Global Citizenship, People Power

The Rama J. Vernon Story

The world is like the kink of a dogs tail, said one great master from
the Far East, as long as you are holding it you think it is straight
but the moment you let go, it just kinks up again. This phrase haunted
me as I sojourned to the Soviet Union at the height of the cold war
between the US and USSR. I was not a peace activist. I believed that the
greatest gift of peace I could give to the world was my own inner
peace. But now I found myself traveling with a group in the name of
peace. It was 1984 just after the Korean Airline disaster that nearly
catalyzed a nuclear war between the two Super Powers. There were no
sports, education or cultural exchanges at that time and fear of the
Soviets was rampant. President Reagan’s label of the Soviet Union as the
Evil Empire gave fuel to U.S. films depicting Soviet invasions and
enhancing the enemy stereotypes.

The only borders that keep humanity apart are the borders within the human mind.

This trip was an opportunity, I thought, to travel behind what
Winston Churchill so colorfully called, the iron curtain, to glimpse the
enemy for myself. As I came face to face with Soviet women, children
and those that survived the Stalin purges and the Kruschev era of the
cold war, I could not find an enemy. Their children’s laughter was the
same as ours, their cries the same as ours. Their tears and laughter was
the universal language that transcended all boundaries and borders of
them and us, Soviet- American, Communism and Capitalism. Our hopes,
fears, dreams, visions for our future and the future were the same. Even
the ducks that swam in the ponds of Gorky Park looked just like our
ducks. After many years of deep inner work through meditation and Yoga, I
was shocked at how I had been influenced by media in the U.S. to
believe that these people were the enemy. Thousands if not millions of
Americans shared this mistaken belief and together we were creating a
morphogenetic field of fear that would draw to us like a magnet the
thing we feared most.

I must, I thought, bring thousands of Americans here to see for
themselves; to transform the stereotypes they held of the Soviets; and
help the Soviets to transform whatever negative images they may have had
of Americans. After seven long years and over fifty trips to the Soviet
Union, creating and coordinating many exchanges and conferences based
on Joint Project development between the citizens and officials of both
countries, Soviet officials said that it was groups like ours that ended
the cold war between our two nations, not just our leaders. The success
of our work was a surprise to me more than anyone. Perhaps the world
was not like the kink of a dog’s tail. I was witnessing positive change
between our countries and the peoples within them that would have
lasting effects. In one of our conferences Soviet and American
counterparts birthed one thousand joint projects. A Soviet official with
tears in his eyes said, “The effects of our work together will go far
beyond our lifetime.”

Soon our work expanded into other countries where my husband and I
were invited to create dialogue and conflict resolution/transformation
roundtables between warring factions. We worked with Armenia and
Azerbaijan, Ethiopia, Central America, Rwanda, Somalia, South Africa,
Yugoslavia, Kosovo and the most difficult area of conflict — the Middle
East. In time we expanded our attention to Israel, Gaza, the West Bank
and Jordan bringing Americans to hear and see “the other side”. We
developed a Conflict Resolution curriculum that emphasized the
correlation between personal peace and global transformation and how the
two are inseparable and mutually interdependent.

I’ve recently returned from Afghanistan where wars and invasions have
taken their toll on the country and their people for decades. I was
invited to assess the needs of widows and orphans and to explore the
possibility of creating a women’s conference with representatives from
Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Pakistan, India, Russia and Turkey. Meetings
were arranged with highly educated women of the Rotary Club in Kabul.
Many of these women are journalists, educators, and members of
Governmental Ministries active in rebuilding their countries. They are
very enthusiastic about coming together with their sisters from
neighboring lands, in the hope that through these connections, they
might prevent future conflicts and war. One of the leading women
journalists of Afghanistan who appears on television said suddenly, “Men
destroy. Women rebuild”. The men in the room did not flinch but instead
with downcast eyes, nodded their heads in agreement.

I have gained a unique window into the Afghan society by traveling
with the Hartung sisters, who lived in Afghanistan during the 1960’s, a
time when Afghanistan was experiencing the most stable period in its
national history and developing a democratic government. Marnie and Ruth
offered insights into the effects of war on the country that provided a
valuable comparison to current conditions.

Training different groups of Afghan people while on the trip gave me
first hand opportunities in seeing how we could provide the in-depth
training the Afghan people themselves feel that they need. This has led
me to help create and promote a program we have begun to call
“Face-To-Face with Islam”. We are being joined by a consortium of
multi-organizations committed to international training programs that
promote humane and environmentally sustainable economic development
within the context of social activism for world peace.

Many Afghan leaders I met and worked with during this trip shared the
sentiments captured by Najia Said, Executive Director of Wala Wala, a
women’s literacy and job skill training project in Afghanistan who said;
“Yes, we need the resources to help ourselves, but we need more the
training to overcome the conflicts that we are experiencing and to not
get discouraged.”

“Face to Face with Afghanistan” best reflects a strategic design that
will provide the Afghan people access to greater flexibility in their
daily life, and will initiate ways to educate the American community to
the remarkable Afghan culture so that both countries can work together
to address the great threat of terrorism to world peace.

Much work is ahead of us. Rural Afghanistan is still governed by
tribal warlords who are barely cooperating with the new central
government. Ordinary Afghan’s still struggle to feed their families and
are once more tested regarding their political loyalties. All of this
suggests that we are in a new era of threat brewing in this fragile
region where poverty is a key component to the conflict.

Yet with all this in the present moment a future is held within the
hearts and minds of the Women of Afghanistan. In spite of all the
adversity, there is a movement, a drive forward with purpose,
creativity, and resolve, within the people. A critical milestone in the
reconstruction of Afghanistan came about in December 2003. The Loya
Jirga produced the new Afghan Constitution that recognizes women’s
rights for the first time in Afghanistan’s history. I believe the Women
are on their way and I am grateful for the privilege to be walking with
them and their sisters throughout the Middle East Region.

I guess my story goes on, from Russia more than twenty years ago
creating dialogue opportunities that brought understanding between
Soviets and Americans and growth of conflict resolution programs that
have helped contribute not just to resolution but to transformative
evolutionary change.

My journey is every person’s journey that begins where the feet
stand. When the desire to serve becomes so great, the forces of the
universe align to help bring forth all that is needed to fulfill
whatever our piece of the universal vision may be. Today, our world
needs our prayers, our quietness in meditation and our love beyond every
boundary of good and evil, right and wrong, liberal and conservative,
terrorist and military. Can we remain balanced between all the growing
polarities that form the walls and borders that separate us from one
another and the realization of the oneness of all humanity?

A few years ago, I was with the Dalai Lama as he conducted a sunrise
meditation on a mountain overlooking the four corners of the Middle
East. He stood on the mountainous precipice with only the early morning
sky for a backdrop. As he turned from side to side his gaze swept over
the convergence where, Jordan, Egypt, Israel and Saudi Arabia meet. “I
don’t see any environmental or natural borders here,” he laughed
quietly. Which made me think that the only borders are within the human
mind. That has become an abiding thought for me.

The only borders that keep humanity apart are the borders within the human mind.