ORLANDO, FL (FNN News) – What is peace? The multi-layered, open-ended question was the focus of Thursday night’s Global Peace Film Festival panel discussion in Rollins College’s Suntrust Auditorium. The three-speaker panel included Brian Rusch, Executive Director for the Desmond Tutu Peace Foundation; Andrea Eliscu, Founder of Dueling Dragons Orlando, an organization that pairs at-risk children with Orlando Police to paddle in dragon boat races; and Dr. Yasmeen Qadri (pronounced KAH-dri), a thirty-year teaching veteran and the Education Coordinator at Valencia Community College’s East Campus.
Three Different Approaches to Global Peace
While there are myriad answers to and opinions on the panel’s topic, the three panelists addressed the question from their personal experiences and the causes they currently champion to help promote world peace.
Rusch explained that the Desmond Tutu Peace Foundation works toward peace by “teaching young people how to be inspired by peace leaders all over the world and take that inspiration and go out and make change.” The tagline for the organization’s current initiative, Peace3, is “Within. Between. Among.” The first focus is on inner peace (peace within), which leads to peace in interpersonal relationships (peace between), which eventually leads to peace among communities and countries.
Eliscu’s Dueling Dragons of Orlando promotes peace by pairing two typically opposing sides—who don’t communicate with each other—to work and train together for ten months, in which time a bond is formed, and negative preconceived notions are jettisoned. “I want everybody to understand that it is not about competing, although we do compete and for some magical reason we do win,” Eliscu said. She stated that the focus is about the mentoring and relationships that take place between the police officers and the children, the majority of whom are African American, and some Hispanics. “They do not know that they can get along,” she said. “…And they haven’t spent ten months where they contribute to something, which is the paddling of that boat.”
Dr. Qadri, a Muslim educator who hails from India, learned through her experiences in New York and attending school at the University of Central Florida that “teachers are change agents for peace.” Through her research and work at Valencia, she received several Endowed Chair Awards, making it possible for her to present at international conferences, including in other Muslim regions like Indonesia, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and northern India.
Her travels have inspired her to assume a “dual responsibility” for bridging the information gaps between the east and west: she brings the peace model from Valencia and teaches it when overseas to audiences who carry negative assumptions about the U.S., and she likewise brings what she learns overseas back to the U.S. to inform her students of how the Muslim faith actually works in other countries and how their peace efforts look.
“The barriers are barriers of misconception,” she said. “And that can create more fear and more hatred.” She added that, when faced with discrimination or ignorance concerning her faith here in the U.S., she sees them a teachable moments and informs the person or people addressing her with the truth about her faith.
She embraces a quote she heard from seventeen-year old Muslim peace activist and Nobel Laureate Malala Yousafzai, who said, “If you really want peace in the world, don’t send soldiers, send teachers.”
Dr. Qadri said she is shifting towards more frequently traveling and speaking at forums in an effort to teach and inspire other teachers to be agents of peace as well.
The Common Thread to Global Peace
While all three approaches are unique, the common thread between them is open dialogue and open-mindedness.
Rusch told FNN News that the organization’s tool for promoting peace is dialogue, so the foundation produces forums on many college campuses nationwide, including upcoming forums at Stanford, in San Francisco, and in New York; the forum topics are chosen based on the most strident sociopolitical issues in each location. “Here in Orlando, it’s race,” he explained. “In San Francisco, it’s faith…when we go to Stanford, it’s back to race, because contrary to the popular belief that Stanford’s a predominantly white school, its student population very closely reflects California.”
Through Dueling Dragons Orlando, “cops and kids” reconcile through interaction and dialogue during practice sessions and fun activities, learning more about each other. “The cops will say, ‘Wow, I saw him as a black kid’,” Eliscu said. “ ‘But now I just see him as a teenage boy, much like my own.’ ”
Dr. Qadri opens minds domestically through classroom interaction and, like Rusch, opens minds internationally through forum dialogue.
The Panel in the Festival’s Context
Many lives are already changing by learning firsthand what the three panelists have already known: Peace counters hatred, but the way to get there is by accurate information, education, and willingness to learn, and the Global Peace Film Festival, now in its thirteenth year, is filled with movies and discussions that speak to that sentiment.
“The important thing about the Festival is not what happens here, but what happens after here,” said Nina Streich, Founder and Executive Director of the Global Peace Film Festival. “Anecdotally, we hear over and over from local organizations, from individuals, that they met someone here, heard something here, saw something here that prompted them to do something. The more of that [that happens], the happier I am.”
Mellissa Thomas is a Jamaica-born writer. She’s a decorated U.S. Navy veteran with Entertainment Business Masters and Film Bachelors degrees from Full Sail University in Winter Park, FL.
She is also an author coach, helping advisors, coaches, consultants, entrepreneurs, and experts double their income and clinch the credibility they deserve by walking them step by step through the process of developing, completing, marketing, and publishing their first book via her Inevitable AUTHORity™ Author Mentoring Program.
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