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Saturday, April 5, 2014

Breaking down barriers by connecting world wide

I teach geography, but more than that I love geography. Like any teacher I have my areas of expertise, what I really love to teach and most importantly learn about. My area is Israel/Palestine. There is something about this area that captivates me. I was first introduced while getting my degree at the University of Utah when my teacher asked the class whether or not Israel should be a country. I was taken aback. I didn't know what he meant. The class was full of people from the Middle East and within minutes there was a lot of arguing back and forth. I realized right then and there I needed to know a lot more about the subject. The teacher posed the question to me and I replied that I didn't know enough but hoped the class would help me out. He said "You need to get an opinion, people without opinions are boring." I took that as a challenge and have spent the last 15 years studying the subject out.

Over time I found a documentary "Promises" about the conflict. In the film they highlight the lives of 7 kids living in Israel who live within 20 minutes of each other, but live very different lives. 3 of the kids are Palestinians, 4 are Israeli. I love this film. I think it is so powerful for students to watch other kids their own age dealing with the conflict. The power of the film is in seeing their struggles and the complexities of the issues. You get to see the pain of the conflict and its effect on each of the kids and how they handle it. The students get sucked into the documentary and are captivated throughout the film.

One of the people in film is named Mahmoud, he is a Jerusalem Palestinian Arab. He was nine years old when they started filming, he was sixteen when they finished. He is highly opinionated, passionate, articulate, and makes some changes throughout the film. This past year after watching the film I thought about how neat it would be if I could connect with him or one of the others from the film. So I went to the one spot I thought he might be on; facebook, and found him. He friended me right off and over the course of a year we corresponded back and forth.

After some time we decided to do an interview. I wanted to be able to record it so I could show it when I wanted and have it for future use. We decided to use Google Hangouts as this would allow for that to happen. You can use your phone with hangouts, but certainly a desktop is much easier to do a hangout with, he didn't have a desktop. It took three tries over the space of 30 minutes and I was seriously worried that it wasn't going to happen. Luckily as the saying goes, 3rd times a charm, and it worked. Mahmoud was on his mobile device in Jerusalem at 8 pm while I was using my lunch time in West Point, Utah to do the interview.

I've got to say that this in one of the high points I have had in education. Here I was interviewing a Palestinian from Jerusalem who had been in a documentary that my class was going to watch about the Arab/Israeli conflict. This moment had taken a lot of persistence on my part. In all honesty it had taken the better part of a year of me somewhat bugging him to do this. We attempted once before only to have his schedule conflict at the last minute. After months of inquiring here we finally were, having in my opinion a seminal moment.

The interview lasted 40 minutes during which time Mahmoud expressed his feelings about being part of the 'Promises' documentary, the current conflict in Israel, his ideas for a solution, and what it is like being a Palestinian living in Jerusalem. He also gave a personalized message to my class imploring them to search for truth and to become critical thinkers, to not believe what the media or others say about others, but to look at it from different perspectives. It was a great thought for all, but was extremely powerful coming from someone who's life they got a sneak peek at, someone they had come to have a connection with, someone with different beliefs and from a much different part of the world. It was a highlight for all the students, Mahmoud, and especially for me.

I believe that it is my responsibility to be the lead learner in the class. I need to show my passion, my drive and determination to learn and understand more about the world to my students. If I don't show that how can I expect them too? This was a project that took a long time to complete. It took more persistence than I ever thought it would, but in the end it became as worth it as anything that I have ever done. I am glad I was able to share this with my students and show them what is truly possible. Here are a few stills of Mahmoud from the film and our interview.

at 9

at 16

at 26 today

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