08-07-09 Marine Corp dispels cultural myths

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Marine Course Dispels Cultural Myths
New America Media, News Report,
By Suzanne Manneh — SAN FRANCISCO — Last month, 16-year-old Erie French of Corona, Calif., received an e-mail that he said “changed his life.” At the same time, on the other side of the world, 16-year-old Noura Mansour of Port Said, Egypt, also received a “life-changing” e-mail. The e-mails notified French and Mansour that they were among 60 high school students chosen from a pool of more than 400 applicants to participate in an accelerated, international ocean science pilot program called “Ocean for Life.”

Spearheaded by the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), in partnership with the Global Learning and Observations to Benefit the Environment (GLOBE), the pilot program brought students from throughout the Middle East, United States and Canada together in Washington, D.C., July 26 to learn about the government’s involvement in marine research.

The students were split into two groups, one bound for the Florida Keys and the other for Northern California to follow a tightly packed schedule.

That includes interviewing and studying with leading experts in the field, and ultimately creating a multimedia project documenting their experience. National Geographic’s photography camp and American University’s Center for Environmental Filmmaking are training the students.

French and Mansour, participants in the Northern California project, which will conclude Aug. 9, said it wasn’t just their acceptance into such a prestigious academic summer program that excited them so much, but the fact that one of the goals of the program is to foster a better understanding of the western and eastern cultures.

“I’ve always wanted to experience something like this for myself,” said French, who is considering pursuing a degree in biology at UC Riverside.
“I’d never really known any Arabs or Muslims, except for one classmate a few years ago, so this was my chance to finally expand my horizons.”

French’s roommate in the program is from Saudi Arabia.

Mansour, on the other hand, said it was a chance to finally see America for herself.

“My sister had spent a year in America for a university exchange program and told me all about it,” she said, noting that the media on both sides of the globe could be misleading in portraying images of people and their cultures.

“America is beautiful,” she said, beaming, still in a daze that she was finally here. “It’s so interesting to see how the American culture is made up of so many of the world’s cultures together. This is just so cool.”

Program organizers had hoped to see such a reaction from the participants. They said it validated their belief that having students from the Middle East would break stereotypical notions about them, said Jonathan Shannon of NOAA.

“It made a lot of sense to us to mainly focus on students from the Arab and Muslim world,” Shannon said, noting that programs such as this are helping to foster, albeit in a small way, the kind of cooperation between the United States and Muslim countries that President Obama said he would like to see.

“What’s more is that the participants get to tell in their own words stories about their own home countries,” Shannon said. “We often see the same stories in the same media lens, especially about the relations between these two parts of the world.”

Lauren Demko of American University Center for Environment Filmmaking, who is training the students for their multimedia projects, agreed.

“Today you hear, ‘Arabs and Muslims with westerners? No we don’t get along.’ But there’s an unheard side, and programs like this provide an opportunity for understanding,” she asserted.

Prior to the students’ arrival, program coordinators and facilitators completed cultural competency training to better prepare for working with the visitors.

“We didn’t want to do anything that would offend anyone, and didn’t want to go into the program with any of the participants having preconceived notions about anyone else,” said Shannon.

According to several coordinators, students from the United States and Canada were excited to discover for themselves information about Islam and the Arab world. They said all of the participants immediately connected with each other.

French, the only African-American student in the program, said: “No one saw me as ‘the African American.’ We all came to realize, as cliché as I know it sounds, that it’s not, ‘He’s black, he’s white, he’s Jordanian, he’s Lebanese,’ but that we’re all people.”

(Suzanne Manneh writes for the New American Media. This feature is posted with her permission.)

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Ray Hanania

Ray Hanania is an award winning former Chicago City Hall reporter and Columnist who began writing in 1975 when he published The Middle Eastern Voice newspaper in Chicago (1975-1977). He covered Chicago City Hall from 1976 through 1992 (Mayor Daley to Mayor Daley) and has expanded to writing for newspapers around the world focussed on Middle East and American politics.

Hanania loves to write about American Arabs in politics, and focuses on Arab life in America.

Currently, he writes weekly columns on Middle East and American Arab issues for the Arab News in Saudi Arabia at www.ArabNews.com. He writes on American politics for the Des Plaines Valley News, Southwest News-Herald, The Regional News newspaper and the Reporter Newspapers. He also writes for the online websites TheArabDailyNews.com and NewsAmericaNetwork.com (Illinois News Network at IllinoisNewsNetwork.com).

Palestinian, American Arab and Christian, Hanania’s parents originate from Jerusalem and Bethlehem. Hanania began in journalism as an activist publishing Chicago’s first English-language American Arab Newspaper “The Middle Eastern Voice” from 1975 through 1977. In 1976, he was hired by the Chicago community newspaper The Southtown Economist (Daily Southtown) and in 1985 was hired by the Chicago Sun-Times and covered Chicago City Hall for both. In 1993, he launched the “The Villager” Newspapers which covered 12 Southwest Chicagoland suburban regions. In 2004, he published “The National Arab American Times” monthly newspaper which was distributed through 12,500 Middle East ethnic food stores in 48 American States.

Hanania is the recipient of four (4) Chicago Headline Club “Peter Lisagor Awards” for Column writing. In November 2006, he was named “Best Ethnic American Columnist” by the New American Media;In 2009, he received the prestigious Sigma Delta Chi Award for Writing from the Society of Professional Journalists. He is the recipient of the MT Mehdi Courage in Journalism Award. Hanania has also received two (2) Chicago Stick-o-Type awards from the Chicago Newspaper Guild, and in 1990 was nominated by the Chicago Sun-Times for a Pulitzer Prize for his four-part series on the Palestinian Intifada.

Hanania’s writings have been published in newspapers around the world. Formerly syndicated by Creators Syndicate, Hanania also has written news, features and Opinion Columns for Al Jazeera English, the Jerusalem Post, YNetNews.com, Arab News, Saudi Gazette, Newsday in New York, the Orlando Sentinel, the Houston Chronicle, The Daily Star, the News of the World, the Daily Yomimuri in Tokyo, Chicago Magazine, the Arlington Heights Daily Herald, and Aramco Magazine. His political columns are published in the Southwest News-Herald and Des Plaines Valley News, Regional News and Palos Reporter newspapers in Chicagoland. Hanania is the President/CEO of Urban Strategies Group media and public affairs consulting which has clients in Illinois, Florida, Michigan and Washington D.C.

Hanania is Palestinian Christian from prominent Bethlehem and Jerusalem families. His wife and son are Jewish and he performs standup comedy lampooning Arab-Jewish relations, advocating for peace based on non-violence, mutual recognition and Two-States.

His Facebook Page is Facebook.com/rghanania

Email him at: RGHanania@gmail.com