Finding Hope Within Conflict: Cabot Students’ Writing Finds International Audience

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Although current Cabot High School students are too young to remember Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, the popular public television series produced by visionary Fred Rogers, they began the year guided by his words. "When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news,” Rogers said, “my mother would say to me, 'Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.' To this day, especially in times of 'disaster,' I remember my mother's words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers – so many caring people in this world."   

As students in the grades nine and ten humanities classes investigated historical and contemporary conflicts between Israelis and Palestinians, they found this message of hope still endures. In researching the work of many Israeli and Palestinian groups engaging in the type of work Fred Rogers described, students discovered the power and impact of these helpers. 

After researching and writing informational essays about these groups and gleaning words and phrases from their websites, students created found poems to spotlight their influence. These they printed on handmade paper and mounted with attention to careful design and layout of mixed media. (See photos.) Not content to simply display these at school, students reached out to an authentic audience, the groups themselves, emailing letters that recognized and honored their work.  Accompanying these emails were photographs of their found poems.

Soon students began to receive replies, and many groups expressed gratitude for the encouragement of Cabot students. Mifalot, an Israeli group that uses sports as a vehicle for social change, responded to Kiley Currier’s message. You wrote that the Project inspired you… well,  you and your warm words inspire us to keep and looking for ways to use sport in order to build a better society – and we are thankful for that!  

Heartbeat, which brings together Israeli and Palestinian youth musicians to “amplify their voices to influence the world around them,” responded to a letter from Natalie Mudgett-Fox. Thank you so much for your sweet, humbling, incredible words, and for choosing Heartbeat as the focus of your project. I will happily share your messages and artwork with our youth musicians so they can hear your praise and support. They will be thrilled to hear from you! Keep up the good work, and continue reading your world, looking for deeper questions, and locations of possibility. 

Cheyenne Phillips heard from the All Nations Café, a team of Israelis, Palestinians and others working for peace within conflict: Your email was moving and timely for us. It arrived exactly when we were looking for ways to continue our cross-border meetings and expand our impact....  We want to help more people drop prejudice and embrace others, and we want to work more closely with leaders, governments and with extremists. I'm happy and grateful to you for choosing to focus on the All Nations Café in your school work. Thank you for encouraging us to continue and never close -- at times we may be tired or lose hope, and we definitely can use your encouragement.

Especially exciting was an email sent to Samuel Gokey and Aliesha Sholan by Dalia Ashkenazi Landau, whose experience inspired Sandy Tolan’s book, The Lemon Tree, A summary of which is included on Tolan’s website: “In 1967, not long after the Six-Day War, three young Arab men ventured into the town of Ramle, in what is now Jewish Israel. They were cousins, on a pilgrimage to see their childhood homes; their families had been driven out of Palestine nearly twenty years earlier. One cousin had a door slammed in his face, and another found his old house had been converted into a school. But the third, Bashir Al-Khairi, was met at the door by a young woman called Dalia, who invited them in. This poignant encounter is the starting point for a true story of a remarkable relationship between two families, one Arab, one Jewish, amid the fraught modern history of the region.”

Imagine the surprise of receiving this reply from Dalia herself.

Dear Samuel and Aliesha,

My name is Dalia. I am a co-founder of Open House. I opened the door to Bashir so many years ago. It is heartwarming to receive your letters. I like the project in your school studying the Israeli Palestinian conflict objectively and with empathy for both sides. That would be more than we do in our schools here both in Israel and Palestine, unfortunately.

Yes, there are a few people who have empathy for both sides.. who try to build bridges as best they can; but on the whole, both sides here project negative stereotypes on each other. My question has been from the beginning how to humanise the Other. Therefore, with my Israeli and Palestinian partners, we wished to create the possibility for people to get to know each other through playing working and creating together. It is also very important to expose the High School children (9th, 10th. 11th grade) to the narrative of the other side. That brings understanding and empathy. Some of the kids who have been through Open House programs are now young adult counselors in our various activities.

How do you deal with the Other in Vermont and in your school? Who would be the Other for you?

Yours,

Dalia

Dalia’s thought-provoking questions have inspired students to connect global issues to their own lives here in Cabot–– and to consider ways in which they themselves can be the helpers in whom Fred Rogers’s mother believed.

Here are just a few of the student letters and the replies they recieved.

Dear Seeds Of Peace,

My name is Lauren Bellavance and I live in Cabot, Vermont. I am 15 and I go to The Cabot School. In my Global Studies class, we are learning about the Middle East and conflict that is going on there. Learning about and researching this conflict has taught my class about real world problems and non-violent ways to solve them. I chose to research your organization to get a deeper understanding of how you are creating peace. As part of our study, we created found poems from the text on your website. I thought you might want to see the one I made and have attached it here.

