The Sunflower Initiative logo
Women Funding Women’s Education
The Sunflower Initiative logo
Women Funding Women’s Education

2015/09 The Sunflower Initiative Quarterly


The Sunflower Initiative’s September 2015 newsletter
September 2015

Summer 2015: Travels to the Middle East

by Marley Forest

Marley Forest is The Sunflower Initiative’s third Harriet Fitzgerald Scholarship recipient.  She is in her second year at Wellesley.  The picture above was taken in Petra, Jordan.
After I left Seeds of Peace International Camp in the summer of 2013, I knew I could not rest until I visited the Middle East.  Seeds of Peace, a camp focused on conflict resolution, brings together every summer students from Israel, Palestine, Egypt, Jordan, India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and the United States to Pleasant Lake, Maine, and encourages dialogue about the Israeli-Palestinian and South Asian conflict.  I attended the camp as part of the American Delegation to consider the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I count the experience as the most significant of my life so far. 

I have been drawn to Arab culture ever since I visited Egypt in 2011 with my grandmother. Struck then by the warmth of the people and the riches of Egyptian culture, I vowed to return and immerse myself more fully. Camp only increased my desire to return to Egypt—I wanted to experience the lives of my new friends and to gain greater understanding of their beliefs and customs. When my initial plan for a trip in 2014 didn’t work out, I rescheduled it for this summer, having been accepted into a post-Seeds of Peace trip called “Bayti” (meaning “home” in both Arabic and Hebrew), designed for “Seeds” who wanted to study the conflict at close range by spending two weeks in Israel and the West Bank.

After finals ended at Wellesley, I packed a small backpack and boarded a plane to Cairo. There I was greeted by a group of Seeds of Peace friends and quickly whisked off to my friend Miriam’s house, where I would live for the next two weeks. I should point out that when Egyptians talk about “Egypt,” they are in fact referring only to Cairo, an unimaginably large and diverse city.

Not surprisingly, then, though I never actually left the city during my entire two-week visit, I felt as though I was exploring an entire country. Every day a Seeds friend took me to new sites—the winding ancient streets of the Khan al Khalili (the old city of  Cairo), the ancient churches and synagogues of Coptic Cairo, or the large strip malls and universities. At night my host-father took me to meet locals at coffee and juice shops, where they discussed the changes occurring in post-revolution Egypt. I ate endless amounts of sharma and makluba with my close friend Bahira as she showed me the city. Once again I was impressed by the kindness and hospitality of the Egyptians. The two weeks flew by, and when I left, I was assured that I had a home and a family in Egypt.

Marley and a friend in Cairo.
After leaving Egypt, I flew to Amman, Jordan, the capital city. For several days I explored the city with friends from Seeds of Peace, and then I decided to break off by myself and see some of the remote sites in Jordan. This challenging solo travel proved to be extremely rewarding. In Petra I stayed with Bedouins and ate dinner under the shadow of the Treasury, I slept under the stars in the Wada Araba (Arabian Desert), and I learned to bake Bedouin bread in the sand.  I stayed at a Bedouin camp in Wadi Rum, scuba dived in the Red Sea in Aqaba, and explored the enormous ancient Roman city of Jerash. Everywhere I went, I shared tea with the Jordanians as they shared stories of their lives, revealed their passions, and introduced me to their culture. Again I was greatly moved by the people’s warmth to this stranger and foreigner. 

The last plane I boarded took me to Tel Aviv, Israel, where for five days I relaxed before joining my Bayti friends. Except for a brief excursion into Jerusalem, I spent my days in Tel Aviv exploring markets, reading on the beach, and enjoying the city’s rich night life. Nonetheless, I was excited to meet up with the Bayti group and begin the most powerful chapter of my travels: the study of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Although it is difficult to summarize what I learned in my two weeks with Bayti, I certainly came away with a better understanding of this incredibly complicated conflict. We visited Palestinian cities such as Hebron, where aggressive Israeli settlers have built settlements on top of the houses of Palestinians and throw garbage, rocks, and even human waste down onto the heads of the inhabitants. In Bethlehem, the winding separation wall cuts the city into pieces, isolating neighborhoods and businesses and creating a desperate feeling of entrapment. In the tiny village of Nabi Selah outside Ramallah, the villagers host weekly peaceful protests against the Israeli settlement being built on their land and are met weekly with tear gas and rubber bullets and often face arrest by the Israeli Defense Force. In the refugee camp of Jenin we saw walls plastered with posters of martyrs; the pain and anger of the Battle of Jenin in 2002 are still much in evidence. We also visited Sderot, the Israeli town bordering Gaza and the most affected by Hamas rockets.  At Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Museum, we learned the central and most heartbreaking reason for the creation of Israel.

We all learned that no one is safe in this conflict and that no one is unhurt; there are many sides to the hatred and violence. I know however, that I am privileged to have witnessed this history firsthand. The month and a half that I spent in North Africa and the Middle East increased my passionate interest in that part of the world. This semester I have incorporated this passion into my academic schedule; I am continuing to study Arabic, comparative politics and conflict resolution, and I am declaring a double major in Political Science and Peace and Justice Studies.

Applications for the 2016-17 $10,000 Harriet Fitzgerald Scholarship should be submitted no later than February 1, 2016. 

Click Here for more information.

The President’s Column 

Kudos to Sweet Briar!

by Betsy McCrodden

Against tremendous odds, Sweet Briar College is still alive.   Responding to the announcement by Sweet Briar’s Board of Trustees that the College would close in August of this year, students, alumnae and faculty joined forces and succeeded in reversing that decision and giving the College new life. 

The announcement by the Board of Trustees this spring was sudden and unexpected, throwing current students and incoming students into panic and presenting a real dilemma: should they accept the decision and find another institution or should they join forces with alumnae and faculty to protest the decision?  Faculty and staff, of course, were in the same boat; their employment would end in August.  What followed the trustees’ decision was a remarkable testament to the strength of the students and to the attachment Sweet Briar alumnae feel for their alma mater.

Through lawsuits and with the help of the Commonwealth’s attorney in Amherst County and the Attorney General of Virginia, those contesting the trustees’ decision succeeded in buying time for the College.  The victory, of course, presents Sweet Briar and its new president, Phillip C. Stone, with many challenges.

The major challenge will be student recruitment.  Because of the timing of the trustees’ decision, many current students had already worked out transfers as most incoming students, with the college on shaky grounds, decided to go elsewhere.  Recently local papers reported a student body of three hundred, not nearly enough to sustain an institution of higher education.  

In spite of the fact that Sweet Briar has a beautiful campus with its location at the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, the former Board of Trustees chose to emphasize the negative: remote, isolated, etc.  President Stone, however, plans to present the college differently, calling attention to the natural beauty of the campus, its usefulness as an environmental lab, its equestrian program, and its safety.

On today’s college and university campuses, safety is an important consideration.  Sweet Briar and other women’s colleges do not host football and basketball games that bring out the worst in college students today – reckless drinking and partying which, in some cases, have led to violent criminal activity.   Women’s colleges obviously do not have fraternities where too often women become objects to be conquered and controlled.  

Certainly women who attend women’s colleges can choose to go to games and fraternity parties, but, as President Stone notes, during the week they are removed from that environment and enjoy school weeks and schoolwork in a safe and supportive place.  In the tradition of Randolph-Macon Woman’s College and other women’s colleges over the years, Sweet Briar offers a secure setting for young women to pursue their educational goals.    

Click here to give to TSI today!





Meredith Dixon <[email protected]>