Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Future Generations: Creating Champions for Peace

HeidiKrestser Santosh Dahal“This is my hope for the future,” said Karen Edwards of Paul Smith College, who in her spare times serves as the director of admissions for the Future Generations Graduate School. “When I work with these students I can truly be hopeful that we can work together to solve the challenges facing humanity and our world.”

In light of the loggerheads taking place in Congress, the societal challenges throughout the Middle East, the struggle between environmentalists and big oil advocates over such disputes as the proposed Keystone pipeline between the Canadian tar sands and the United States, the increasing economic disparity in between the 1 percent and everyone else, that is no small hope.

Seventeen students, who spent their last week before graduation here in the Adirondacks, exemplify what buoys the hopes of Karen and others like her. The students, all working professionals, come from such disparate countries as Afghanistan, Nepal, Guyana, Nigeria, Namibia, Uganda, Haiti, Burundi and the United States. The challenges each are seeking to address are not modest, such as reducing human trafficking in Nepal, trying to break a cycle of youth violence in Guyana, determining how to craft a more positive outcome for an international sports foundation as a vehicle for peace, or helping Haitians gain participation in and responsibility for rebuilding their country.

Every student you talk with is a wow, not only because of the scale of the project they are taking on, but how articulate and bright they are. They crackle with energy and humor. They seem undaunted by the tasks ahead, but none take the tasks lightly, indeed that’s why they signed up for a college that’s campus is the hot spots of the world.

What Future Generations provides their students is the opportunity to step back and reflect on what they are up against, learn from examples of successful efforts as well as those that have failed, draw from the combined brain and experience trust that is their faculty and fellow students, and test out new ideas. It is a university for doers – for those people living and working where the rubber hits the road. Nothing is academic for them. It’s real and lives matter on how successfully they can apply what they learn, possibly their own.

Their degree will be in Applied Community Change with concentration in Peacebuilding. Their goals are to enhance their interpersonal skills, develop workable strategies, and learn community-based approaches to development, conservation, and peacebuilding. Why here you might ask. Well, neither those seeking to rip up the tracks between Placid and Old Forge and replace it with a bike trail nor those seeking to preserve the tracks and expand train service, nor those who are promoting the Adirondack Resort in Tupper Lake, nor those who feel that it’s an economic and environmental disaster are exemplars of achieving win-win results, at least not so far, though in truth the level of discourse is far better than past disputes that resulted in barns being burned and lives threatened.

Having visited West Virginia where mountains are being lopped of for coal, and Detroit, which recently filed for bankruptcy protection, the students are trying to learn from successes, failures, and struggles within our country, where they will have spent a month before departing, just as they spent a month in India, Africa, and South America before coming here. Most of their course work however is done on line; eight weeks on line followed by all coming together in some challenging setting, then back home for more on line course work.

“Between eight and twelve thousand people in Nepal are trafficked out of the country every year,” said Santosh Dahal. “I am conducting a study to determine the root causes and how it is accomplished with a goal of reducing this terrible practice. Forty percent of the people in my country live in poverty. When someone is trafficked people are afraid to report it out of fear or stigma.”

Dahal told a packed classroom at North Country Community College the biggest problems are poverty and lack of education, as well as corruption in the police and in those government officials who create fake passports. People are enticed by offers of work, and end up being trafficked mostly to India for the sex trade, domestic labor, or risky work. Family, relatives and neighbors often turn over the children for promises of earning money, a better job, a luxurious life, or because they believe what they hear, some because of a dispute.

Sabina Carlson-Robillard has been working in Haiti for the three years. “I first visited Haiti on a spring break as a volunteer, the conditions and poverty were horrible. I came back so angry. I had a mentor. He said, “Don’t be angry. See what you can do to make life better.” So I went back not to come with answers, but to offer my skills, to say, “How can I help you?” We don’t often get a chance to consider how effective we are. This graduate program provides us reflective practice. You are up against these walls and your instinct is to push harder. This program helps us step back and consider our options. They help us reflect on what we do, observe what we do, think about our options, and try a new approach.”

“I am trying to help young people, who have a lot of energy and creativity, but who often don’t have the opportunity to use them in a positive way, safely transfer from a being a teen into becoming an adult who can improve their community,” said Shandell France of Guyana.

“I’ve known Mike Rechlin (dean of the Graduate School) forever,” said Tom Boothe. “He and I were walking down a trail in Nepal one day and said he needed a person to teach project management. I said yes. I couldn’t be happier how this program and this residency in the Adirondacks are going. At a Saranac Lake Library Brown Bag talk last summer I asked people if they would be willing to host the students and it worked perfectly.”

“I thought it was great,” said Steve Erman of his and his wife’s experience of hosting two students. “It was like a one week cultural exchange with very nice people. You become very close with them very quickly. I will be sad to see them leave.”

“We bring the students here to study sustainability within the context of our one hundred plus year experiment of trying to live harmoniously with nature,” said Rechlin. “Many of our participants come from communities that look like the Adirondacks of the 1880’s and ‘90s, that period when the forests had been cut or burned, waterways and the air polluted, and landscapes mined. Coming from countries like Haiti, it was encouraging for them to witness that if you step back a bit, nature can recover. They also learned that many of the issues they are dealing with are also problems for rural areas here; the exodus of young people to the cities, maintaining rural economies, and the forever conflict over resource use. They are really excited to be here and overwhelmed by how the community has opened its arms to them.”

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Naj Wikoff is an artist who founded Creative Healing Connections, the Lake Placid Institute, and co-founded the Adirondack Film Society-Lake Placid Film Forum.A two-time Fulbright Senior Scholar, Wikoff has served as president of the Society for the Arts in Healthcare, director of arts and healing at the C. Everett Koop Institute, Dartmouth Medical School, and director of Arts and Productions for the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine. Wikoff also covers Adirondack community culture events for the Lake Placid News.

One Response

  1. Hillel B says:

    There isn’t more important work to be done! Kudos to all!

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