Press Releases
 


February 24, 2002
Serving as Friends to the World / College program promotes global activism

Newsday; Long Island, N.Y.; Feb 24, 2002; Martin C. Evans. STAFF WRITER;

Abstract:

Adam Ma'anit spent a year in Nepal, helping to organize a successful challenge to a World Bank-financed hydroelectric dam opponents say would harm the environment and shackle the government with debt. He also worked among refugees in Kenya, helping with a forestry project designed to conserve water in that drought-ravaged area.

Bob Zellner, who teaches a course on the history of activism at Southampton, was an activist long before [Tarrant] was born. In the '60s, he was among a handful of white southerners who risked their lives to help organize black voter registration campaigns.

Scott Chaskey, an adjunct professor who runs an organic farm in Amagansett, said the social activism of the 1960s encouraged him to explore alternative agricultural techniques as a way of saving the planet. Students come to him to learn the use of natural pesticides, organic fertilizers and other techniques designed to avoid harming the environment.

Full Text:
(Copyright Newsday Inc., 2002)

Friends laugh at their beat-up cars, and their weekly paychecks sometimes are less than the hourly rate of many high-priced lawyers.

But students and alumni of Southampton College of Long Island University's Friends World Program say their goal is to change the world, not to impress anyone.

"I do have to sacrifice the lure of getting a highly paid job," said Adam Ma'anit, a 1992 Greenport High graduate who is doing advocacy work in the Netherlands. "But on the other hand, few people can claim to be doing exactly what they want to in life."

Through Friends World, a four-year degree program, students like Ma'anit are sent to the corners of the earth with the hope that by exposing them to unfamiliar cultures, they can learn to get beyond their own narrow perspectives and develop sensitive solutions to the world's problems.

Graduates of the program, who receive a bachelor's degree in Interdisciplinary Studies, have taken up a range of issues, from organic farming on the North Fork to successfully challenging a dam project in Nepal that opponents say would wreck the Nepalese economy.

"For me to live my life and have self-respect, I have to address the injustices I see around me," said Adrianne Zwartjes, a 2001 graduate from Nyack, who earns about $1,200 per month working with an afterschool literacy program in New York City.

Friends World was founded in 1965 in New York by Quaker activists. Its first president, Morris Mitchell, believed students who developed first-hand experiences in other cultures would become a vital resource for global peace and development.

Until this year, students spent their first semester at Southampton College, then did internships at one of several regional centers around the world, including Heredia City, Costa Rica, just outside San Jose; Kumasi, Ghana; Hangzhou, China; Bangalore, India; and Kyoto, Japan.

Beginning in the fall, students will spend their first year in London rather than Southampton. Program officials decided to switch the first year to London so students would begin experiencing a foreign culture from their first day at college.

After completing a year in London, students will choose one of the program's regional centers, and spend at least one year there, studying language and culture. After spending at least one more semester at a different foreign location, students spend their senior year writing a thesis at Southampton.

Ma'anit spent a year in Nepal, helping to organize a successful challenge to a World Bank-financed hydroelectric dam opponents say would harm the environment and shackle the government with debt. He also worked among refugees in Kenya, helping with a forestry project designed to conserve water in that drought-ravaged area.

Since college, he has worked in the Netherlands for Corporate Europe Observatory, a research organization that challenges threats to social justice or the environment posed by the actions of multinational corporations and agencies.

"I know this sounds clichéd but the moment you realize you can make a difference, whether it's being a full-time activist or volunteering at your local community center, most people just keep on doing whatever they can the rest of their lives," Ma'anit said.

But the program is not for everyone.

Tuition, travel and other costs total about $30,000 per year, though most of the roughly 200 students enrolled in the program receive some financial aid.

Admissions officers urge applicants to think long and hard about whether they want to spend their college years in countries where toilets don't always flush and roads aren't always paved. Of those who choose to enroll anyway, two in three leave the program before finishing, according to associate dean Janet Davidson.

Friends World graduate Mary Hevi, 26, said her travels with the program forced her to part with comforts most college students take for granted - such as reliable water supplies or modern medical care - and challenged her view of America.

When she came down with an infected wisdom tooth in Costa Rica, a local dentist struggled with the extraction. Eventually, he pumped her with anesthetics, she said, then reached for a screwdriver.

She flew back to New York.

"It was like a backyard mechanic who tries to fix a car with a tire iron," said Hevi, who has worked as an admissions counselor at the college since she graduated two years ago.

During her first year in the program, she spent time in Virginia, interviewing workers there on the impact the meat-packing industry has on the lives of local residents.

She said a street divided one community there, with white-owned shops on one side and black-owned shops on the other. For the first time, she said, she saw how starkly racial divisions defined housing patterns, business development and even where pollution was concentrated.

"It wasn't until I got to America that I realized what racism was," said Hevi, who was born in Egypt to a father from Ghana and a mother from Congo, and who went to high school in Jerusalem.

Friends World freshman Tohanash Tarrant, 17, grew up much closer to campus - she's a resident of the Shinnecock Indian Reservation.

Tarrant said although few students seemed interested in social activism while she was enrolled at Southampton High School, she has been steeped in the push for change for much of her life.

Two years ago, she joined other Shinnecock activists in an unsuccessful effort to block development of a 62-acre tract near the reservation known as Parish Ponds. The land is believed to include an ancient tribal burial ground.

"It's been with me for as long as I can remember," Tarrant said. "My mom was an activist, and my aunts. It's something I've always been exposed to."

Bob Zellner, who teaches a course on the history of activism at Southampton, was an activist long before Tarrant was born. In the '60s, he was among a handful of white southerners who risked their lives to help organize black voter registration campaigns.

"The civil rights movement and the struggles that flowed from it have become a major part of American education," Zellner said.

Scott Chaskey, an adjunct professor who runs an organic farm in Amagansett, said the social activism of the 1960s encouraged him to explore alternative agricultural techniques as a way of saving the planet. Students come to him to learn the use of natural pesticides, organic fertilizers and other techniques designed to avoid harming the environment.

"I'm a child of the '60s, I loved it then," Chaskey said. "I call this an idea of the '60s that worked."

One of his interns, Heather Marini, 23, has studied sustainable agriculture in Australia. Another has helped homeless people in Rochester establish a community garden to provide themselves with food.

Ma'anit said he came away from the program confident that its roughly 50 graduates per year will help change the world for the better.

"Most of my friends from Friends World are doing amazing things in their own unique way," Ma'anit said. "Whether it's working for fairer working conditions around the world, or working to help refugees, or getting involved in education, I think they've all come out with a commitment to positive social change."