Bridges for Education

Main page

What's new?


Information for Teachers

FAQs by Teachers

FAQs for Students

FAQs for Countries




Want to help?

We get letters

Useful links

Cooperating Organizations



Teach Conversational English

in Eastern Europe, China and Turkey


September 11th, 2001

Dear Friends,

Since 1994, Bridges for Education has organized 66 camps in eight countries, serving 8,500 students from 33 countries. In 1997 we organized a Black Sea Peace Camp in Crimea in cooperation with a Crimean Tatar organization recommended to us by a Polish peace organization. There were students from Poland, Ukraine, Russia and Checnya in this camp with American teachers in a sports camp above the town of Yalta, in Crimea.

Yalta was the town where the three super powers of World War II signed an agreement to settle the boundaries of the countries of Europe. Roosevelt,Churchill and Stalin sat down to divide nations and people. The decisons they reached had great and unhappy repercussions for the next 50 years until the fall of the Berlin Wall and beginning of open societies.

Many of us had high hopes and great expectations for a new way of living...a new world. Thinking of my own experiences studying in Poland in 1976, I decided I would try to help the people I had come to appreciate so much. It was thus that in 1991 I managed to convince people to work with me to organize the first English language camps in Poland with the Ministry of Education and UNESCO and a Polish American foundation. But I soon realized that I did not want these programs to just be for Polish students, nor only to recruit Polish Americans as teachers. There was a greater good that could be served by making all the camps international.

So it was that in 1994 after my continued efforts to help in Eastern Europe, Bridges for Education was formed and our first camps organized that summer in Lithuania and Ukraine. I boldly proclaimed that the purpose of Bridges for Education is to promote tolerance and understanding using English as a bridge. People ask, "Where did that idea come from?" When I think back, I remember my frustration that dispite the end of the cold war there seemed to exist among too many people on both sides of the Atlantic ocean, a continuing distrust, misinformation and fear of others.

Since I am of a mixed heritage, I think in terms other than country, religion and ethnicity. I wanted an organization that could try to bridge the gap of trust and communication.

Many amazing and wonderful experiences as well as strange roads have opened to me since the BFE programs began. I am quite different than I was then..much more complicated in my thinking and attitudes. I like to think that I have become a bridge in my own life to provide a connection for that they can trust to help them understand others who live different lives.

All this information is by way of an introduction to an email I received from Alim, one of our friends in Crimea who helped to organize that first wonderful and difficult camp in Yalta. Last summer, in respect for the efforts of the Crimean Tatars to act and live in a peacable manner in a most difficult situation in Crimea between the Ukrainians and Russians, BFE funded 10 Crimean Tatars to attend the BFE camp in Minsk, Belarus.

The email from Crimea:

On Sept 11, 2001, I was in Washington, DC attending an international conference sponsored by the US Institute for Peace, Managing Conflict. Among the participants were humanitarian diaster aid workers from the Red Cross, USAID, World Food Program, Federal Emergency Aid, military Civil society divisions and many non governmental agencies who had been and were still working in the most difficult situations in the world. Our purpose for the four day program was to learn how to expand our paradigm of thinking in order to find peaceful solutions rather than military reactions for seemingly impossible conflicts.

It will be remembered by all of us there as one of the most memorable conferences in our lives...the importance and appropriateness of what we were learning was intensified. The coordinators and participants discussed with serious and intelligent ideas how we can find peaceful solutions in extraordinary disasterous situations.

I read this email below on Tuesday, Sept 11, 2001 at 8:50 am before the second day of classes on conflict resolution and methods of negotiation began. Alim, my friend in Crimea, had sent this message to me at 2 am our time...BEFORE the bombing of the WT Towers and the Pentagon! Please read below and learn that what the Koran says and what most Muslims believe has nothing in common with killing innocent people. Please remind your friends of this so they do not have this entirely wrong image of what it is to be a Muslim. Please gently but firmly correct people who use words like "Muslim fanactic" all the time..these words are not synonymous.

We must not be in a rush to judgement. We must not seek revenge. We must find a way to agree together to help each other survive and thrive. We live on a very small planet and we cannot exist if we continue to think how to punish and annihilate each other. I have heard clear headed people say that those who espouse the attitude of "an eye for an eye" will soon live on the planet of the blind.

I would rather that the 40 billion in funding voted to combat terrorism included money to support efforts to bring people together in a peaceable way. There is a drought in Afghanistan and people are starving. What if the US made sure that everyone there had enough food and clothing and seeds to plant for new crops? I am told that 8 million people live in that country- $100 each is more than a person makes in years..yet $800 million would make a enormous positive change in that entire society and the attitude of those who have reason not to respect the USA.

Instead of people referring to other countries as rogue states; states which do not comply with international norms of behavior and decency... let us think to our own behavior. Norman Chomsky, the famous MIT professor, recently wrote a most provocative and illuminating book called, The Rogue State, referring to the USA's attitude that since it is now the world power, it does not have to abide by world treaties it insists on enforcing. While I do not endorse all that Dr. Chomsky writes, I do recommend this book to you as a source of understanding for how other countries view our quite questionable behavior.

I think we can all agree that a different perspective can often lead to solutions. Please let us also imagine that somewhere out there in intergalactic space, someone is giving a travel advisory warning... Don't travel to that planet Earth, it is a rogue planet.

We will be listing the e-mails we have received in condolence for the terrorist attack on America ,here, on the BFE Web site. I think we can also agree that the attack was against what we want to the world to be like. If students and teachers have sent messages to you, please send a sample of the best ones you have received to me.

The e-mail from Alim reads:

Date: Mon, 10 Sep 2001 19:06:21 +0300
To: J.Beth Ciesielski 
Subject: Re: Arabic And Islamic Books (fwd)

Hello Beth,
I noticed your interest to Islam since you were in Crimean camp... That's good.
My interest is also growing these days, because our new office guardian is a true believer. And he thinks about everything from religious point of view. Everything must be considered having either halal source (halal means approved or allowed by Allah)or haram (not allowed, prohibited).

Then everything will be clear. I am learning his way of thinking, and life becomes very interesting indeed.

And I am reading Koran you sent to me, in English, I also have a Russian translation of it. Every sentence there has a special meaning.

God cares about us, he shows us the right way, the way of those who believe and the wrong way, the way of Satan; He and his Prophet teach us to distinguish one from another... It is up to every man to choose... But our choice will lead us either to Paradise or to Hell...

Many things to think over. Many things we are used to are prohibited. It is not easy to break our customs, our easy way of life. But then this life is just an exam. Then one day, the Day of Judgement, we all will stand up from our graves and go to Court. If we did everything the right way, the way of Allah then we will be awarded with endless life in Paradise. Otherwise, Hell is awaiting us. And Satan will laugh at those whom he led to do evil things... But it will be too late...

Just thoughts in my head...

All of the best to you and your family,