'A common bond of loss'
Young adults united in program to bring peace, end conflict
July 20, 2012
Byfield- Growing up, the friendship that Dubhaltach Mulvenna and Davina Whiteside share would have seemed impossible.
Few families in Ireland were spared the violence that stemmed from The Troubles, the decades-long conflict Northern Ireland that resulted in the deaths of over 3,500 people. As a result, both Mulvenna, from Ireland, and Whiteside, from Northern Ireland, grew up in an environment where the other side was viewed with suspicion, contempt and hatred.
Had fate not intervened, they would likely have turned out no different. But three years ago, the two met at a program in Belfast for teens who have lost a close family member to an act of terrorism or as a result of a global conflict, and they found that their people had more in common than they thought.
That program was Project Common Bond, and this year Mulvenna and Whiteside, now 19, are among the 75 young adults from around the world who have been united through the nine-day peace-building and conflict resolution program put on by Tuesday's Children, a nonprofit organization that serves the needs of people affected by terrorism, and hosted by The Governor's Academy in Byfield.
Project Common Bond, now in its fifth year, ran from July 12-20 and aims to help young adults who have been impacted by global conflict become leaders of peace in their own countries by helping them come to terms with their own experiences and giving them the skills they need to make a difference in the lives of others. The program emphasizes the Dignity Model, developed by Donna Hicks of Harvard's Weatherhead Center of International Affairs.
Yarden Ben Ozer, a 16-year-old girl from Israel, said that Project Common Bond gave her the chance to meet people like her all over the world and provided everyone there a chance to reflect on the past and learn how to become leaders of a new generation of peace.
"I'm going to come back home with a lot of knowledge about other countries all over the world and their conflicts, and how they deal with conflict," Ben Ozer said. "I believe that peace is a realistic thing after being here."
In addition to knowledge and skills, the program also gave the participants a sense of community. Despite all the differences in culture and language, each participant could relate to one another because of their experiences, which are not easily shared with people who haven't been victims themselves.
"All of the participants have a common bond loss," said Terry Sears, executive director of Tuesday's Children. "That's what really unites them and brings them together."
"What makes it different is that we lost a loved one to an act of terrorism and hatred," said Robert Mathai of Arlington, a sophomores at Tufts University. "Everyone will lose someone that they love through acts of God and whatnot, illness, old age, but we're different because somebody killed someone that we care about."
Many of the American participants lost family members on Sept. 11, and participants from other countries have experienced loss as a result of their own country's conflicts. For example, Mulvenna's uncle was shot dead by the British army in 1973, and members of the Irish Republican Army killed Whiteside's grandfather in his own home. Some participants from other countries had relatives who were killed by the Taliban, and a few were even injured in terrorist attacks themselves.
"You can't hold them culpable just because they were taught something incorrect," Mathai said. "You have to realize that you can go beyond that and that killing someone else will not make you any happier and it won't make the world a better place. You have to transcend all of that hatred."
Now, young adults from conflicting countries like Israel and Palestine or Ireland and Northern Ireland can return home and spread word of their experiences, hoping one day to help end the violence and bring about a lasting peace.
"If it wasn't for Project Common Bond, I wouldn't be the person I am today, and (Dubhaltach and I) wouldn't be friends," Whiteside said.
Once they get home, Mulvenna and Whiteside hope to establish a program in Ireland called Common Difference, which will bring young people from both sides together and show them that they're not really so different. Through the friendships that result, the pair hopes that peace can be achieved.
"I believe that's the way we're going to achieve peace," Mulvenna said. "You're not going to hurt your friends."
Healing the wounds
At Project Common Bond, young victims of violence create international support network to cope with losses
By Alejandra Matos
July 22, 2012
Newbury- They are the most unlikely of friends. Dubhaltach Mulvenna's family is Catholic and supports a united Ireland; Davina Whiteside's is Protestant and favors continued British rule in Northern Ireland.
