Published: Fall 2010 in College News

Seeking Peace in the Midst of Conflict

Bobbie Gottschalk, a woman who has spent her life promoting peace, spoke to students Nov. 1-4. Seeds of Peace, the organization she co-created, teaches reconciliation skills to young leaders from the Middle East and other areas enmeshed in conflict. Sponsored by The Gaede Institute for the Liberal Arts, Gottschalk is Westmont’s first Woodrow Wilson Visiting Fellow. The campus life and provost’s offices co-sponsored her appearance.

“Bobbie offered students a great model for leadership,” says Chris Hoeckley, director of the Gaede Institute. “She’s not a celebrity; she’s someone with a good liberal arts edu-cation, good professional training, a huge heart, and a deep commitment to working tirelessly behind the scenes for young people from regions in conflict. She is an extra-ordinary person — and any of our students can do what she has done.”

At Westmont, Gottschalk screened and discussed “Seeds,” a one-hour documentary that chronicles the joys and tensions young people from embattled areas experience as they learn to trust each other at the Seeds of Peace summer camp.

Senior biology major Alyssa Brindley from Laguna Niguel, Calif., says Gottschalk’s talk and documentary helped her understand the bigger picture from the points of view of people who’ve lived and breathed conflict their whole lives.

“It’s nice to get a genuine perspective with less twist than the news presents,” she says. “It was also neat to hear how she got involved in this work and how God prepares people even when they don’t know it.”

Sophomore Leah Smith from Chicago says she was moved by Gottschalk’s efforts to establish a higher threshold of peace and to lower the tolerance of war and hatred of other people and cultures in the Middle East. “I’m so glad she shared the many awesome ways she is working to create peace in such a time of hostility in the Middle East,” she says.

Junior Shea Gunther-Maher from Sacramento, Calif., appreciated Gottschalk’s visit to campus. “Before viewing the screening I had no idea how conflict affects the lives of people my age living in Israel and Palestine,” she says. “I learned many things, but one that will stick with me is the importance of humanizing our enemies and remembering that they think and feel like me. Watching Bobbie’s video really opened my eyes to the complexity and power of peace-building. Her talk also inspired me to be a messenger of peace.”

Gottschalk began her career as a social worker, starting a group home project for young, disabled adults and a mental health clinic for the deaf, both in Washington, D.C.

In 1993 she helped create Seeds of Peace, serving as its only staff member for the first two years and as executive vice president for 14 years. She now sits on the board of directors. Seeds of Peace began by equipping Israeli, Palestinian and Egyptian youth with reconciliation skills and has grown to include young people from South Asia, Cyprus and the Balkans.

Gottschalk graduated from Earlham College in Richmond, Ind., and said her liberal arts education led to her work in international peace and reconciliation. She noted that studies show we forget most of the facts we learned in high school and college by the time we’re in our 30s. “But you remember the people who taught you, the types of people they were and their values,” Gottschalk said.

“A liberal arts education is wonderful and long lasting for the goals in your life, not just for the first few years of your profession.”

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