is the means to peace that are critical. As Gandhi famously said, "as the means, so the end." Dialogue, negotiation, education, and service are all important means to creating a peaceful world.
In looking at careers, I had them engage in "Career Bingo" which I have used often with students. This game allows them to learn about others' interests and in the process better think about what they can accomplish in their own countries and communities.
I ended with my "peace entrepreneur" activity. Here, students are divided into groups and asked to come up with a product or service that they can develop (using a grant of $500,000) to build peace and wellness in their communities. Students developed programs on green education (for young children), a teacher training program for remote parts of Indonesia (looked like Peace Corps), a campaign to teach gun safety, a program to empower women in the work place, a program that trained locals to grow sustainable crops in order to solve poverty, and a program to take used clothing and recycle them for new use.
A key to peace is empowering young people with the tools to identify the challenges in their communities, develop the strategies to respond, and then assemble the expertise and resources to get it done. Outsiders can provide inspiration, guidance, and some assistance, but ultimately local communities themselves must meet their own challenges. One student shared that he didn't want to develop a program that was dependent on outsiders and their assistance, rather he wanted to develop something that was sustainable long after the experts would leave.
We are living in a political climate today where there is cynicism about supporting global education. We witness xenophobia and a strong resistance to foreigners. All Americans need to remember that their forefathers and mothers were immigrants and looked to this land for opportunity and a fresh start. In addition, Americans have long believed that our largess and advantages need to be used for the greater good including supporting the aspirations of those in other countries who are often living in marginalized environments. Being a true American, at least in my view, requires holding on to these values.