Tuesday, February 23, 2010

An Innovative Approach to Building a Common Trail and Understanding for Peace

Guest Post:

Reuven Gal, a youth civic engagement practitioner in Israel, is pursuing a new idea for a Middle East Peace Trail (MEPT) to connect diverse young people, differing nations and adversaries in building a common trail and understanding for peace. Reuven shared his idea with ICP for our blog readers.

The MEPT project involves engaging young people in building a 2,000 kilometers (approximately 1,240 miles) long trail, across four neighboring countries in the Middle-East. The cross-regional trail would start in Alexandria, Egypt, west of the Nile Delta, cross the Sinai Peninsula and the Palestinian Gaza Strip into the southern Israeli Negev desert and over to the Jordanian hills, and continue all the way to the Iraqi border.

To build the trail, a number of young cohorts, coming from Egypt, Jordan, Palestine and Israel, will be organized interactively to perform a meaningful and visible mission, of an internationally significant scale. The impact of accomplishing this mission, throughout a prolonged period of time, will be two-fold: on the one hand, these young people will create a significant change in the Middle-East's map; and on the other hand, they will experience themselves a meaningful transformation in their own perceptions about their respective neighbors.

The construction of this entire system will be carried out by young volunteers, members of Middle-East National Youth Service frameworks, together with some young volunteers from other countries across the world. These volunteers will be grouped into twelve-member teams - three individuals (preferably a mix of males and females) from each of the four participating nations (Egypt, Jordan, Palestine and Israel). Each team will be assigned to build a section of the trail (e.g. 10 miles). It is also proposed that there will be two official languages mandatory in all teams -- Hebrew and Arabic.

While the trail itself will be well-paved, clearly marked and strolling through scenery paths, it will also include along its route numerous rest-areas, picnic-areas, observation-points, camp-grounds, etc. Note that the term 'trail' indicates a walking and hiking route, rather than a road that vehicles can drive along.

While during the day-time the volunteers will be occupied in the physical labor of the trail, their free time afterwards will be devoted to learning each other's 'language' and backgrounds, through team engagements. These will include interactive activities, group discussions, and other vicarious experiences that nurture close familiarity among these youth.

Thus, throughout the period of this cross-cultural, inter-state project, approximately 1,500 young men and women will return each year to their respective countries, with a different and new perspective about the Middle-East: not as mutually-hostile states, but rather as an all-inclusive region; not fragmented, but potentially united. They will also be free of distorted prejudices and false stereotypes about their former foes.

The mixed teams working along this trail would not only experience a road without borders, but also a collective accomplishment without rivalry. These thousands of youth will then become the future leaders in their respective states, and will disseminate their acquired new perception into actions and onto many other people.

The high visibility of the project would be further leveraged and utilized, both for political reasons (namely, advancing peace relations in the region), as well as for the continuation of the project itself. With the sophisticated applications of current electronic media (e.g. Google Earth, Google Earth Pro etc'), it will be possible for anyone, anywhere, to follow in real-time, after the gradual progress of the trail construction. This, in turn, would enable individuals and organizations, throughout the globe, to take part in the project – either by means of sending contributions, communicating with the youth in the field, spreading the information and more.

This creative project seeks to bridge deep fears and mutual hatred through a prolonged period of shared activities between adversaries. They will be challenged together with a common goal, that requires significant effort, inter-reliant cooperation and close acquaintance. This will be characterized by a sense of "service," have high visibility and symbolic (in addition to practical) value, and carry an overall positive and optimistic message.

The site of the trail can also become the meeting place for leaders of the region in their peace-keeping endeavors. The picture of two (or more) previously-opponent leaders, conducting a friendly walk-and-talk session along the surfacing trail route – can be very appealing…

For other examples of young people engaging in post-conflict reconstruction and peace building projects, please see the January 2010 issue of ICP's newsletter, Service News Worldwide.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Patrick Corvington sworn in as new head of the Corporation for National and Community Service

While Washington, DC, and much of the east coast came to a standstill under the snow and ice that blanketed the area last week, the Corporation for National and Community Service braved the elements to announce the confirmation of their new Chief Executive Officer, Patrick Corvington. On February 11, the US Senate unanimously confirmed Corvington’s nomination and on February 18 was officially sworn in to lead the national service agency.

The Corporation’s statement on the appointment reflects Corvington’s wide breadth of knowledge and experience that he will bring to his new position at CNCS. With more than 20 years of leadership experience in the non-profit sector, Corvington has the skill set needed to achieve the triumphs and tackle the challenges that face the Corporation. Voices for National Service commented that “Patrick brings a unique set of skills and expertise that are right for these times. His expertise in nonprofit leadership and capacity-building, evaluation and performance measurement, and systems reform will be helpful to a field poised for major growth with high expectations for results. Patrick's relationships with grassroots organizations, national nonprofits and foundations, social entrepreneurs and systems reformers will bring many new partners to national service and expand service and innovation as solutions to community needs.”

