Sometimes it feels hard to believe that I finished my year at the Institute over six months ago and there is many a day when the vibes of that small oasis in the middle of the desert wash over me in a sense of nostalgia and happiness – an oasis of calm, peace and good thoughts, a setting whereby just being there you are achieving something great and fulfilling. I often thought that if I would have ever gotten fed up of the courses at the Institute, I would have had my research, and if that went haywire, I would have had the peace-making aspect, and if that stopped being interesting, there would be the community side, and finally if everything else felt like a waste of time and the world was crashing down upon us, I would still be living in the most beautiful natural surroundings I could possibly imagine, with endless hiking routes and sunshine right on my doorstep.
One of the things I have been struggling with in the past half a year has been to remove myself from that wonderful bubble and bring the Arava spirit and ideals into the real world, because it can be difficult. Some days you feel like you are achieving something good for the environment, sometimes in dialogue, but very rarely do you feel like every breath you take is making a change like you did there – the Institute makes it all too easy!
Not all is doom and gloom of course and I want to write here about my newest project, first introduced to the Arava Institute alumni community on one of the monthly Skype conference calls 3 weeks ago. The project is called Building Bridges, and is being developed by the Storytelling Centre of Amsterdam whom I have the honour of working for. The Centre uses both applied and active storytelling to help empower youth and adults around the world and specific methodologies to facilitate reconciliation and active listening/dialogue in diverse communities. The project itself is looking for partners/backers in Israel/Palestine at the moment and aims to set up a “train the trainers” course. This would be to train local facilitators (Israeli and Palestinian of all religions and ideologies) in our methods, and through this expand the use of Storytelling in a sustainable and locally run way to ensure the long term impact of the initiatives we hope to see develop as a result of this seed. This is in addition to our other initiatives in the area – one called Palestinian Stories and one already running in Shefa’amr as well as previous projects with Israelis and Palestinians in the Netherlands.
I sincerely believe that if not for my time at the Institute I would not be involved in this project and I want to give my unbridled thanks to the Arava Institute for making me believe that change is possible and giving me the start and skills to communicate with and actively listen to anyone, whoever they may be and to push for a voice for all communities – these too are the ethos and motives behind the Building Bridges Project.
Submitted by Ronni Gurwicz