Last week, the History Club of STLCC – Wildwood hosted a lecture by Janessa Gans Wilder, founder and CEO of the Euphrates Institute. The Euphrates Institute is an organization that seeks to inform U.S. citizens on the culture and politics of the Middle East. The Institute's representatives guide interested individuals on tours to the region, they work with students and young leaders to learn more about the Middle East and improving relations, and they present lectures on these topics to audiences across the United States. They also offer up-to-date information about the Middle East on the Euphrates Institute's website.
The purpose of the organization is to support "citizen diplomacy, awareness and advocacy to heal divides between the Middle East and West in the wake of 911." On the Institute's Home page, readers are greeted with the Institute's logo, which includes the phrase, "Prepare for Peace." This phrase refers to a "signature" program of the Euphrates Institute: The Warriors for Peace workshop that brings together next-generation leaders from varied backgrounds. This year's class had backgrounds of "healthcare, free trade, technology, interfaith, travel and democracy."
Wilder is "the real deal" as her former professor, Dr. John Glen of STLCC –Wildwood, says. Prior to her current role, Wilder was a CIA officer stationed in Iraq. During her lecture, she described working with the Marines in Fallujah and elsewhere in Iraq during some of the toughest moments of the war. She also described helping Iraq’s nascent political parties prepare for the nation’s first free and fair election after the downfall of Saddam Hussein. Her engagement with individuals of varying viewpoints in Iraq other Arab countries helped her understand the complexities of the region, complexities which are not evident to the average U.S. citizen.
Now, Wilder is using her varied career experiences and her education to promote improved relations between citizens and governments of the West and the Middle East.
The Euphrates Institute seeks to create a "tipping point" where "20 percent" of the U.S. population is "Informed about Middle East issues; Inspired by trends of change and models of hope; and Transformed–personally equipped with the tools to be peacebuilders."
During her lecture, Wilder explained the figure of 20 percent is derived from Everett Rogers's research at Stanford which found that social change occurs when at least 20 percent of a population is behind the change. A groundswell is created that becomes an unstoppable momentum for change.
What most struck me during Wilder's lecture was not only her commitment to the vision of the Euphrates Institute, but her impact on her audience of students, staff and faculty at STLCC – Wildwood as an individual who is using her education, her career experience and most of all, her personal values to help make the world a more peaceful place for the next generation.
Her example shows that education provides a framework for individuals to develop and apply their deepest values. Wilder's former professor, Dr. John Glen of STLCC - Wildwood, who by the way, as a Viet Nam veteran and recipient of the Distinguished Flying Cross for flying medical evacuation missions in Vietnam in 1971-72, is also the "real deal," was an influence on her thinking when she was an undergraduate in several of his history courses at Principia College in Elsah, IL.
Active, democratic citizenship is not accomplished in isolation. Through Janessa Gans Wilder's example, we learn that we need peers, companions, mentors, and educational and career structures to create a foundation for ourselves in order to give back to our communities, which are increasingly becoming globally linked. The Euphrates Institute is a promising structure with which to further our deepest values and connect with individuals in the Middle East who share them.