Last week’s dialogue left nearly everyone with a heavy heart, wondering what could be done to mend some of the rifts within the group. At the previous Richmond Action Dialogue the students were asked to anonymously write their inner conflicts as well any group conflicts. When the conflicts within the group were revealed, the tension in the room was palpable. Some were feeling hurt because they felt judged by people they just met, while others felt there was a lack of concern for other people within the group.
We started the dialogue with a “wisdom circle,” where we all expressed our feelings about conflict. A person would step into the circle to say something about conflict and if other people in the group agreed with that statement, they too would step into the circle. Some mentioned they thrive on conflict or that conflict was the best way to move toward change. Others, however, were uncomfortable with conflict and expressed that within the circle.When the group understood how different individuals felt about conflict, we moved on to talk about the conflict the students had mentioned on the cards. As a mentor, I have no idea who wrote each of the questions, but I could tell from the beginning which individuals were feeling hurt within the group. After each group discussed their topics, the groups were asked to share what they learned.Now, only a week later, it is amazing to see the change taking place, not only within the group but with individuals. As a mentor I get the privilege of spending a good deal of time with all of the IYLEPers and this week in particular gave me hope. I witnessed individuals making an effort to mend broken relationships, people were loaning each other laptops for the midterm, the students were proofreading for one another and “enemies” from the start even shook hands.I started noticing a change as the students presented about the different regions of Iraq at the Richmond Public Library. Although many of them come from different regions in Iraq and have different cultural experiences, they were answering questions from Richmonders as a united front.
During our visit to Peter Paul Development Center, I noticed how much more united the group was as they demonstrated parts of their Iraqi culture. The group did a bit of dancing, where they joined hands with one another and the students at Peter Paul Development Center, jumping around the gym to Kurdish music. There was something very powerful to me about people joining hands to dance. Dance to me is a joyful activity and joining hands is a symbol of unity. The whole experience made me see how much the dialogue on conflict helped the group put differences aside.
“Don’t look at people with one eye,” is a common phrase in Iraq that reminds us all to not judge someone on a mere first impression, but rather to look much deeper to see what’s on their hearts.
It’s amazing to see how a group of 24 Iraqi students and five American mentors bonded and have already formed friendships in less than a week. Before our group had even spent 24 hours together we were dancing to salsa music on the boardwalk in Virginia Beach, bonding over pizza and even singing some long lost Eminem songs.
At our first session with Richmond Action Dialogues, we discussed topics ranging from our dreams for our life, our country and the world to whether religion is an important factor in a relationship. All of the Iraqi students picked the topic they were most interested in discussing. I was in a group that discussed dreams. Dreams can be our vision for the future, or as I learned, in Iraqi culture an actual dream could be telling the dreamer something that is to come in the future.
Our dialogue about dreams really opened my eyes when one person in my group said she had stopped dreaming a long time ago because she knew her big dreams could never become a reality. This absolutely broke my heart. From the time I was a little girl my mom has always encouraged me to follow my heart and chase after my dreams. I’ve never considered that many people can’t have some dreams because of certain situations in their country. For me a big dream is becoming an international journalist, but for many Iraqi women simply going to lunch with girlfriends without being accompanied by a male is a dream come true.
I love that my group was able to express their dreams because it really gave me some insight on each and every person. My hope is that through this program at least one dream comes true and we are able to learn more from each other. When we express our dreams one dream seems to always be the same: for the world to be at peace. This program could very well be a small building block towards achieving that dream.
For more updates about the Iraqi Young Leader Exchange Program at VCU, Follow Alix on Twitter.