It’s amazing when simple solutions can be used to solve complex problems. At the foundation, we see this happen across our work, as partners innovate to solve persistent problems in health, agriculture, and US education. This summer I had the occasion to experience innovation driven by teenagers committed to changing their lives and the world around them.
Ultimate Peace is an organization that brings together Jewish and Arab teens through Ultimate Frisbee. Ultimate is a sport that by its own rule book is self-officiated, and as a result players have to work together to resolve conflicts, ensure fair conduct, and uphold mutual respect.
My friend and colleague David Barkan is the volunteer CEO of Ultimate Peace. He was a guest on the Gates Foundation’s podcast series, Inside the Gates. Listen to my interview with David to learn how he thought to use Ultimate as a way to get people from opposite sides of the field to play together.
My family and I met many extraordinary teens and coaches from around the world this summer. We reached out to one of them – Yasmen Marisat – to ask her to share her story with us so we could share it more widely.
My name is Yasmen. It’s my 4th year in the Ultimate Peace program. I don’t really like to remember the shy, scared 13 year-old girl I used to be. As a Moslem living in an Arab village in Israel, I had never talked to a Jew, never met an American, never spent any time outside of my community. Four years later, I am transformed, and I really do like the person I am today. This organization didn't just add to my life, it has changed everything.
I am stronger, more confident, and I am ambitious and a dreamer.
I feel we all have strength inside, but we have fear that will last until we are liberated of it. One of my biggest fears was always coexistence between Arabs and Jews. I never thought I would have a Jewish friend until college, if ever. We live completely disconnected lives. We never talk, never interact, go to different schools, and are told that the other wants to hurt or even kill us.
The presence of Ultimate Peace in the Middle East helped me overcome this big fear. The friendships I have made and the mutual respect we developed despite our different perspectives has helped me stop being afraid. In fact, it helped me find myself and my voice. I am no longer quiet about the things that bother me, and I speak up, with friends, family, teachers, everyone.
I didn't just learn an awesome new sport that values integrity and sportsmanship, I am now on teams with Jewish friends. In fact, one of my best friends now is a 17 year old Jewish girl named Raz. She is from a Jewish city near Tel Aviv, and we are very close. I dream of me being a bridesmaid at her wedding one day.
I have learned that I can make change, lead young people, and spread the values of Ultimate Peace in my community. One day I stood up in front of all the teachers at my new school and had to justify my participation in this cross-cultural program. They were skeptical about contact with Jews. I started shaking at first, but then, my voice got louder, my head got higher, and I felt like if I had all the time in the world. I know now that I will keep talking. Through this program, I learned to speak up for anything I believe in, speak from my heart, and trust myself and others.
Can Ultimate Peace bring peace in the Middle East? I believe we can because we don’t speak the language of our religions or our culture or our politics, on purpose. We speak the language of our souls; speak about what is inside of us, about our dreams and hopes. When we do that, we all speak for peace.
Ultimate Peace Youth Leadership Program from Ultimate Peace on Vimeo.