Organizing the Hope in Iowa
By Kathleen McQuillen, AFSC Iowa Program Coordinator
Our work with young people is expanding, and what a blessing it is to experience their excitement and passion! Across the nation, AFSC offers young people education on organizing, media work, and program design. In return they bring to our work creativity and energy.
Have you heard about “Organize the Hope”? Fifteen AFSC Peace Fellows have been working on thirteen campuses in seven states. In Iowa, our pilot project is at Central College in Pella, where we recruited two young men whose life experiences led them to this fellowship.
Marshall, whose parents are from Mexico, is passionate about making a space where all students can feel welcome and safe in sharing their opinions. As he puts it, “No one should be left out because of differences in religion, culture, ethnicity, or sexual orientation.”
Omer, who collected plastic bags to raise money for his family in a refugee camp in Sudan, wants to help his friends and the public know that “war should never be the answer.” A survivor of terrible violence, Omer’s witness for peace is personal.
Putting their hopes into action, Omer and Marshall have pulled together Central students to hold a discussion about the US war in Afghanistan, presented the Howard Zinn film The People Speak, and organized a concert to raise funds for Haiti.
But it was their first public event on campus that created some trepidation for Omer. He feared that hosting a Palestinian man speaking about his struggle to hold onto his land in the face of the Israeli occupation would cause problems among Omer’s friends on campus.
Yet Omer was so moved by Daoud Nassar’s talk, entitled “We Refuse to Be Enemies,” that he stood up at the end of the presentation and shared his feelings with the overflowing crowd. “I understand from Daoud how we can speak the truth with respect and caring, and still live and work and play together.”
More recently, Omer and Marshall organized an exhibit of Eyes Wide Open, the AFSC boots and shoes display symbolizing those killed in the Iraq war. After spending time at the exhibit, one teacher said, “I thought I was prepared, but I was not. I was overcome with emotion.” A student saw boots tagged with the name of his high school wrestling coach and muttered, “This is chilling.”
Helping people think and feel more about war and peace is the point. This Spring, AFSC's Organize the Hope project was honored with the Central College "Organizational Excellence Award, which is intended to recognize a student organization for making positive contributions to and building community at Central College, outstanding programming, and/or strong organizational structure, leadership, and action."
Now, as we approach the end of the school year, it is tremendously inspiring to see new students coming forth to apply for the peace fellowship in the 2010-11 academic year. AFSC Iowa is expanding the peace fellowship to another campus in the upcoming year. In years to come, we hope to reach even more campuses across our state.
Please see this flyer for more details, and please share this opportunity with students you think may be interested.