By Kathleen McQuillen, AFSC Iowa Program Coordinator

They came to the Friends House to learn but, as we should have expected, they taught and they inspired.

Recently three Central College students serving as AFSC Iowa Peace Fellows participated in a day-long orientation about AFSC, peace building, and change making.

Judy, Omer, and Katherine started their orientation by meeting with representatives of both Senator Harkin’s and Sen. Grassley’s staff. The intent was to help them understand their opportunity and responsibility to engage with their congressional offices on issues of policy, legislation, war and peace.

While representatives in both offices were eager to talk about the office role in providing constituent services, they were less than enthusiastic to make their offices a welcoming place for citizen lobbyists. Both pointed to DC offices as the issue experts. I noted for the staff that DC is far away and their failure to highlight the role of the senators state offices in hearing citizens concerns is counter to the democratic process – a process I was trying to make visible to the students.

In the evening, the students listened to local peace and justice activists share their perspectives on “How change happens.” David Goodner, Sally Frank and Jeffrey Weiss brought their knowledge and experience to the forum as they talked about the importance of organizing for power; giving witness on the streets, in the congressional offices, and in the courts; and growing the movement through education and advocacy.

The students were encouraged by the stories of struggle, courage, and persistence. They heard repeatedly a lesson that takes a long time to internalize—that victories come in small steps, but each one is a celebration.

And then it was the students turn to share. Into the room they brought the optimism that belongs to youth and that inspires peace veterans.

 Judy’s passion is for peace for all people, but her heart is with the people in her homeland of Sudan. She is planning to organize a forum on her campus to inform Central students of the plight of her Sudanese sisters and brothers as well as their beauty and their culture. Judy hopes one day to work in Africa.

Omer, a second year peace fellow, sees the skills he is learning at Central as an opportunity to help others. Noting that he arrived in the US only seven years ago from a refugee camp outside of Sudan, and will graduate from college next year,  he is certain that he can help others, whether from Sudan, Pakistan, Palestine or anywhere. With the right support, they too can reach their dreams. Omer spent this past summer with the Upward Bound program helping students do just that.

Katherine will be completing her degree in December and will be moving on to England where she plans to get a degree in international law. Before she leaves Central, however, she is planning to bring a speaker from the UNA of Iowa to talk about the International Declaration of Human Rights and the important role of the UN in peace making. Already Katherine has posted articles from the declaration around the campus, planting the seeds of peace making.

Indeed their energy, passion, and commitment carry the hopes for a more peaceful future.