Both Mulvenna and Whiteside lost a loved one-- he an uncle, she her grandfather-- in the decades-long sectarian violence that convulsed that region. Their families taught them to never trust anyone who identified themselves with the opposing group.
But the two now consider themselves best friends after participating in Project Common Bond, a nine-day camp this month at the Governor's Academy that helps young adults from all over the world cope with acts of violence and creates a support network to help them heal.
Campers participate in community-building activities and talk about their experiences as a way to teach one another tolerance and understanding. The camp uses a curriculum, developed by Harvard, that stresses mediation and conflict resolution.
"I learned there is wrong and right on both sides," Whiteside, 19, said as the camp was winding down. "For all the differences that we have, there is a major commonality: We were both innocent victims."
As he watched his fellow campers compete in a foot race in a large green field at the academy, Mulvenna, also 19, said, "Everyone here understands each other, and it makes us all strive for peace because of our past. We don't want other people to have to go experience what we have. We want it to stop at us."
Tuesday's Children, a non-profit organization that aids victims of 9/11, created Project Common Bond in 2008. This year, the program brought together 74 students from such places as Israel, the Palestinian territories, Sri Lanka, and Russia.
Several of the participants this year lost a parent in the 9/11 attacks.
Robert Mathai's father was in the World Trade Center when it was hit. The 19-year-old said that the program has taught him that getting angry with people who killed a loved one is not only the wrong response, it is also the easiest one.
"The hard thing is to realize the person that did it was wrong, but you can't hold them culpable because they were taught something incorrect," said Mathai, of Arlington. "You have to realize that killing someone else and going for revenge will not make you any happier, and it will not make the world a better place. You have to transcend all of hatred, so you can work with other people."
The program, held in Massachusetts for the first time, has taken place in three different locations: Belfast; Bryn Mawr, Pa.; and outside Washington, D.C. Participants, ages 15 to 20, must have lost an immediate family member through an act of terrorism or political violence, program officials said. Project Common Bond reaches out to victim-advocacy groups in various countries to help identify young people who could benefit from the program.
Anaelle Abescat, a 17-year-old from France, lost her father in a terrorist attack in Saudi Arabia when she was 11.
"I was there, and I had all this anger. I didn't want to have that anger anymore," Abescat said. "I saw this program as an opportunity to change that anger into a beautiful power, and that's exactly what happens here."
As part of the program, the campers must come up with a Peace into Action project that they will take home to raise awareness in their countries.
Mulvenna and Whiteside are teaming up for their project.
Sitting under a tree, eating popsicles Thursday, they said they want friendships like theirs to be the norm, not the exception. They plan to start a program that will bring young people together from both parts of Ireland.
"Through those friendships we can rebuild the future," Mulvenna said. "That is how we are going to bring peace, through friendships, because you are not going to hurt your friend."
They admit, as do most of the participants, that changing ingrained ideologies is difficult, including their own families'.
"My mom found it hard to deal with at first," Whiteside said of her friendship with Mulvenna. "But me being here has helped me influence her, so she has become more openminded. What I have learned here, I try to teach them."
Teens who lost kin to terrror unite at Mass. camp
By Bridget Murphy
July 19, 2012
NEWBURY, Mass. (AP) — On a windowsill at a Massachusetts boarding school, a white candle burned in memory of a man who died half a world away in Argentina.
The man's daughter, Astrid Malamud, was a toddler when it happened.
On Wednesday, 18 years later, Malamud, who barely remembers her father's face, was far from home as she marked the anniversary of his death in their homeland's bloodiest-ever terrorist attack. But the 20-year-old Argentine university student was still close to people who understood her loss. Beside Malamud's candle, a second wick burned to commemorate another of the 85 victims of the July 18, 1994, bombing at the Argentine Israeli Mutual Association in Buenos Aires. That man's daughter also was nearby, as were more than 70 other teenagers and young adults who lost family members to terrorism.
