Two Summer Portal instructors from a region steeped in conflict shared their experiences with environmental science students this summer. Freed Mahameed and Lila Bobrowicz didn't simply teach Portals students how to test pond water in the labor determine the age of a tree; together, they illustrated how working towards a common goal can unite cultures.
For Bobrowicz, a 24-year-old Israeli undergraduate from Tel Aviv University, this summer marked her third and final season teaching environmental science at Summer Portals as part of a fellowship program established between Hotchkiss and the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies in Israel.
Dedicated to preparing future environmental leaders from Israel, Palestine, Jordan, the Institute focuses environmental issues that affect those regions —because, explained Bobrowicz, "nature has no borders."
Before attending Arava, Mahameed, a 29-year-old Palestinian-Israeli who holds a biomedical and education degree, was teaching in Bedouin villages, which often lacked electricity and modern technology. This summer was his first time teaching in the Portals program. While he and Bobrowicz did not know each other at Arava, they bonded instantly while working together at Hotchkiss during the three-week course. After his first week at Hotchkiss, Mahameed remarked, "We're like soulmates now."
Together, they were able to connect with students by telling their stories in an informal way, using the environment as an example of how different countries share similar issues.
Many Portals students aren't familiar with the geography of the Middle East or the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, said Bobrowicz. "When they hear our stories, many are touched," she added.
Last year, a Portals student from Harlem was so inspired by the presentation that Bobrowicz gave about Arava that she plans to attend the institute in the future. "She knew nothing about the region and yet she was intrigued by the way the Institute brings people together from very different backgrounds. It showed how powerful and universal the Institute's message is, which is about transboundary environmental issues," Bobrowicz said. "It's a tool to bridge gaps and create create cooperation between groups in conflict."
For his part, Mahameed plans to incorporate "inquiry-based learning" to his teaching curriculum, including leading forest tours and hikes, visiting farms, and using scientific research in the lab. "It's in my DNA to challenge myself, so here I challenged myself to push students outside their comfort zone."