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in Eastern Europe, China and Turkey


Dear teachers,

I know that some of the persons applying to Bridges for Education are now naturally concerned and worried about the war in Iraq. Sense of distance shortens considerably when we are afraid. But the facts are these: There is the rather big Black Sea between Bulgaria and Turkey and then a very large distance before you could somehow cross Turkey to get to the far northern borders of Iraq.

There is no Iraqi airforce left since the last time the USA invaded Iraq to stop Sadam Hassam from trying to build nuclear devices- so the Iraqi pilots who have no planes can't fly over our camps, nor can they send any of their bombs that far. Our camp in Targoviste, Bulgaria is inland from the Black Sea and no one anywhere thinks the war will last until July.

I certainly can appreciate your general concerns about bombs and people dying because of war...but that is not where we will be. Staying home on the North American continent and waiting out this war is not the answer to world peace.

All the airlines and travel companies are going crazy here with the great uncertainty of the war and the effect on the world economy. It is natural for people to be afraid and worried. At the same time I get daily messages from countries wishing to send us students and teachers and students here who have been looking forward to another BFE camp- as though we are some sort of sanctuary in this crazy world. Perhaps we are.

My Serbian friends write of their despair of their country having normalcy any time soon after the assassination of their Prime Minister. (The USA is not the only country where its leaders are assassinated.) And yet, I sense a great determination in them to make his death useful- the Serbian people are renewed and prepared to challenge seriously the accommodation with the former soldiers who just used a war to vent their hostile and criminal behavior. Sometimes a tragedy is what spurs heroism, and focuses people on the need for truth and hope and courage. This war is a tragedy and joining BFE is one way to improve this situation.

We need some historical perspective here as well. In the sceme of terror and fear in the world, this is a small affair. I know this does not bring much joy. But the reason there is this conflict is to stop Sadam from building nuclear weapons that could result in a world conflagration.

Many Muslim students and teachers who have been in our camps write that there they felt so accepted and happy. They have been waiting all winter for these camps and the kind hearted North Americans to return. The Chechans and Crimean Tatars love our camps and we love being with them.

I worry too - perhaps the most, about the isolationist feelings of Americans - thinking that our staying on that side of the ocean is the answer to uncertainty in the world. Although we might feel obligated to send our bombs way over....there. Yet it is the opposite behavior that is most needed - send our people over here and not the bombs. North Americans on a personal and individual basis are a wonderful prescription for promoting the ideals of democracy.

Our optimism, our sense of entitlement to citizenship and individual human rights, our sense of responsibility and initiative to make things happen for ourselves, and that the politicians are to serve us and not us them, are hard wired into us. This is also the positive image we have of ourselves and which others want to experience. I imagine humans being sent like missiles through the air with words like optimism, hope, future, rule of law, fairness, openness, human rights, responsibility, team work, dreams, ownership, leadership, initiative, love and kindness written on their foreheads. Dangerous thoughts...such dangerous people to send abroad.

For all the correct complaints about the USA; its too often uncritical self righteousness, its immature arrogance, and seeming enjoyment of domination, (and one could claim with accuracy that these things are hard wired into us as well), people everywhere also remember its generosity and openness and willing to help others. The Marshall Plan which rebuilt Western Europe after WWII is always mentioned as though that exonerates all our stupid actions since. But what is not closely examined is how it was done. It was a great success. However, it was not just because of the amount of the money given, but that the local people made the decisions on how it would be used. That showed respect. We all know that respect is key to building up self confidence and a sense of long term plans and dreams.

BFE promotes respect for others by providing an opportunity to volunteer. We show we care enough to give our time and share our experiences with others. And we all benefit. Volunteerism is essential to a community's well being and is often cited as how the USA is different and has succeeded. Countries that have been or are dominated by thugs and criminals and cynical politicians do not want this concept of community involvement; they want obedience. But real democracy teaches us the importance of independence and criticism and local initiative. The students we work with are much in need of the many good qualities we offer them as volunteers. We show them how to make a positive difference in the world by our own actions.

GW and his advisors should acknowledge somehow and some day that this war is clear evidence of their diplomatic failure to get cooperation on a world basis. He has lost - wasted - a lot of good will for our country from our historical allies. It is an incredible failure...and the world will suffer for this. What BFE does is far more important in the long run than any reliance solely on military strength.

The Russians, Ukrainians, Lithuanians, Kazakstans, Georgians, Azerbijans, Crimeans, Poles, Romanians, Chechans - so many write and want to join the small miracles of a BFE community that we all wish could be all the time. We can all decline to do this again, we can despair and give up or we can soldier on (a Freudian slip of the mind?) and do the best we can.

That you have all agreed to consider joining Bridges for Education, this summer indicates that you are concerned and want to do something to change the present situation of war. I've been through so many years of wars in Iraq, Bosnia, Kosovo, and Macedonia and yet every year we have BFE camps and we are glad that somehow we managed again.

An important world political leader once said, (Points for identifying who said this...and it wasn't GW.) "The only fear we have to fear is fear itself." Fear of indifference, fear of death, fear of being alone, fear of failure, fear of travel....all these worries affect us. Everyone can wait until this war is over or the next one or they can just say, I want to do something now and this is where I can do something useful - to work with young people from several countries to bring them plant seeds for peace.

Thanks for sharing your concerns and your advice. Let's move forward - again. There are no USA government restrictions because of the war on travel to any of the countries we will work in this summer. If there will be - and this is most unlikely, then the camps will be canceled and your money refunded by the airlines and BFE. Buy travel interruption and cancelation insurance..this you should do anyway at any time. Continue to be positive and idealistic and do something important with your life while you can.

My best wishes,

Mrs. J. Beth Ciesielski
Executive Director, and Founder - Bridges for Education
94 Lamarck Drive, Buffalo, New York 14226 U.S.A.
Tel.: (716) 839-0180, Fax: (716) 839-9493