All of these programs will return in 2016 and, in addition, we will host 20 Pakistani teachers for a teacher education program similar to the one we ran in 2014. We have two grant applications outstanding; one for Pakistan and one for a mixture of European students. We said goodbye to our good friend and longtime Civic employee Andy Carbaugh who has left to pursue graduate school. In response to his leaving we have reorganized the unit. Becky Howland will continue with many of our critical budgeting and financial tasks but will also become even more deeply involved in program management and implementation. We welcome Theresa Wodecki as our new finance and administrative assistant. Theresa was with us part time last summer and is now a full time employee. Robert Frost once said ""In three words I can sum up everything I've learned about life: It goes on."
We continued organizing alumni events. We managed a conference in Bulgaria for our APD program and met with our Pakistani alumni in Islamabad and our YSEALI alumni in Kuala Lumpur. I was also honored to speak at St. Lawrence University to the students of APD 2005 alumni Harinda Vindage. We hope 2016 offers many such opportunities as well.
We have set a number of goals for 2016 that I believe will make us a more flexible and responsive organization. First, we intend to expand our regular communication with both our alumni and our community network. In the next few months our blog and our twitter will become much more active as I begin to write about and post articles pertaining to the upcoming election. We also intend to use update our network on Civic activities as well as alumni updates. Follow us @Civicinitiative!
Second, we are going to develop a comprehensive survey system for all of our programs. With over 1000 alumni we have an excellent database with which to study the effects of exchange programs as well as in-country and between country networking.
Third, we want to develop a solid home stay system. We already have an excellent home visit network but the ability to overnight stays will, we believe, enhance some of our programs.
Finally, we are launching a new "Civic Ambassador" program for students. Our "Civic Mentor" program has provided us with excellent summer workers and has been, we think, one of the best programs on the UMass campus. The "Ambassador" program will be for students who don't want to commit to working full time but will be able to attend classes with our program participants part time and help them to explore the local community. We have already begun recruiting for the program.
I have always been fascinated by the simple question "What do you do?" This is a common question in the US; maybe all over the world. The answer is usually a bit casual, even facile. Someone might say "I'm a professor" or "A teacher". What one actually does goes deeper than this. I think at the Civic Initiative we do more than "run programs for international visitors". I believe what we do is to show - and to learn - that humans all over the world are not just one stereotyped thing - that we have complex and deep identities and that there is always, within those identities, something we can share. For example, when I speak to the Professors, I look out at a group of 18 different people. It would be easy to fit people into little boxes of color; continent; religion; gender - all of the things we fight about - but I chose to emphasize that we teach politics and that, at its best, politics teaches us to recognize our multiple selves and, from that, find a common ground.
My thinking on this has been influenced by Amartya Sen so forgive a long quote from a review of his work:
"My first exposure to murder," the Nobel-winning economist Amartya Sen writes in "Identity and Violence," "occurred when I was 11." It was 1944, a few years before the end of the British Raj and a period of widespread Hindu-Muslim riots. The victim was "a profusely bleeding unknown person suddenly stumbling through the gate to our garden, asking for help and a little water." Rushed to the hospital by Sen's father, the man died there of his injuries. He was Kader Mia, a Muslim day laborer knifed by Hindus. He had been asked by his wife not to go into a hostile area of then-undivided Bengal. But he had to feed his starving family, and he paid with his life.
To the young Sen, this event was not just traumatic but mystifying. How was it, Sen asks ..., that "... human beings ... were suddenly transformed into the ruthless Hindus and fierce Muslims..."? And how was it that Kader Mia would be seen as having only one identity - that of being Muslim - by Hindus who were, like him, out in the unprotected open because they too were starving? "For a bewildered child," Sen remembers, "the violence of identity was extraordinarily hard to grasp." And, he confesses, "it is not particularly easy even for a still bewildered elderly adult."
In our own little way, the Civic Initiative fights against this being forced to choose. Unfortunately, our current politics around the world is increasingly one where people are being manipulated; even forced, to choose. The entire strategy of ISIS is based on this.
Western politicians like Donald Trump are obliging by defining people not by their complex identities but by one thing - religion. The governments of Saudi Arabia and Iran thrive by being the champion of one thing - and people everywhere fall prey to demagogues who push tribalism and fear. The Earl of Kent, from King Lear, knew just who these demagogues and sycophants were:
Earl of Kent. That such a slave as this should wear a sword,
Who wears no honesty. Such smiling rogues as these,
Like rats, oft bite the holy cords atwain
Which are too intrinse t' unloose; smooth every passion
That in the natures of their lords rebel,
Bring oil to fire, snow to their colder moods;
It is just the "holy cords" which are "too intrinse t' unloose;" which represent the complex human identities that are available for us to build friendships; compromises; and relationships - and just the bonds the rats are chewing.
While we were in Malaysia ISIS beheaded its sole Malaysian captive, presumably as a gruesome warning to Malaysia as the host of the ASEAN conference. Meanwhile, in the US Donald Trump continued his cynical campaign to win the Republican nomination on waves of fear and hatred. Trump and ISIS have in common a deep seated desire to make us one thing. They allow no human complexity or depth but, instead, see us as cardboard two-dimensional cartoons with nothing but a single designation.
We are better than that. As long as we talk and compare and learn we can refuse to be pushed into a single camp. I think we need to remind ourselves of the importance of our roles as Civic workers and participants - as representatives of our countries but also of our complex identities.
I wish you all the very best New Year and hope to see as many of you as possible.