by Divya Wodon, Naina Wodon, and Quentin Wodon
“What was inspiring was that one year the teens went back to Cyprus and decided that they were going to conduct a joint memorial service for everybody that died in the war, which was the first time it was done on the island.”
The Cyprus Friendship Program is a peace building initiative whereby volunteers bring together teenagers from the north of Cyprus, which is Turkish speaking and Muslim, and the south, which is Greek speaking and Christian. Cyprus has been divided since the war of 1974, and teenagers from both sides hardly ever meet. Through the program teenagers come to a host family in the United States for a month in July and get to know each other and have a chance of becoming friends. The teenagers learn that the hatred and animosity that they grew up with towards the other side is unfounded, and the program encourages them to influence their peers once back in Cyprus to join in peace building activities.
Thomas McCarthy from the Olney Rotary Club is on the steering committee of the program and its coordinator for Maryland and the District of Columbia. He recruits host families and provides help with programming contents on leadership, conflict resolution, and peace building for the teens who come. There have been great successes. “One of the teens was quoted as saying that she grew up mourning the loss of her grandfather and great uncle and all those who died on her side in the war, but as the result of getting to know the teenagers of the other side, now she mourns the loss of everyone who died in the war.” Thomas firmly believes and has learnt through the program, that “the best way to build peace in an area of long standing conflict is to get the teenagers on each side of that conflict to get to know each other, and then they start to question the way it’s been, and they realize it doesn’t have to be that way in the future. That is a very powerful realization.”
Note: This story is reproduced with minor changes from a book published by the authors entitled Membership in Service Clubs: Rotary’s Experience (Palgrave Macmillan, 2014).