A problem you’d like to solve. Explain its significance to you and what steps you took or could be taken to identify a solution.
“WELL-COME,” joyously declared a little kid from a Bedouin tribe in Jordan. Surrounded by ancient tombs, a sandy landscape, and locals wrapped in head scarves selling items from their tents, I felt out of place. Yet, this little boy’s cuteness combined with his tattered clothing and surprising use of English had me captivated. Our short moment together was a connection between two different worlds and cultures. Although our backgrounds are vastly different, both the Bedouin youth and myself accepted each other. We accepted our current ways of life, whether that be as a tourist in Petra, or as a child who is a proud member of a loyal tribe. This is what I desire, acceptance between peoples and cultures, no matter what religion, ethnicity, or class.
“Why have you visited Israel? Why are you traveling back and forth between Jewish and Muslim countries? I AM WATCHING YOU,” barked a Lebanese security guard at the Beirut airport.
The distrust displayed by the security guard emphasized the heightened fear and insecurity in Lebanon. The security guard, however, was only one of many distrustful citizens in the country. Covering the streets of Beirut were armed guards with large machine guns driving around in army vehicles. Many people I encountered, which consisted of Middle East experts and Syrian refugees, seemed on edge and fearful about the neighboring countries. Considering the present situation in Syria, this reaction is understandable. However, this is not a peaceful way to live. My hope for Lebanon in the future is that all its citizens feel safe and out of harm’s way.
I want to be the person to connect societies and improve international relations and economic resources, especially between war-torn countries, where trust is a luxury. As an intern at Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Beirut, I worked with international relations experts to understand the current Middle East situation further, including the explosive growth in population and attendant low living standards and unemployment that were the Arab Spring’s root causes and catalysts. I learned that leaders of Islamic nations can have total authoritarian control over their devout people due to followers’ fear of being identified for disobedience. When their leaders call upon them to fight they become radicalized, committing horrid acts of violence in the name of Allah. Traveling through Israel, Jordan and Lebanon, I viscerally absorbed the region’s history and tensions, truly seeing and feeling the context of these people’s lives and how this fuels their beliefs and actions.
Returning from the Middle East, I reflected on the problems of conflict and mistrust even in my small Menlo Park community where racial and religious separation thrives. I have Muslim, Black, and Hispanic friends, and I dislike the way they are immediately judged based on their race or religion. A Muslim friend was once asked jokingly if her backpack was closed because she had a homemade bomb in it. While walking around town with my black friends, I have been asked if I was part of a gang. When I witness and experience these confrontations, I take the initiative and stand up for these disrespected individuals, using the moment as an opportunity to empower my friends and open the minds of prejudiced individuals.
By immersing myself in these Middle East societies, I gained first-hand understanding of, and important insight into, a dramatically different culture. Solving the world’s problem of distrust and building multi-cultural empathy is critically important to me because it is vital to dissolving conflict. Awareness of different beliefs creates more sympathy for struggling communities. If we are all cognizant of our connections as members of one overarching tribe, mankind, we will strive to understand each other and help, not hurt, other cultures.
I will never forget these experiences both from near and afar. They will live in me forever and nourish my quest for peace as I strive to seed “WELL-COMEs” throughout the world.