In his most recent position as a Senior Associate at the Annie E. Casey Foundation, Corvington worked with grantees on capacity and leadership building. He has co-authored research publications such as “Ready to Lead: Next Generation Leaders Speak Out” and “Next Shift: Beyond the Non-Profit Leadership Crisis,” and has served as Executive Director of Innovation Network, a non-profit agency that builds the evaluation capacity of the non-profit sector. Stephen Goldsmith, the Chair of the Corporation for National and Community Services Board of Directors conveys CNCS’s excitement for Corvington’s appointment: “Patrick's years on the frontline of the service movement give him a unique understanding of the obstacles facing communities and the transformative power of service. The Corporation's ability to respond to human needs, rebuild our cities and inspire more Americans to serve is more critical today than ever before. There is no doubt that Patrick's varied experience and dynamic leadership will be an asset to the Corporation. He is the right CEO at the right time.”

Born in Haiti and raised in Africa, Corvington has a personal understanding of the importance of service and civic engagement. He graduated with a B.A. in Sociology from the University of Maryland, College Park, and later received his M.A. in Public Policy from Johns Hopkins University, receiving the National Minority Leadership Fellowship from the Kellogg Foundation.

Following his education, Corvington began his life mission of successfully engaging and bettering communities that would eventually lead him to CNCS. Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA), Chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, described Corvington as having “devoted his career to finding solutions that address communities' unmet needs and is an expert on volunteerism, philanthropy and nonprofit capacity building. He is well qualified to lead the Administration's agenda on community service, including the implementation of the bipartisan Serve America Act.” According to his biography on the Corporation’s website, Corvington has worked as a case manager for migrant workers, a director of a youth group shelter home, a homeless shelter volunteer, and a patient advocate in an HIV/AIDS clinic. With his wide range of experience, as Paul Schmitz, chief executive of Public Allies states in an article released by The Chronicle of Philanthropy, “He’s one of the smartest people in the country about leadership and the capacity needs of nonprofits.”

We congratulate Patrick Corvington on his appointment and look forward to his leadership in the Corporation for National and Community Service.

To read the full press release from the Corporation for National and Community Service and to read Corvington’s full biography, please click here and here.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

A Hand for Haiti

It has been nearly three weeks since the devastating earthquake in Haiti, and the need for international support and aid is still incredibly urgent. While over $528 million has been donated to 40 U.S. non-profit organizations and an army of volunteers have teamed up to help, there is still much more to be done, and the long road to recovery is just beginning.

As one of the Western Hemisphere’s poorest countries, Haiti suffered utter destruction and devastation on January 12, 2010 when a record 7.0 earthquake ravaged the small country. Haitians helplessly watched as their hospitals crumbled, their homes burned, their capital city turned to rubble, and found loved ones and livelihoods lost.

People all over the world have been volunteering and doing what they can to help the victims of Haiti, whether it be donating $10 via text message, or volunteering for organizations that are putting together food, medical supplies, and other important tools for survival. The immediate outpouring of support has been incredible; now it is important that this commitment continues as the news of the earthquake fades from the headlines.

Fortunately, a wealth of different organizations, along with the help of compassionate people around the world, have rallied together to provide the people of Haiti with the resources they need to survive.

The support Haiti has received from around the world has inspired youth across the globe, and young people are finding different ways to get involved and do their part to help Haiti in the recovery effort. With half the world’s population under the age of 25, the youth population is a massive resource to tap into and provide help for those in need. A number of organizations have reached out to youth, encouraging their participation and giving them the outlet to unite and make a real difference.

Here are some examples of how organizations are connecting with youth and encouraging them to get involved in helping the victims of the Haiti earthquake:

Youth Service America (YSA) – Posted a message on their website encouraging youth to share their service ideas with friends, teachers, parents, and others in their community.

• “Get Ur Good On” – Miley Cyrus posted a video on the YSA’s Get Ur Good On website asking youth to “Get Their Good On for Haiti,” and post what they have done to help Haiti. Posts included making bracelets and selling them with proceeds donated to Haiti, donating money to UNICEF, and schools having “no-uniform” days and collected money.

Usher’s New Look –Usher and his foundation, Usher’s New Look, along with Powered by Service and the United Nations Foundation, announced a call to action for youth to raise $5 each to support Haiti relief. One Economy Corporation organized a “Youth Respond to Haiti Toolbox” for children and young adults to learn more about Haiti and ways to donate. These toolboxes can be embedded on websites to spread the word about youth service.

Youth Run 4 Haiti – Josh Duhamel and Red Cross Santa Monica organized a 2-mile Youth Run on January 23, 2010, to benefit the people of Haiti. Over 3,000 people attended, and all wore red to support the relief efforts.

The Big Help: Help Haiti – Nickelodeon set up a website to help kids reach out and help Haiti, offering tips on starting a fundraiser, or how to support a relief organization.

World Vision’s 30-hour Famine – On February 26th and 27th, U.S. teens will fast for 30 hours, drinking only water and juice while participating in local community service projects to create awareness and raise money for the child victims of Haiti. A portion of the funds raised will go directly to Haiti relief and recovery efforts.

Los Angeles Times – An op-ed proposed a youth volunteer corps in Haiti as a great opportunity to mobilize Haiti’s youth and begin the recovery process.

Do you have stories of youth participating in the relief efforts for Haiti? We would love to hear them! Please share your stories in the comments below.

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