I was most drawn to your organization because of the methods and the outcome. Who doesn't want to go to summer camp and make peace? It is amazing to me that someone could leave your camp as a completely different person, with a different mindset and the ability to see people on the other side as actual human beings. It also amazes me how quick your organization grew. It started small but quickly grew.

I think what your organization is doing really matters. It teaches people just like me, my age, how to create peace when there is conflict. One of my favorite quotes that I saw on your website is, “We now refuse to accept what is, when we know what can be.” I really like the quote because I think it shows that what you are doing and your methods of creating peace is working. The mindset and attitudes of the campers are changing for the better. I hope your organization keeps growing and creating peace.

Sincerely,
Lauren Bellavance


Hi Lauren,

Thank you so much for your email and for your interest in Seeds of Peace! My colleague Adar shared your email and beautiful poem with me, and I wanted to reach out and say thank you for your words and reflections… and for choosing us as your research project!

Though it sounds like you’ve spent a lot of time on our website, I just wanted to point out that you are eligible to apply to become a member of the American Delegation. All of the details are online at www.seedsofpeace.org/beaseed, and the application will be posted there within the next few days.

Thank you again for sharing your work with, Lauren!

All my best,
Sarah Brajtbord
Assistant Camp Director

Dear Mifalot,

        My name is Kiley Currier and I am a student from Cabot School in Cabot, Vermont. In my Global Studies class, we have been researching the Palestinian and Israeli conflict. We each chose a peace project to study, Mifalot interested me. The element that got my attention was the children’s and coaches’ love for football and how they are using their skills to help create peace. An organization like this opens so many doors for people to create new solutions for conflicts around the world.

        I appreciate your goal to educate the upcoming generations about team skills, leadership, and responsibility using football while working with members from different communities. With over 400 different programs, your work definitely pays off. 30,000 members is a lot of people working for one goal: peace. Not only do you have programs teaching kids how to work together, but you also educate them about nutrition and how to live a healthy lifestyle which is very important. I think it is so moving how you can incorporate so many different life skills into your organization.

It’s amazing to see how one small organization has changed the lives of so many. Your work is inspiring people to help create peace worldwide. I was browsing your website and saw pictures of how happy the kids, coaches and everyone else involved look. The smiles alone can make a difference.

        Whether you see small changes or big changes, your peace project is impacting people around the world. Your group is truly inspiring. I hope you never forget how important your work is. I can’t thank you enough for your efforts.

          

        Sincerely,

        Kiley Currier

Dear Kiley,

Thank you very much for the warm letter. We are happy that Mifalot's activity is being examined and discussed all over the world and, in a matter of fact, this is one of the project's goal: to raise awareness for new peaceful solutions for conflicts.

You wrote that the Project inspired you… well, you and your warm words inspire us to keep and looking for ways to use sport in order to build a better society – and we are thankful for that!

You are most invited to keep in touch with us,

Nadav Dagan
Director of Resource Development and External Relations

Dear All Nations Cafe,

My name is Cheyenne Phillips. I live in Cabot Vermont, and I go to Cabot School. In my Global Studies class, we are researching and learning about the conflict in the Middle East. We are researching different groups that are trying to help end conflicts going on. I have chosen to study your group because I appreciate its goals. You let these people have respect for each other and let people have a good time with each other. Based on the idea that you had, now all of the people won't be afraid to communicate and get along with each other.

What struck me about your group is how big your idea is, and how much bigger the impact is getting. It reminds me of a saying my mom used to say, “Anything you do, you can make it bigger and better.”  I never thought that anyone in an organization like yours could have ever pulled this off, considering the two groups dislike each other. Other organizations that have similar conflicts haven’t have this idea that you have put together. The reactions of other people are also surprising. They seem to love how they can sit and just talk about their feelings and what there thinking. They also enjoy the dances and how they can join in at any point there. At the All Nations Cafe, they know that they can get along with all people. One of your workers was talking about how we should be creating closeness between Palestinians and Israelis, which is something we should take action on. It is surprising that once they put their mind to something, they can easily get the job done.

I have really enjoyed learning about your organization because is has left me with hopes and dreams. One of them is that people will see your idea and you will gain so much more people that will want to help. I also hope that once you see how important this is to so many people, you will never want to close the All Nations Cafe.

Sincerely,
Cheyenne Phillips

Dear Cheyenne,

Your email was moving and timely for us.

It arrived exactly when we were looking for ways to continue our cross-border meetings and expand our impact (as your mom says, it could be bigger and better). We want to help more people drop prejudice and embrace others, and we want to work more closely with leaders, governments and with extremists.

I'm happy and grateful to you for choosing to focus on the All Nations Café in your school work. Thank you for encouraging us to continue and never close -- at times we may be tired or lose hope, and we definitely can use your encouragement.

Wishing you and your family a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year,

Dhyan

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