Many ask us- Why NSL?…. When there are so many great Middle East peace programs already out there working with young people. Who needs another one? A great question.
When the idea for NSL was born back in March 2009, the founders had no intention of reinventing the wheel. If we were going to create a program, it had to be something radically new, something not being done, something that would stand out as different and powerful and above all necessary. What we found from our year of research was that there was no program for young adults (18-30 years old) nor one that offered professional training and personal coaching in leadership and entrepreneurship, nor one built around a summer in Washington DC. We were encouraged. At the same time, skeptics who knew more than we did about the Middle East told us that our idea was commendable but crazy. Programs were either shutting down because they had lost funding or from a deep sense of frustration. Why would we blunder into such an area that is a recipe for burnout?
What our critics didn’t realize was that we had a new idea to try out, one that we had applied with immense success with young leaders from Northern Ireland and South Africa. It was a method that used the power of stories to inspire change. Having trained with the founding father of Narrative Therapy, Michael White, we were drawn to the Israeli Palestinian conflict because it represented the mother lode of stories that revolve around conflict. People said that Israel Palestine is the most intractable conflict in the world, one that can never be solved let alone managed, because those religious enmities go too deep. Experts even predicted that the next generation would grow up even more cynical because young people felt helpless to change anything in a situation that was hopeless.
What a story! It reminded us of what we were told back in the 1990s when we began our work with WIP in Northern Ireland- that we were wasting our time trying to fix an ancient quarrel. We had heard the same from our young South Africans on SAWIP who were embracing the new Rainbow Nation of South Africa, proud that Mandela had been able to confound the prophets of doom who could only foresee bloodshed and civil war. If people who created the groundswell for change in Northern Ireland and South Africa had listened to the experts, they would have given up or decided not even to begin. But the story changed, and the world changed with it. If our experience meant anything, the Israel Palestine story seemed ripe for a rewriting.
But that is all the back story. NSL really began with Facebook and a cup of coffee.
THE FOUNDERS- FACEBOOK INSPIRED
In the Spring of 2009, a year into retirement from his days with WIP and SAWIP, Paul Costello wrote on his Facebook page that he was thinking of building a new Middle East program. He wanted to build a narrative program that would take the power of stories to a new level. A friend and host mom from those programs, Joyce Schwartz, read the update and called Paul straightaway and said, lets chat. Over a coffee at the Red Dog Cafe on Grubb Road, Silver Spring, they discovered that a middle east program was something both had been thinking about for a long while. Joyce said,”About time.” “Then lets do it” said Paul. And NSL began, as simple as that.
Once the alums of the Irish and South African programs that Paul had built heard about his starting a new program, they immediately wanted a piece of the action. In the summer of 2009, Diane Halley (WIP 2001) John Callaghan (WIP 2008) Kate Hardie Buckley (WIP 2007) and Olebile Gaobepe (SAWIP 2007) arrived in Washington DC to form the set-up team that would lay out a plan of how best to begin. They recruited other local American students such as Nicholas Brown, freshly returned from the Peace Corps in the Ukraine, who built our first web site. And we used the offices at the Catholic University of America who were our first partners and enjoyed the support and the mentoring of Professor George McClean OMI, the head of the Center for the Study of Culture and Values former Head of Philosophy at CUA.
Along with the alums who knew Paul and Joyce, we reached out to other firm friends such as David and Terry Eason, who had been the Host Family Co-ordinating Team for the Irish Program, and another friend, Greg Robison, who knew Paul from Greg’s days of being Director of the Writers Center in Bethesda MD. Dave and Joyce and Greg and Paul formed themselves into a working Board and Greg set to work establishing NSL as a 501 (c) 3 legal charity with the help of Joyce’s husband, Richard Schwartz and his law firm Crowell and Moran. By the end of 2009, the Exploratory Team of Alums reported that they had received unanimous support from the many members of Congress they had visited, plus the Irish Ambassador, the Director of the Northern Ireland Bureau, the directors of Peace Now and American Task Force on Palestine, J-Street and Foundation For Middle East Peace, and many others who pledged their support. With Kate Hardie Buckley organizing, we even held our first fund raiser at the home of Laurie Oseran, another friend who had joined the Board and had been one of the pioneers in the Irish program Project Children.
FIRST TRIP TO THE REGION
The last piece of the puzzle required we take a trip to the region and assess interest there, and begin the recruiting process. As it happened, Diane Halley had just secured a job as a Human Rights expert working with the Palestinian Police Force in Ramallah, and based in Jerusalem. So Paul Costello was one of her first guests, arriving to meet as many young people as possible and see the region for the first time. We went to Bethlehem University, Al Quds and An Najab U, and Hebrew University and met with alums of Seeds of Peace and other youth organizations. We got a positive response. We also managed to visit Nablus and got as far south as Ber Sheeva and Ben Gurion University. The trip cemented the deal for us.
By the end of 2009, we were all set to recruit our pioneer class for the summer of 2010.
THE PIONEER TEAM 2010
It is great to give birth to a shiny new idea but another step altogether to move it into the real world. Since we were new, how would we get the word out. We had friends who were involved in an American based Palestinian Scholarship program called the Hope Fund and we met and recruited some great students from them, Hanan Abu Shanab and Mariam Ashour. Kate Hardie Buckley had finished her studies at London City University and knew of a scholarship program there for Israeli and Palestinians called the Olive Tree and Kate and with other WIP alums helped select four candidates, Shay Zavaro, Noam Rabinovich, Jayyab Abusafia, and Lior Amihai. Other friends recommended an Israeli environmental studies college called Arava, and we selected Assaf Katz and Liel Maghen from there. And some of the amazing young people we had met at Bethlehem University applied and we selected Jacoub Sliebi and Alla Sharif. We had our first team selected.
If you want to see how the story went from there, you can hear the Pioneer team tell it for themselves.
AND THE REST IS HISTORY…….