Thursday, June 14, 2012

From India to UAB, students plan to use peace to change their world

Deep in the Himalayan Mountains, thousands of miles away from Birmingham, 10 UAB students and an anthropology professor gathered with a group of Tibetan activists to learn lessons on peace.

“It was absolutely beautiful and worth all of the pain getting there,” says Phillip Pearson, a 20-year-old from Red Bay, Ala., of his trip to South Asia and recalling how he stood on a tiny plateau a couple of hours from the snowline of the Himalayas.

“I gained a better understanding of nonviolence and how to implement it.”

Pearson was a part of a study away group that journeyed to India – from Delhi to Dharamsala – to learn about non-violent social action as demonstrated by the country’s nonviolence movements, the work of Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., as well as the  International Campaign for Tibet.

The trip was a precursor to the fall launch of the Peace, Justice and Ecology minor out of the UAB Department of Anthropology. Beginning in August, students can get a “broad learning experience in human-ecological interactions, bio-cultural diversity, and strategies to foster social justice, peace, and environmental sustainability from a holistic perspective,” according to the course description. UAB is the only university within the region to offer a peace studies program.

“Students are excited about the new minor,” says Sharyn Jones, Ph.D., associate professor of anthropology and the department chair. They will come away with both knowledge and tools on how to change many societal problems, she says.

Pearson, a biology major, is looking forward to the new program. He added peace studies to his anthropology and chemistry minors.

“Peace is a topic that is relevant to every field of study and even everyday life,” he says. “By having peace studies courses students can learn how to deal with conflicts that arise on large and small scales in a peaceful, nonviolent manner.”

The lessons he learned in India were innumerable, he says.

He and the group spent weeks in the Himalayas training and participating in roundtable discussions conducted by the Active Nonviolence Education Center. They also volunteered within the region and visited several North Indian religious and political sites, including Taj Mahal, Lotus Temple, the Gandhi Museum and his resting place, the home of the Dalai Lama as well as Hindu, Baha'i, Buddhist and Muslim temples. The group was even blessed by His Holiness the 17th Karmapa Lama, rumored to be the oldest living human reincarnation.

“I am itching to tell all of my friends about all of the ways to support a nonviolent movement and why nonviolence is the only answer to conflict,” Pearson says. Jones believes that what the students learned in India and will learn this fall will teach them some of the greatest lessons in life they can learn, including the importance of creating communities that peacefully co-exist with people of all languages, beliefs and cultures.

They will also learn the value of inner peace, she says.

“If you don’t have peace within yourself, you cannot change anything using non-violent social action.”

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