International education is a unifying force that fosters mutual understanding through shared learning and cultural exchange. But what happens when there is a break down in understanding and painful divisions emerge? How do you find accord when conflict has created seemingly insurmountable barriers? For NAFSA and international educators worldwide, the answer to these difficult questions can be found in stories of hope, reconciliation, and forgiveness from across the globe.
At the recent NAFSA 2014 Annual Conference, featured speakers Anna Deavere Smith and Albie Sachs shared their stories of how they found peace through forgiveness and started the healing process.
In her presentation, Deavere Smith, an award-winning actress famous for her work on screen and stage, told the story of Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) and his travels to commemorate the Freedom Riders. During a visit to Montgomery, Alabama, a police chief asked Lewis for forgiveness on behalf of the city and the police department that did little to protect him and his companions decades before. The event allowed both sides to acknowledge the past and move forward to a place of mutual understanding.
Albie Sachs, a human rights activist and former judge on South Africa’s Constitutional Court, survived a car bombing while in exile in Mozambique in 1988. His book, The Soft Vengeance of a Freedom Fighter, details his physical and psychological recovery.
Despite his injuries, Sachs played an instrumental role in helping restore the rule of law in South Africa and establishing the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), which he discusses in the book’s updated epilogue. His work on the TRC helped South Africa begin the process of reuniting by accounting for victims of apartheid, bringing past atrocities to light, and facilitating the healing process for all South Africans. Today, South Africa is often used a model by other countries recovering from conflict.
NAFSA has featured a number of stories on international education and peacebuilding in divided countries and areas mired in conflict, including:
- The Island of Cyprus – “Crossing the Green Line”
- Israel and Palestine – “Security Walls and Suicide Bombers”
- Northern Ireland – “A Laboratory of Conflict and Peace”
- Bosnia-Herzegovinia – “Promise of Peace”
- The Basque region of Spain – “Identity Crisis”
- South Africa – “Bridging the Divide”
These resources are available to any international educator interested in learning more about the power of peace and educational exchange. Additionally, The Soft Vengeance of a Freedom Fighter is currently available in the NAFSA Bookstore for 25 percent off the cover price.