1) What information tools & technologies did you used to complete your Doors to Diplomacy project?
We accessed information from many different sources by highlighting Economist and TIME articles by the handful, accessing Internet websites, or using our school’s library. Technology played a crucial role in creating our project, because all three of us had computers and internet access at home. The internet proved to be our greatest friend because of the ability to compare and contrast information from different sources. One drawback of this was the necessity of insuring that the information we found was accurate, which we did by checking important facts and figures with other reputable sources. With the internet, we were able to create an online discussion folder through which we could discuss our latest findings and post rough drafts for peer review. With MSN Messenger, we could talk in real time while working. Our website itself was created using Notepad (for HTML coding), and Adobe Photoshop.
We also conducted a survey of all students talking English classes in our High school, allowing us to analyze the opinions of teenagers on international conflict. We were able to supplement our research by talking with primary sources about the conflicts we were researching, including representatives from the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, the former Deputy Executive Director of UNICEF, and refugees who had fled the conflict in Myanmar. Although in the end we could not upload our videos (because of security concerns to the UN and to refugees), our film studies teacher graciously lent us a video camera even though none of us are film students. A friend stepped in and provided us with MiniDV recoding tape and a tripod to use during our interviews. During our visits to the United Nations and to refugee camps, we used a digital camera to take snapshots for use on our website.
2) In what ways did you act as "ambassadors" and spokespersons for your Doors to Diplomacy project both on-line and in person.
Each member of our team has acted as an ambassador for the cause of solving international conflicts. In an article printed in our school’s Magazine – the Panorama, distributed to the entire student body – we explained the process we went through and the background of the conflicts we researched. We also raised awareness for our cause by placing an advertisement in our school’s Friday Flash, which is distributed to the families of the 1,000+ students who make up our school. Our student community was involved in our project through the distribution of a survey addressing international conflict. Michael posted information about our project on another website he maintains, which has a membership of 3,000 teenagers just like us from all over the world. We’ve established contact with Amnesty International, the United Nations, and even political refugees themselves, raising awareness for the cause we believe in. An official of the United Nations, noting the difficulty of the topics we’d chosen, encouraged us to persevere and complemented our work, commenting on the importance of resolving such conflict and raising awareness for the issues. One of the greatest compliments we received was from a 16 year old Burmese girl, a political refugee who had fled suppression and humanitarian crisis in her native country, traveling by boat, by car, and through the jungle to reach safety. When we told her what we were raising awareness for, she said “thank you.”
3) What has been the impact of your project on your community?
Our project, involving many different members of our community, strengthened the relationship between us and the people around us. We’ve established links to refugees who seek monetary and humanitarian assistance, something our community will be able to provide. By connecting with the United Nations and Amnesty International, we’ve created relationships that will allow us work even further to solve pressing international and local conflict.
Perhaps the most tangible conflict for people here in Malaysia is the Myanmar conflict. This provided us with the opportunity to see international conflict in a different light, and would provide insight that could not be obtained by reading any number of news articles or conflict summaries. We took advantage of this by interviewing UN officers, officials running programs for refugees, and the refugees themselves. The information we obtained first hand from these highly knowledgeable people revealed a world of hardship we were absolutely unaware of, Addressing the refugee issue here in Malaysia is like balancing on the tight rope, where refugees, organizations, and the government are struggling to find their footing.
Interestingly, assessing conflict on a local level exposes the impact that conflicts have internationally. Nowadays, globalization has irrevocably connected countries, for better or for worse. Conflict anywhere leaves repercussions everywhere. So the question is this: is there such a thing as international peace? If so, how can it be attained?
It is not an easy question to answer. And without awareness, no path to peace will ever be found. But by raising awareness within our community for these conflicts and possible solutions, our project will make a difference, in that it will allow visitors to our website to realize what needs to be done – by themselves, and by their government.
4) How did your project involve other members of your community as helpers and volunteers?
Our project wouldn't have been successful without the people who have helped us along the way.
Our English teachers distributed surveys to their students, allowing us to see what teenagers like us thought about these issues.
Ashley, editor of our school magazine, published an article about our project in March. The managers of the Friday Flash also agreed to waive fees for an advertisement in the weekly newsletter.
We met Toshi Niwa, former Deputy Executive Director of UNICEF, after he spoke to members of Model United Nations about the United Nations. Mr. Niwa took time from his busy schedule to answer our questions about International Conflict. Having spent so many years in the United Nations, his responses provided us with a valuable insight.
One of Pria’s friends happened to be the daughter of the Head of Field Services at the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. She set aside time for us to give us a tour of the UNHCR’s facilities in Malaysia. Hearing her first hand account of the plight of refugees within Malaysia and the complex situation in Myanmar helped us understand the issues.
We established contact with Amnesty International after seeing a fair booth about Darfur. Yohen, a member of Amnesty International, also answered several questions for us about Myanmar, Darfur, and Israel, allowing us to see the humanitarian viewpoint of these three conflicts.
Stella, Esther, and Suu-Syi, three Burmese refugees living in Malaysia, described the situation in Myanmar and their lives as refugees to us in great detail, overcoming a language barrier in the process. Their first hand account of life under the military junta gave us true insight into the situation in Myanmar. The coordinators behind these refugee programs have also been instrumental to our project.
5) Discoveries, Lessons and Surprises (Optional)
Every member of our team made discovered while creating our website. With such complex issues, one can never expect to glean full understanding from a single news report. The three issues we chose to research are often mentioned in the media; “More bombings in the West Bank”, “Monks protest against government”, and “Humanitarian disaster in Darfur” have become headlines that we often see. While researching the these conflicts, however, what we didn’t know became more and more apparent.
What we didn’t know was the inherent causes of these conflicts – be they ethnic, economic, or political – and, perhaps most importantly, the potential solutions to these conflicts. We only need to open these doors to diplomacy. This project has not only opened doors to the issues that plague our modern world, but the competition has opened the door for us to observe and interpret the situation that our world is in. Unfortunately, as we have discovered during this project, this door remains locked shut for many of the people in our world. The position that we are in lies in so few hands, and not to take full advantage of our standpoint and our ability to change the state of our world is to forsake the greatest gift of all. This project has opened the door, but that is just the beginning. With global integration, our world has taken an enormous and irrevocable turn. We have entered an uncharted era of possibility. For equality, or for persecution. For cooperation, or for conflict. For war, or for peace. These doors through which we can seize peace are looked for many caught in conflict – but for a vital few they are wide open and point the way to peace. All we have to do is enter.