They came from the United States and 15 other countries, gathering at Governor's Academy, about 30 miles north of Boston, for a summer camp known as Project Common Bond. The program, now in its fifth year, is part of the New York-based nonprofit Tuesday's Children, which helps families of victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
The nonprofit's executive director, Terry Sears, said Wednesday that the camp is a way for the children of Sept. 11 victims to reach out to children around the world who've suffered similar losses. She and other organizers said it's a chance for participants to heal and to work on becoming the world's next generation of peacemakers.
The curriculum design comes in part from a mediation and negotiation program at Harvard Law School. It's meant to teach conflict resolution and leadership skills that campers can take home to do projects that make a difference in their communities. Campers, ranging from 15 to 20 years old and some attending with the help of scholarship money, said it's also a chance to be around others their age who understand them. As they sat talking Wednesday below the flags of their countries, each had a story of a childhood that changed because of a loved one who was lost.
"I think you get independent sooner and you grow up faster because you need to understand things little kids don't understand," Malamud said later. "... I wish we all weren't here. If I could take my flag off of there, I would. Or any flag."
For 19-year-old camper Farah Sarrawi, a Palestinian, the program is a chance to make friends with Israelis. That was something she never expected could happen, she said, after she saw her father die in 2001 when Israeli soldiers shot him on the balcony of the family's home.
"At first, it was hard," Sarrawi said. "But I look at them now as humans ... and I believe that in every country we've got some crazy people that make that conflict."
Sarrawi said she grew up wishing that her father, who used to spin her on the dance floor, was still with her. She said she can't imagine that someday she will get married and not have him there to see it. But Sarrawi said that her father's death also made her strong and that camp is a way to stoke the belief inside her that there is hope for peace.
Previous camps were held in Washington, D.C., in Philadelphia twice and in Northern Ireland.
Camper Joanne Murphy, a 20-year-old law student from Northern Ireland, said the program has been like going to 15 countries and having a cup of coffee with someone. The Derry resident lost her grandmother to terrorism before she got a chance to meet her.
Murphy said British soldiers shot her Catholic grandmother to death in a 1971 raid during the Northern Ireland civil unrest known as the Troubles and there never has been justice.
She said it's difficult to explain the barrage of what-ifs that follow her through life to people who haven'texperienced the same thing. But at camp, she said, she doesn't have to explain.
Malamud, the Argentine student, shared that sentiment.
"Even if you don't talk about it with these people, there's a strong bond," Malamud said. "You can feel it."
Johan Santana Pitching in for Charities On and Off Mound
Mets star tossed team's first no-hitter, but also helps those in need in both New York City and Venezuela
By Denis Hamill
New York Daily News
June 5, 2012
David Handschuh Mets pitcher Johan Santana holds up copy of Daily News chronicling his no-hitter.
He doesn’t just throw historic no-hitters.
Johan Santana, who pitched the first no-hitter in New York Mets history on Friday night, also throws his time, name and celebrity behind charity work. The kind of charity work that brings this baseball god down to Earth, where he had a humble start in life in a small town in Venezuela.
“It’s important not to forget where you come from,” Santana says as he sits outside the team locker room at Citi Field on a rainy Monday morning.
“That’s why when I was with the Minnesota Twins I started my first charity, the Johan Santana Foundation, which involved buying a used yellow fire truck and having it shipped down to my hometown of Tovar. We had some terrible conditions down there — bad weather, fires, floods, mudslides. I had some firefighter friends in Tovar and I always imagined being in their situation, trying to help people without the right tools. So my foundation bought a fire engine for my hometown.”
Santana also didn’t forget being a poor kid at Christmas in Tovar.
“Every year now, we hand out 10,000 toys for Christmas for the kids back home,” he says. “The smiles on all those faces are a bigger gift for me than for them.”
His humanity off the field extends further than his home town. A few years back, Lynne Greenberg, wife of his agent, Ed Greenberg, died from the insidious ravages of melanoma.
“You just don’t know,” he says, his boyish eyes widening in sadness. “One moment, she was fine and full of life and laughter. A few months later, she was gone. So it was important to me, in her honor, to bring awareness to people about the dangers of the sun and skin cancer.”
