By Denis G. Campbell
Three miles from my home sits Atlantic College, part of UWC (United World Colleges) network of 12 schools around the globe. Their task is to deliver “a challenging and transformational education to 7,500 students each year” from countries around the world.
Located in a former William Randolph Hearst castle, one can see the melding of old and new by walking through the doors of the main Bradenstoke Hall. The student body assembled there is a junior United Nations. Students from Namibia to Nepal, Italy to Israel, Canada to Cameroon gather in a very intense but special educational environment. Much is expected as these students are future leaders in their community and some will, eventually, lead nation states.
UWC is co-chaired globally by Nelson Mandela and Jordan’s Queen Noor. Indeed Her Majesty visited the school last week. Among its alumni is the Crown Prince of The Netherlands, Willem Alexander. Speaking with a foreign students, he casually volunteered his father was a close friend of President Obama and they attended Occidental College together. His entire family attended the President’s Inaugural and 50th birthday celebrations. It’s a place where all socio-economic strata meet with but one goal, looking at how together they can help change the global social injustice and help communities grow and prosper.
It is a college in the truest sense of the word. Where Universities focus on graduate degree programmes, Atlantic College targets year 11 students offering a 2-3 year pre-University programme in international studies. This brings a highly motivated global melting pot of students to Southern Wales. One of the economics teachers mentioned a student had spent the summer working directly for Muhammad Yunus. The professor jokingly called it ‘shameless one-upmanship’ since Yunus, an economist, is the creator of Grameen Bank and winner of the Nobel Prize, not for economics, rather for Peace. He created a system of microcredit loans that have helped business owners build their business and lift millions out of poverty.
On Monday I was fortunate to follow former hostage Terry Waite to the keynote dais after he detailed his work helping hostages in Lebanon. It was a three-day conference on social injustice and a number of speakers were invited. It was my second visit as a speaker and I talked about the global issues the US Presidential Election should be discussing vs. chasing trivial stories or news cycle of the day.
We began though with the story of Anglican Church Representative and hostage negotiator Terry Waite. I remembered following his story almost daily. He spoke of his starting as a hostage negotiator with Ugandan dictator Idi Amin. His later meetings to help achieve the release of journalists held hostage in the Middle East throughout the 1980’s. Alas when he was photographed flying in an American helicopter during the time of the Iran-Contra arms sale scandal, he was captured by those for whom he was trying to negotiate the release of further hostages and was himself held for 1,763 days, the first four years of which were in solitary confinement. Released in 1991, he has spent much of his life since writing books about the region and long forgiven his captors and tormentors.
This transformational figure held the student body in the palm of his hands for an hour talking about his own mental state and the physical torture he endured. His grace and complete lack of enmity towards his captors was astonishing. What was interesting is all of these students were born years after his hostage release so were not even a gleam in their parents’ eye when he was captured.
After he finished, the podium was surrounded with 20 or so students asking even deeper questions to gain an understanding and Terry’s words were repeated by many speakers throughout the conference (including me). I wish there had been a programme like this when I was growing up. While UWC is celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2012, more schools like it are desperately needed in this polarised and intolerant world.
I was honoured to be a part of this programme and in case you were wondering… the kids are going to be all right.