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It is a two-way street. Tamar Miller, Associate Director of ISEPME, disclosed that every year a group of 10 Wexner fellows come to the Kennedy School from Israel. They too interact with the MEEF students.

“This year,” Ms. Miller reported, “There are three or four Wexner fellows who seem to be very hungry to connect with the Middle East fellows to understand more about people’s professional, personal and political views.”

How do the MEEF fellows like the United States? Very much. Jacqueline said that after surviving civil strife and shortages in Lebanon, she finds the challenges of living at Harvard a welcome change.

She had worried about finding a school for her nine-year-old daughter, Maya, but American schools, she said, are excellent, challenging and most helpful. The U.S., she said, is “consumer friendly” and Americans in general are “optimistic problem-solvers.”

This is especially true of the teachers. The fellows find the teaching faculty extremely supportive, yet challenging. Even when critical, teachers are constructive. “You feel good about your work,” Ofra commented.

The fellows also find much to appreciate in the American way of life.

“With a phone and a credit card you can do practically anything you want,” Firas said, laughing.

Amany noted that things are systematic here.

“A summons for parking illegally in a handicap zone is paid, and you do not do it again. You learn to respect the law.”

“At home,” she continued, “you can get many tickets, but this can be taken care of with a gift to the appropriate authority. This limits the effectiveness of law and weakens the system.”

Although all of the Middle East fellows have benefited from the networking, formal and informal, it is perhaps Ofra whose preconceptions have been most shattered. As a military person, she had been caught up in the chain of command; she took orders and she gave them, whether or not she liked them. She had strongly defined pictures of Palestinians and, indeed, of all Arabs.

“To change my mind,” she said, “I had to leave Israel.” Harvard was the place. When she returns, it will not be to the military but to the peacemakers:

“I want to make a difference,” she declared. “I want my daughter to play with the children of everybody.”

What lies ahead for these intelligent, sensitive, idealistic young leaders when they leave Harvard and return to their homelands? Surely, they will keep in touch for, as one fellow observed, they have become “like family.” And just as surely, they will be in the forefront as change engulfs the Middle East.

“I think, politics aside, the peace process is stumbling along,” Firas stated, “and therefore I think it makes our work all the more urgent in terms of showing the people in the region the fruits of this process.”

Hopefully, they will help to establish peace and prosperity in a region racked for so long by poverty and war.

“I think I can make a difference.” Ofra summed up the thoughts of her peers in one short sentence. She pointed to her daughter.

“I want to do it for her.”

The child, God bless her, smiled.

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Brother David Carroll, F.S.C., is the Assistant to the Secretary General.

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Tags: Middle East Education Unity