By Heather Yamour
(with photos) WASHINGTON, July 25 (KUNA) -- For the 17th consecutive year, the Kuwait-America Foundation honored 50 American school children as national student ambassadors of it's competitive "Do the Write Thing" nationwide program aimed at reducing violence in schools and communities.
The students were honored in special gala dinner and ceremony held in Washington. The event was hosted by the Kuwait-America Foundation in partnership with the National Campaign to Stop Violence. It highlighted the works of the top young essayists selected from over 75,000 essay submissions in over 30 US cities, who shared their personal accounts of violence and trauma and pledged their commitment to work within their communities to reduce the cycles of violence that exist within them.
Several of the night's speakers shared their own ordeals with overcoming violence. Keynote speaker and pulitzer-prize-winning journalist David Rohde shared his experience of being held captive for seven months by the Taliban in Afghanistan and his harrowing escape with an inspiring note to students to weigh the risks of their actions.
World-renowned Harlem Globetrotters Chris "Handles" Franklin and Nathaniel "Big Easy" Lofton spoke about achieving their ambition of being professional basketball players despite experiencing gun violence on basketball courts.
"To my young leaders out there, I would say take those negatives and continue to make it a positive, continue to fight violence, to be the best you can be. Your dreams are attainable and your goals are achievable," Franklin said during the gala.
Kuwait-America Foundation founder and chairman Dr. Hassan Al-Ebraheem, told KUNA since the initiative began in 1991, it has reached over 1.6 million children across the country. The concept was inspired by his research on the impact of Iraq's invasion of Kuwait on Kuwaiti youth.
Initially worried about the trauma Kuwaiti children endured during the occupation, Al-Ebraheem contacted several mental health trauma centers in the United States to see about cooperating to address the needs of Kuwaiti children. He soon learned American children too were vulnerable to violence and trauma.
"I asked Why are American children traumatized? The answer was in the inner city schools and communities children are faced with violence every day of their life," said Al-Ebraheem. "The idea came as a challenge for the kids. Tell us about your encounter with violence and teach us what to do to avoid it, " he said, noting,"some essays are heart breaking." "This program is a gift from Kuwaiti children to American children," he said.
Using the written word as their most powerful tool, the initiative promotes the message to middle school students that the way out of violence is not through fists and weapons but with words and progressive action.
The "Do the Write Thing" initiative remains an important grassroots program that sends a strong message from the Kuwaiti people, according to Kuwaiti Ambassador to the United States Sheikh Salem Al-Sabah.
"This is a very important program because it also sends a very strong and positive message from the Kuwaiti people and the Kuwaiti government that Kuwait is against violence and Kuwait counters violence because Kuwait itself was a victim of violence 20 years ago. So we think it sends a strong and positive message from Kuwait throughout the American society in many states and many cities. That message carries a lot of weight with the young people and when these young people join this program it helps a lot in their communities to combat violence," the Ambassador said. "I am very proud the name of Kuwait is associated with this program and the National Campaign to Stop Violence." In attendance at the gala, Zemen Marrugi, a teacher of one of the national ambassadors recalled the tremendous pride she felt when she learned her student's essay was selected. Seventeen years earlier, she was one of the first students to participate in the national program, an experience she says had a tremendous impact on her life.
"It really made me see myself in a different lens. Coming to the capital and seeing the speakers reinforced the idea of being a scholar and being a writer. I felt I had a responsibility after winning the essay contest to try harder and do better. I didn't want the winning to go in vain," she recalled. She became the first in her family to graduate from high school and has completed, and went on to finish college and graduate school. She works as a teacher helping inner city youth in Detroit, Michigan.
"I dedicated myself to learning to work closely with the youth in my neighborhood because I wanted them to realize that they can succeed," she said.
The 50 top seventh and eighth grade students selected received, along with their parents and teacher, a round-trip week-long visit to Washington where they had the opportunity to present their views on youth violence to senior Obama administration officials and lawmakers. Their essays are also compiled into a book and permanently catalogued in to the Library of Congress. This year's compilation was dedicated to the memory of the families of the 26 children and teachers killed in a school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut late last year.
The Kuwait-America Foundation, a non-profit organization, was formed as an expression of gratitude to the American people for their sacrifice in the first Gulf war and for bringing peace back to Kuwait with the aim to strengthen ties between the US and Kuwait.
In addition to the "Do the Write Thing" challenge, the organization raises funds throughout the year for international causes such as aiding refugee communities in Syria and Iraq and supporting the advancement of education for women.
The National Campaign to Stop Violence, an initiative of the Kuwait-America Foundation, composed of community, business and government leaders, aims to reduce youth violence in communities across the US through community outreach programs and initiatives. (end) hy.nfm KUNA 251814 Jul 13NNNN