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Far Away From Strife, Students Learn Peace

Audio

Aired 4/19/09

A group of international students are taking part in San Diego State's Hansen Summer Institute program. It teaches them about the root causes of violence and how to resolve conflicts peacefully in their native country. KPBS reporter Ana Tintocalis files this story.

Let's take a look at actually that movement, the people’s sanctions, and its impact...

More than 20 foreign students at San Diego State listen intently as professor Njubi Nesbitt discusses South Africa's anti-apartheid movement during the 1980s. Nesbitt shows the class footage of how American college students helped to bring about change in another country.

Professor Njubi Nesbitt with students
(Photo: Professor Njubi Nesbitt with students. Ana Tintocalis )

Each student in this class comes from a country entrenched in political or social warfare. They're here to learn about ways to resolve conflict. SDSU Professor Ron Bee heads up the project.

Bee: If you understand the elements of conflict, you will be better equipped to confront them and resolve them, no matter what your situation. And there's certainly lots of them in the room.

All these young people face cultural discrimination, economic inequality and political violence in their homeland. For example, one student from Bosnia had to flee the country because his city was attacked by Serbian snipers. Another from Cambodia had to rebuild his family's village after the country experienced a violent political coup.

Students of San Diego State's Hansen Summer Institute
(Photo: Students of San Diego State's Hansen Summer Institute. Ana Tintocalis )

Siham Guezani, who's wearing a traditional Muslim headdress, is from Morocco – a country that's in a vicious turf war with neighboring Algeria. She's frustrated politics gets in the way of mutual respect between two nations of people.

Guezani: We are humans and we have common history and common relationship, but policies, spoils our relationship. They fight for the border for the desert. I think the problem comes from policy. It makes me very sad and very angry. I am willing to change the world and promote new principals in the world.

Dao Xi says economic inequality prevails in his native city of Shanghai, China. Dao wants to help bridge the gap between the poor rural people and the rich city dwellers. He wants to push for that change in non-violent ways.

Dao: That's why I'm here, to find a way to push. And what I learned from the lecture today is that we have to keep patient. The result can't always be successful for you.

Dao says what he's learned so far will help him as he moves forward in life. Dao eventually wants to hold a political office so he can create positive change in China.

Dao Xi, 25, of China; and Siham Guezani, 20, of Morroco
(Photo: Dao Xi, 25, of China; and Siham Guezani, 20, of Morroco. Ana Tintocalis )

All these students were sponsored by the Fred Hansen Foundation, which gave the university $1.7 million dollars to fund the program for the next five summers. The money covers students' travel expenses, lodging and meals. SDSU Professor Ron Bee says he's seen the students come a long way in a short period of time.

Bee: What I see developing is a shared vision of a common fate. Look, we're all alike. We're the same age. It’s our future. We can do something that will make it more peaceful – just by knowing one another.

Bee says students also get a better understanding of the problems that exist in other countries – including the United States. In fact, Bee took the students to the U.S.-Mexico border, where they discussed America's immigration dispute. He says it was a liberating experience for the young people, because many of them come from countries where people can't go near the border because of turf wars.

Bee: They jumped across the border at the beach – we were at the beach – and said, “Look, I'm in Mexico!” and then jumped back, “Look, I'm in America!” So it also creates the impression, and the rightful impression, that we imagine borders. We create them ourselves.

The students say they can't change years of oppression and deep-seated hatred, but they can make a difference by reaching out to people and breaking down barriers. In just a few days, the young people head back to their respective countries to put what they learned into practice.

Ana Tintocalis, KPBS News.

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