The power of storytelling and experience exchange should never be underestimated

My time in the US wouldn’t have had such a huge impact on me had it not been for the people I met and the stories they told. From a woman who worked with Tibetan refugees in India to a man who converted his love for science to a love for kindness and compassion. I learnt in my issue group “Religion and Violence”, how everyone becomes who they are and act the way they do because of the influence and circumstance of the experiences they’d previously had. I was lucky enough that influence and circumstance had led me to be in Vermont for the Governors Institute programme of Current Affairs and Youth Activism.

Discrimination is ever present in today’s society. And Islamophobia is a plague that is ruining the lives of so many. One of the powerful experiences I had in Vermont was forming personal friendships with the visiting Iraqi students and teachers who were participating in the ILEP programmes that ran alongside ours. The visions my Iraqi friends had were inspiring. One girl had hopes and dreams of being a goodwill ambassador. One boy wished to one day lead his country to peace. As he stated on a powerful sign at the Fourth of July parade “I’m Muslim, I am not a terrorist from Iraq”. We learnt that crime isn’t  rooted in religion or ethnicity but in individuals. We cannot live our lives assuming that everyone of a certain race/religion/gender etc is the same. 

Everyone has a complex build up of influence…

and in order to achieve peace we need to strengthen the empathy instinct that’s naturally inside us. We displayed these messages of hope, democracy, equality and peace through spoken and written word as well as art at the July 4th parade in Brattleboro. Marching the streets, all ages, all backgrounds, all skin colours, genders, people. My sign was the America flag with the stars filled with the flags of other countries to represent how the USA is a beautiful mixing pot of nationalities which is diversity to be proud of. 

The parade, issue group, workshops on different issues and topics, swimming, ropes course, morning raves and so much more built my experience in Vermont to be life changing and has left me with so much knowledge and hope for the future (as well as several mosquito bites).

Most of all though, I’m left with perspective changing stories to tell.