NOTE: This is a guest post by Scott Shigeoka, Partnership Director at One World Youth Project.
IT RESEMBLES A BOB ROSS PAINTING: two towering mountain ranges form a valley, each with sheer cliffs of slate that look like waterfalls flowing between masses of pine trees. The valley is split by a dirt road; the only one for miles. Occasionally, a shepherd ventures onto the path and leads a large flock of sheep toward a nearby spring, which is the main source of water for most who live in the area. The Kosovar locals call this place Rugova Valley — it is beautiful.
Twelve university students stand in a circle, shoulder-to-shoulder, atop a deck overlooking the dirt road.
The students are from Turkey, Pakistan, Guyana, the U.S., and two are local to Kosovo. Each has a different story to share: some lived through war and others have never left their home country before. What they all share, though, is a deep passion to create a more just world. They will spend the next week together in northwestern Kosovo gaining the skills and knowledge needed to implement a yearlong cross-cultural exchange program in their local communities.
One by one, the students pass a lit candle around the circle; it’s nighttime in a rural area, so the light pollution is low enough for a brilliantly bright flame. Each student says a goal or dream they have for the upcoming week before passing the candle to the next person.
One of them says they “want to build a global network of lifelong friendships” because she has never met anyone from another country before. Another says his goal is “to learn enough to effectively implement the program.”
The last to hold the candle is Cady, the organization’s Program Director who leads trainings for the university participants. She smiles softly at everyone in the circle and tells the group to lean in as close to the flame as possible.
Cady raises the candle slightly and our eyes follow the movement. She tells the group, “We’re about to blow out the flame together, letting the smoke represent our goals and dreams that we just shared. We’ll allow our goals and dreams to float around us as we take it all in.”
She counts to three and everyone blows out the flame together. Whoosh. The smoke rises from the burnt wick and gently wafts around us. A few people close their eyes as they take the moment in, but I keep my eyes open and watch the goals and dreams drift ever so slightly up into the air toward the jungle of stars above us.
Photo credit: One World Youth Project. Members of the One World Youth Project Summer Training Conference in Kosovo.
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