By Kelly Mellos, fine artist and member of the Rotary Club of Encinitas Coastal, California, USA
“People don’t get along because they fear each other. People fear each other because they don’t know each other. They don’t know each other because they have not properly communicated with each other.” — Martin Luther King, Jr.
These words deeply resonated with me when the director of Hands of Peace came to speak to my club, explaining his dream of launching a grassroots peace project in our area, an expansion after 10 years in Chicago. Two years later, after our club’s initial alignment with Hands of Peace, the program is off the ground! Countless hours went into raising funds, recruiting volunteers and host families, and creating a three-week program, based on our mission of building peacemaking and leadership skills through the power of dialogue and personal relationships.
I personally found strength in 2012-13 RI President Sakuji Tanaka’s plea from Lisbon to start up peacemaking efforts in our communities and the belief that complacency on violence was no longer an option.
Twenty-four Hands of Peace students, ages 15-18, arrived in San Diego from Israel, Palestine, and the U.S. on 6 July. They were eager to meet host families and start an intense three weeks of dialogue, and take part in activities designed to break down barriers — a unique opportunity to meet with “the other side.”
My portrait workshop was the first planned activity. As a teacher of classical art, I have seen the power of art in peacemaking and designed a program to build trust and compassion, celebrate our similarities and differences, learn a positive outlet for dealing with conflict, and speak in a universal language that goes beyond words (which often fail).
As part of the workshop, I painted a live portrait of a spirited girl from the Palestinian West Bank. She had her hand waving to volunteer to sit for me, even before the words came out of my mouth! She mentioned her mother saw that there would be a portrait workshop on the schedule and that she had to come to the U.S. to be painted! As she sat for me, she told me she felt important. We connected in such a special way and I have finished a painting as a gift to her family.
Later that day, the students had a chance to draw one another. It was interesting to see the walls come down as they observed one another in this intimate way. They were so quick to love and respect one another, it was difficult to fathom the cycle of violence many are experiencing at home — and that many of their family and friends are experiencing even as I write this.
The students are here for one more week. I will diligently put one foot in front of the other in the movement toward non-violence, hoping that this is a wave that envelops them and contributes to a movement of transforming fear into love. Please join me, Rotarian Friends.