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Just Imagine…Building Cultural Understanding

geralt via pixabay

Ahmed came from the Middle East to study in the United States. His wife was not able to accompany him since she was expecting a child. Ahmed was required to do community service as part of his academic program. He applied to serve at a local nursing home. The Volunteer Coordinator was uncertain how he would be received by the elderly residents, but the Director assured her that Ahmed would be well received.

At first, the Volunteer Coordinator’s fears seemed well founded. The residents didn’t know what to make of Ahmed, and Ahmed seemed uncomfortable around residents with various health conditions. However, Ahmed and the residents soon warmed to each other as they shared stories of their lives. Ahmed was particularly intrigued by stories of America as it used to be. In turn, the residents were eager to learn about the Middle East. The highlight of the semester was when Ahmed and some of his friends cooked a Middle Eastern meal for the residents.

At the end of the semester, Ahmed delivered a bag of envelopes to the Volunteer Coordinator and asked that she deliver them to the residents on Christmas Eve. “I’m going home to be with my wife for the birth of our son, but I’ll be back next semester,” he said. Each envelope contained a note that was personal to each resident. The notes recalled special moments that they had shared together. The tears in the eyes of the residents as they read the notes gave the Volunteer Coordinator a deep understanding of the unique experience the residents and Ahmed had throughout the semester. The fact that each note ended with Christmas wishes was very special.

Just imagine how we could broaden the opportunities for cultural understanding on a one-on-one basis.  What domino effects might result from more person-to-person opportunities for cultural understanding? The positive interaction of different cultures through mutual understanding is essential to a peaceful world. That sort of mutual understanding is something for every one of us to seek out.

“No one is born hating another person because of the color of their skin or their religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.” – Nelson Mandela


This is part of our “Just Imagine” series of occasional posts, inviting you to join us in imagining positive possibilities for a citizen-centered democracy.