Thursday, March 23, 2017

Launching AMENDS Oxford - please help!

Several weeks ago, I shared how current US political actions have impacted AMENDS, the network of Middle East activists that has been so important to me.

Many of our delegates are currently denied entry to the US, threatening this year's Summit. I spent a frantic week in February in meetings, trying to figure out how we could move forward.

I am thrilled to announce that something really beautiful has come from this: the launch of AMENDS Oxford.

This June, over sixty amazing activists from across the US, Europe, and Middle East will gather in the UK for a week of resource sharing and idea building.

This has been a major shake-up for us in terms of organization and funding. The basic conference is secure, but visa fees and flight prices remain barriers.

In order to bring as many members of our community together as possible, we are asking for your help. Funding from this emergency campaign will go directly to travel costs, supporting activists who currently can't get into the US to instead come to Oxford to share with each other.

I can promise you that this week will lead to very direct change. Workshops at AMENDS have launched new initiatives for education, peace, environmentalism, women's rights, and so much more.

I spoke at the UN because of AMENDS. I led an international tour for an Israeli-Palestinian youth choir through AMENDS. I spent a year living in Morocco, Lebanon, and Kuwait thanks to AMENDS.

These conversations matter. And they work.

Your support - whether it's $5 or $500 - will empower a young person from the Middle East to join us.

This is a direct way to transform potential into reality. I hope you're able to help.

Thank you so much for making this difference...and do let me know if you would like to talk further!

For more details and to give:

Sunday, March 19, 2017

'Brothers' day out

My (American) flatmate from Norwich years came to the UK for a holiday this month...and promptly left us for Scotland. But her train brought her back to us yesterday, so Iorwerth and I headed into the city to pick her up. We haven't had a date day in quite a while - it was good to see the kiddo properly.

And naturally, since we were in the city...we grabbed the baby. Rafael is quickly becoming a toddler, though, as demonstrated by the wobbly walking:

Both boys are only children, but Iorwerth's inner 'big brother' comes out in the most adorable way with Rif.

We help get his shoes on:

And let him lecture us on the playground:

All in all, we're just kind of a rambunctious bunch!

And we did, eventually, manage to actually fulfil our agenda of Miss Audrey pick-up! (And now she's flying back to America. Blast.)

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Hello hello!

It is truly shameful, how long it’s been since I updated this!

I spent the end of February at Yale, where I convened a session on environmental peacebuilding for the New Directions in Environmental Law conference:

Then mum and I very cheekily snuck in a week in New York City, catching up with beloved friends and watching (a lot) of Broadway Shows. We got to see Josh Groban and Glenn Close on stage in separate productions, and also got our own backstage tour of “A Bronx Tale”, since a friend is in the cast.

Landing back in Heathrow, I picked up two friends from Michigan in the airport - and we got to see the “Harry Potter” play!! They both spent a week or so in London and Norwich with me. We’ve been frolicking about touring and seeing more shows.

In between all the theatre, I’ve been frantically writing job applications. I’m looking primarily at academic jobs in the UK, but it’s a bit of a ‘hail Mary’, as they’ll have to be able and willing to sponsor my visa as well! I’ve also thrown my name in the ring for something in the US that looks really up my alley, and am regularly exploring other options.

There is a beautiful irony in avoiding my PhD work by applying for jobs that require my PhD to be finished...

Monday, February 20, 2017

Representing the Kuwait Dive Team at OCEANS 2017

I've spent this weekend at the London ExCeL Exhibition Centre, talking with outdoor adventurers about the Kuwait Dive Team and marine conservation at a big Outdoors Show. 

Two years ago, we were at the London International Dive Show, where my audience was mostly divers themselves. LIDS is now part of a much broader operation, so I've been talking with all kinds of folks. 

A few of the Team members journeyed from Kuwait to speak with potential partners and swap ideas, so it's been nice to catch up with them as well!

We have a bunch of our environmental education tools with us, and the group are here with their plastics recycling project, so I've been doing ocean-friendly arts and crafts during quiet times with few visitors.

We also met and spoke with a number of other conservation charities that we hope to invite to Kuwait or visit at their Headquarters for joint operations.

I'll need to get back to writing this week, but it's been fun to do a mini "fieldwork" weekend in the middle of frantic typing and theorising!

Thursday, February 2, 2017

AMENDS: We will not be shut down

A great many of you have heard me talk about AMENDS, the American Middle Eastern Network for Dialogue at Stanford. A week spent connecting with activists from across the region changed my life in profound ways.

Each of my three research partners (Dar Si Hmad in Morocco; the Kuwait Dive Team; and Lebanon's Media Association for Peace) are AMENDS connections. The YMCA Jerusalem Youth Chorus, whose UK tour I helped manage, was born after Forbes Under 30's Micah Hendler shared the idea at the first AMENDS Summit at Stanford University. 

AMENDS Fellows are my best friends, my closest colleagues, and my greatest hope for the world. They are people like Nihal, who works against sexual harassment on the streets of Cairo; Fadi, a young Palestinian entrepreneur whose alternative energy company is supplying the West Bank with electricity through wind power; and Ali, who brings literacy programmes to underprivileged youth in Yemen.

The 2017 AMENDS Summit is scheduled for 19-23 April at Stanford. Thanks to recent events, at least 8 of this year's incredible delegates will not be allowed entry to the US in order to spend this week sharing ideas, building their initiatives, and finding ways to collaborate for greater impact.

