The Make a Difference Contest is sponsored by What I Wish You Knew® and the 70 Rotary clubs comprising Rotary District 6440.
The purpose of the contest is to raise awareness of philanthropy in young people.
Students were given the opportunity to compete for a grant to be awarded to the charity of their choice. They were asked to choose a charity that they believed deserved Rotary attention, tell why they chose it and convince the team of judges why they feel their cause is worthy. They could submit essays, photos, videos or a combination.
Sam is a sophomore at Glenbrook South High School, where he is on the Honor Roll. Sam was a 2016 Hands of Peace participant.
He is a member of the Glenbrook Academy of International Studies and is actively involved with the model UN and the Debate Team. He is also a board member of the humanitarian advocacy group, STAND for Peace.
Outside of school, Sam enjoys photography, literature, music, the outdoors, reading and a wide array of other activities and interests. He is an aspiring future Rotarian.
In 2002, a Jew, a Christian and a Muslim went to work founding Hands of Peace, an interfaith youth program based just outside of Chicago, Illinois. It is dedicated to mutual understanding between Israelis and Palestinians (and Americans) regarding the conflict that has plagued their region for decades, if not centuries. Initially, Hands of Peace was a two-week summer program with a handful of teens, operated by volunteers. Today, however, Hands of Peace has several employees, 501(c)3 nonprofit status and includes programming both near San Diego and Chicago, with each site having around forty teens participate every summer. In addition to the intensive, dialogue-based, eighteen day summer program, Hands of Peace alumni in both the United States and Middle East meet regularly to discuss current events and try to make a difference in their communities. Hands of Peace would benefit remarkably from the generous grant that has been made available.
Last spring, I applied to Hands of Peace, not really knowing what I was getting into. After all, being an American teen, even a culturally Jewish one, it’s fair to say that I’m an outsider when it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I had limited knowledge of the conflict, but I was able to learn a considerable amount in one of the best ways possible – from first person accounts. Being able to compare the testimonies of Israelis and Palestinians while considering Americans’ input opened my eyes to the realities of the conflict.
Hands of Peace does not promote any agenda besides that of caring, compassion and empathy. In daily dialogue sessions, participants discuss the conflict, their lives and the stereotypes and assumptions that lie beneath the surface. The organization’s goal is not to solve the conflict, but to instill understanding and empathy in a future generation of leaders. Quite frankly, it’s amazing to me how the participants, as people from three different regional groups, two of which are entangled in a seemingly never-ending conflict, can find so much in common. We would argue vehemently in our dialogue sessions about the conflict, the wars and the alleged terrorism, yet we would come back together and we would have fun – we would play games together, talk together, dance together and laugh together. What unites us truly transcends what divides us.
However, it’s important to acknowledge that the program does not teach us to simply ignore our differences, but that we can learn from them and accept their presence. During the program, we were able to discuss and debate our beliefs when the time was right, but we also recognized the importance of celebrating our commonalities, as well as our differences. It’s telling that through all that divides us – gender, age, religion, ethnicity, ideology and nationality – Israelis, Palestinians and Americans can come together, not just as people, but as friends.
To conclude, I’ll share a brief anecdote that I’m always reminded of when talking (or writing) about Hands of Peace. On the first day of the program, a second-year participant said to me, “They tell you that Hands of Peace changes you, but it really doesn’t. It makes you grow.” That statement rings very true for me now, having evolved as a person, growing greatly (which I suppose is a type of change), and having gained knowledge, not just regarding the conflict and world religions, but also on what it means to be human. Some of the difficulties in my life seem so minor compared to what a good number of Israelis and Palestinians confront on a daily basis. The resilience, commitment and empathy necessary for a successful dialogue have also helped me to grow as a person since participating. Hands of Peace creates connections that span the Pacific Ocean and Mediterranean Sea. These same bonds transcend the walls between Israel and the West Bank, dramatically impacting the lives and perspectives of hundreds of alumni. Hands of peace can continue to do so with help from Rotary District 6440 and What I Wish You Knew.