Five years ago, Santana moved to New York, renting an apartment in Manhattan and a home on Long Island. It doesn’t take more than a lease and a J-O-B to declare yourself an official New Yorker. If your job is the star pitcher for the Mets, at $23 mil a season, you quickly assume some responsibility with the pay stub.
“When Jay Horwitz (the Mets’ public relations chief) spoke to me about a charity called Tuesday’s Children that helped families who lost loved ones on 9/11, I wanted to be a part of it,” Santana says. “That meant a lot to New York, which has been so good to me. To the whole world. I remember the day it happened, the whole world stopped. So being able to help anyone who suffered from that event was something I definitely wanted to be part of.”
Santana, who has two Cy Young Awards and a $138 million pitching contract, missed an entire season last year because of shoulder surgery. Many baseball sages didn’t think he could return. But on Friday, he made history in Citi Field when he hurled the first no-hitter in the 50-year history of the Mets.
Not even Tom Seaver ever did that.
That night, Johan Santana owned the city, the headlines, the heart of New York. But here’s a guy who can put personal triumph in perspective with one glance toward the Manhattan skyline.
“I am a New Yorker now, and like everyone else, every time you drive by Ground Zero you see all the people coming to visit and pray,” he says. “People from all around the world. It just deeply affects me. So it’s a privilege to help some of those families.”
Santana has reached out to 9/11 families in the Hispanic community; his foundation donating $10,000.
“I met with two families and let me tell you, it just breaks your heart,” he says. “One woman lost her granddaughter. One was the widow of a firefighter. I thought immediately of my firefighter friends back in Tovar. There was a direct line from my childhood hometown to my current home town. People hurting, people in need of help. Even just to know someone still cares. Still remembers.”
That’s the man behind the headlines; the Johan Santana who throws as much heart into charity as he did into that historic Mets no-hitter.
Children of 9/11 Responders Visit Mets Dugout
By Kerry Murakami
Long Island Newsday
April 26, 2012
David Pokress Anthony Vanaria, right, uses his cell phone camera to snap a photo in the Mets dugout as Chris Gardner checks out the bat rack.
For Chris Gardner, who lost his father on 9/11, the visit to the Mets dugout, featuring private meetings with star players, was more than just a fun outing.
"It takes your mind off things," said Gardner, 17, a junior at Oceanside High School.
After more than a decade, Gardner said he still thinks about his dad, FDNY firefighter Thomas Gardner, every day.
Chris Gardner smiled as he stood in the dugout at Citi Field before the Mets game with the Miami Marlins yesterday afternoon with 14-year-old Anthony Vanaria III of Yonkers.
Vanaria's father, a retired FDNY lieutenant, has suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder and chronic respiratory problems, both linked to his role in helping search for remains at Ground Zero.
The event, part of Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day, was organized by the nonprofit Tuesday's Children, created after the terror attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, to help child victims cope with the tragedy.
"This is why we do this," said Amy Wright, Tuesday's Children development director, who accompanied the boys to the ballpark. "To see these smiles on their faces."
In the dugout, the teens clutched autographed batting gloves. Gardner described himself as a casual fan -- although he said his grandfather was an usher at Shea Stadium for 40 years.
Vanaria was more star-struck. He pointed at a dried wad of gum on the bench and said, "That could have been [third baseman] David Wright's."
His father, Anthony Vanaria Jr., said the years after the terror attacks have been difficult for him and his family. "They went through a lot of worrying and anxiety," he said.
But thoughts Thursday were on Mets baseball.
Mets pitcher Dillon Gee, whose father is a firefighter in Texas, stopped by to chat, asking where the teens went to school.
Outfielder Mike Baxter, whose mother is an FDNY secretary, dropped in, followed by pitchers Tim Byrdak and Bobby Parnell, whose dad is a fire chief in North Carolina.
"Come with me," Parnell said, taking the teens on to the field.
Vanaria, eyes wide, fired off a quick text to his dad.
"OMG," it read.