Today, the Stanford Student Team released a statement about how the executive order on immigration is impacting our work. The long and short of it: Communication matters. Relationships matter. Time spent together matters. And we are doing everything we can to make sure that this year's 33 amazing participants (selected from a pool of over 500 applicants) have the chance to have the same world-changing week I did.


Read more about the 2017 AMENDS Delegates, their initiatives, and what the Stanford Team is working for:

Learn more about AMENDS and get involved:

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

A Changing Administrative, An Unchanged Hope

Warning: sappy, semi-political post ahead.

Last week, Michelle Obama gave her final speech as the incumbent First Lady of the United States. Tonight in Chicago, Barack Obama will give his Farewell Address.

In Summer 2011, I had the privilege of serving in The White House for a brief time, working with correspondence in the Office of the First Lady. I went intending to study the American political system and the culture of Washington, D.C. What I received was professional mentorship from an amazing staff of career staffers and political appointees, a look into the work-life balance of postroom sorters and world leaders alike, and insight into the American public.

I read letters that summer. A *lot* of letters. Some of them contained policy advice, cries for help, statements of blame. But many of them told stories of hope and thankfulness.

Regardless of where you stand politically or how you feel about Obama's Adminstration (and please believe that I have plenty of complaints - as, I'm sure, does the man himself), you should know that there is a generation of American young people who are growing up feeling empowered because of this couple and the positions they've held. Time and time again, I read statements from children to the effect of "I used to feel I couldn't go to the top because of who I am. Now looking at you, I know I can be anything - even the President."

And that matters. Representation matters. Role models matter.

It's very unlikely that anyone whose letter I read will become the President - but they don't need to. What they need is to grow up knowing it's possible and that the adults in their lives have their backs. FLOTUS emphasised how much she does in her final public words.

I'll carry the words of those encouraged children with me for the rest of my life. Their voices of gratitude and belief have gotten me through some dark days. I will cling to their hope in the days ahead, come what may.

So thanks to the Obama family, and thanks to the country that elected them. Thanks to the incredible team that worked alongside them. And thanks especially to the amazing career staffers who work in administrative and logistical positions in The White House and on Capitol Hill - those who have served and will serve their country under any number of presidential administrations, no matter how much they agree or disagree with the leadership. It is those career staffers who make sure the country's basic systems are able to keep running even as political figures come and go and shuffle things around. You are an inspiration to me and I appreciate all that you do.

The times they are a changin', folks. But hope lives. And role models continue to stand and uplift. And children are growing up in a world that has seen glorious things. May we celebrate, and give each other a hand up, and move ever forward.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

The Marshall and Rhodes: Building Relationships

This holiday season, many people seem to be welcoming the end of the year more than the beginning of a new one.

After all, 2016 took David Bowie, Alan Rickman, Anton Yelchin, and Prince. As if that weren't enough, Ron Glass - the much loved Shepherd Book from Joss Whedon's "Firefly" - passed away the day after Thanksgiving.

Then, of course, there's the outcome of certain votes in the UK and the US - to say nothing of various political upheaval and pain in other parts of the world.

As a viral Tweet so eloquently asked: "Has anyone tried unplugging 2016, waiting for ten seconds, and turning it on again?"

We're struggling, friends. We're struggling. And many of us are rather worried 2017 is set to be worse.

But it's Christmas. And Christmas means hope.

The world, at times, seems a mess. As a species, we're awfully good at screwing up. And yet...we're also the species that birthed Shakespeare, that landed on the moon, that cries when a kitten is hurt. We are capable of being open-handed, heart-warming, awe-inspiring. We just have to remember it.

In a time when insularity seems to be synonymous with security in many people's minds, relationships are more important than ever.

My current work as a PhD Scholar at King's College London is the product of one such relationship - one between the UK and the US that goes back to the world's struggle to recover from World War II (another set of years that likely felt broken and, at times, hopeless). In 1953, the Marshall Aid Commemoration Act was passed, establishing a scholarship for young Americans to pursue postgraduate study in the United Kingdom. Today's Marshall Scholarship community includes Supreme Court Justices, a Nobel Laureate, Pulitzer Prize winners, Oscar nominees, and NASA's youngest astronaut.

Beyond - and more important than - the prestige, the Marshall Scholarship is about making the world a bigger yet tighter community. It is about Americans meeting other people, seeing new sights, comprehending the complexity of our world. It is about relationships.

2016 seems broken? A few good things have happened lately that are going to help fix it.

This Monday, Alok Sharma (the United Kingdom's Foreign Office Minister) announced a 25% increase in the number of Marshall Scholarships offered for 2017. In September, I'm getting forty (rather than the usual thirty-ish) new friends as the Marshall Scholar Class of 2017 begins their tenure. I am hopeful that this increased number of Scholarships will help bolster the Commission's ongoing efforts to empower underrepresented communities, widening participation and improving diversity in academia and politics.

On that note: a few weeks ago, the Rhodes Trust announced its expansion to underrepresented countries in the Middle East. My beloved friend and AMENDS Colleague, Hashem Abu Sham'a, has been named Palestine's first Rhodes Scholar. Hashem will join the University of Oxford in September 2017 to continue his battle for peace and justice in the world.

And there, my friends, you have it. 2016 wasn't all bad. So long as we can continue to invest in relationships and value collaboration, focusing on our shared humanity and seeking new things to discover and create, I have faith in us.