We work at the grassroots level throughout the Muslim World to counter violent extremism before it takes hold, to promote tolerance and understanding, and to foster better relations with the United States.
The following is a guest blog from AUA Mosaic Scholarship recipient Lindsay Michael. She is currently volunteering with Project Hope in the Palestinian Territories. To find an opportunity like this one, search the AUA Directory of Recommended Organizations©.
For the first time in a long time, I don’t feel like I need a map to know where I am. I’ve always been a bit of a nomad and my view of the horizon never looks the same for long. I’m fond of regular changes in scenery and I travel with an open heart and an open mind. My name is Lindsay and at this very moment, I am preparing to move to the beautiful city of Nablus to teach English and art deep in the heart of the West Bank of the Palestinian Territories.
In less than a week, I will be joining a team of local and international volunteers brought together to lead educational, artistic, and recreational programs for children and members of the community in the greater Nablus area. The organization is called Project Hope and was founded in 2003 with a vision to empower the Palestinian youth who have grown up amidst violence and occupation by providing them with the tools to reach their full potential. Although I’ll be doing much of the teaching, I feel that it will be me who has received the greatest education when my time volunteering nears completion.
It was through Project Hope that I was introduced to the America’s Unofficial Ambassadors initiative. Before applying for a Mosaic Scholarship, I wanted to be absolutely sure that I could effectively represent what they stood for. I share the same values and beliefs outlined by Creative Learning when it comes to tolerance, opportunity for all, and an overall belief in empowering people. I was moved by learning of an organization that saw the importance of building peace by improving relationships between America and the Muslim World. As I embark on a journey of a lifetime with the support of family, friends, the Creative Learning staff, and the financial help, most notably in the form of a Mosaic Scholarship, I can’t help but feel an overwhelming sense of gratitude and hope.
Preparing for My Journey
Looking down at the Red Cloud backpack before me, I am impressed at what I have managed to squeeze into this miracle bag. Packed into this bag, along with some art supplies, and an English grammar book, are several packets of seasoning bagged and wrapped carefully to prevent opening. Flavored dips, chili powder, and spicy mesquite rubs have all been placed in the depths of my backpack right next to the box of cornbread, and quick-bake chocolate cake. I understand traveling to the Middle East with spices may seem like bringing sand to the beach, but there is a method to my madness.
From what I’ve been told throughout my travels, an overwhelming majority of people have the impression that the American diet leaves much to be desired. When asked to describe a typical American meal, the response is often a spot-on description of the dollar menu at McDonald’s, Burger King, or occasionally K.F.C. The common factor being the emphasis on greasy, unhealthy, hurried meals centered on quasi meat products. This is where my spice stash comes in. In an attempt to break some culinary stereotypes, I am bringing seasonings from the U.S. I want to share my love for traditional North American food, be that soul food or a Thanksgiving dinner equipped with the “three sisters”, corn, beans, and squash. Great friendships are established while sharing a delicious meal and some of the best conversations happen around a dinner table.
Just as important as introducing a few entrees of my own, will be learning how to cook with the staple ingredients found in Palestinian dishes. I am looking forward to studying the ways of Palestinian women working their magic in the kitchen. One can learn a lot hanging around chefs because every recipe comes with a story. When I return home with all the new spices I’ve grown fond of and a memory full of anecdotes to match, I’ll be able to entice people with my own spin on some traditional Palestinian fare. With that, I can possibly influence public opinion one dinner party and taste bud at a time.
The majority of reactions from individuals who I’ve shared my travel plans with have been absolutely supportive. People are anxious to hear how it really is. They know my intentions and are confident that I will “do right” by the American people…”do right” by ALL people. I’m there to teach. I’m there to learn. I’m there to listen to the stories and share my own.
I hope that by following my journey, people are inspired to discuss topics that typically get little attention or are commonly understood to have harmful, negative undertones. I hope these conversations compel people to explore the best parts of themselves by connecting along human lines. What better time to take into account the idea that the actions of one person can truly make all the difference in establishing relationships that surmount the often callous interactions between those who represent us on a larger scale. As I meet new people over the next few months who will undoubtedly have a huge impact on my life, I will keep in mind that I have a responsibility to do the same for others. How amazing it will be to celebrate our achievements in the near future.