International Child and Youth Care Network
POST CARD FROM LEON FULCHER
From Abu Dhabi
Imagine receiving a telephone call from your Director asking you to select 5 young people to go and meet one of the most influential female leaders in the world. Where would you start? That happened to me a few days back. If you’ve been following the news you’ll know that US Secretary of State, Dr Condoleeza Rice, recently made a four nation visit to the Middle East, visiting Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon and the United Arab Emirates. In the UAE she joined US Ambassador to the UAE, Michele Sison, to discuss US foreign policy with national leaders here. During her visit, Condoleeza asked to meet with a small group of female students, seeking to widen her understanding about issues of concern to young people in this part of the world.
When the US Government flies in, most people stand to attention!
With scarcely 48 hours notice, we were tasked with identifying 5 exceptional student leaders who – along with 10-15 others – would meet Dr Rice for a time of informal discussion. All of the girls were subjected to extensive security checks. Another motivational challenge was having to leave home by 4:30 am and travel for two hours before going through personal security checks by a battalion of Secret Service and UAE military personnel. The night before the event, we met with the girls to discuss what they knew about the US Secretary of State, the significance of that position in the US government, and why they thought Dr Rice had been sent to the Middle East at this particular time on behalf of the United States Government.
Sheikh Mohamed bin Rashid & Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed with Dr Rice
If interested in the formal diplomatic issues discussed between the US and UAE leaders, the State Department website at http://uae.usembassy.gov/uae-us.html offers a brief summary. What is missing from the formal statement, but of interest to our students however, was the issue of a UAE company having purchased the P&O Shipping Company from British owners sparking off fears amongst American conservatives about homeland security. Needless to say, few answers were forthcoming, but it is worth noting that the day after Dr Rice’s visit, the new UAE owners agreed to give the Bush administration more time to reassure all parties before assuming control of the ports. I was proud of the way our young women prepared for this visit, determined as they were to be good ambassadors for their country.
UAEU students offered warm greetings to this important female role model
Another topic our girls discussed concerned the Danish cartoons and how a commitment to free speech in one part of the world can deeply offend people in another part of the world because of issues associated with blasphemy and cross-cultural hurt. Here is an international example of where principles deeply held and respected in one place have been dismissed by principles deeply held and respected in another place. And the people in each place argue that their principles are right! In this I am reminded of exchanges with teenagers in care debating the imposition of bedtime at the end of an exciting movie, or about having home leave cancelled because of behaviour deemed unacceptable. The cartoons are symbolic of an abiding ignorance about culture and its different meanings in different places. And of how differences can be used by interest groups wishing to pursue their own agendas. It’s a funny old world we live in, but a world filled with rich adventure nonetheless.
Condoleeza Rice receiving a distinctive chayla or headscarf from UAEU students