I’ve recently come across a program that resembles a student exchange program, but different. This program has special ideas and a very special connection. It’s intended for students from conflict or post-conflict affected countries from all over the world who gather in the village of Rondine Italy for a 2-year program. Students can apply towards the end of their bachelor studies (in any subject), and when they finish their degree and are accepted to the Rondine Program, go to live in the pastoral village of Rondine in Italy for two years. They undergo both unique and global processes. Recently I’ve met Noam Pupko, originally from Rishon Lezion, and he agreed to share his experiences at the program with us. There’s no doubt that it’s a formative life experience, and I’ll tell you a secret, for a program like that I would go back and re-do my own bachelor’s degree in order to join…but I’m in the middle of other processes in the pursuit of a higher degree, which I’ll tell you more about in the future, so for me it’s no longer relevant – but for you, your families, friends and acquaintances it might be a perfect fit to submit your candidacy here. Or try the link at the end of the post after you’re done reading it…
A few words about the organization
Rondine Cittadella della Pace is an unaffiliated nonprofit NGO established in 1997, an organization committed to reducing armed conflicts around the world and spreading its own method for the creative transformation of conflicts in every context.
Its core activity is housing international students from conflict or post-conflict affected countries/areas such as the Middle East, the Balkans, the Caucasus and Africa. When Noam was there, there were students from Israel, Palestine, Lebanon, Serbia, Bosnia, Kosovo, Russia, Chechnya, Ossetia, Ingushetia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Abkhazia, Nigeria, Mali, Sierra Leon and Colombia. The students represent the differing sides of the conflict, in other words, one of the challenges of the program is living together and interacting with your enemies.
The organization is recognized globally and has been a candidate for the Nobel Peace Prize in the past. It has represented Italy in the 70th year celebrations of the signing of the Charter of Human Rights at the UN headquarters in New York. Rondine generates interest and is recognized in the academic world, particularly its novel approach to management and conflict resolution– Creative Conflict Transformation. Rondine is both the organization name and the village in Italy where it’s headquartered and houses the students, a picturesque village in the heart of the Toscana hills (close to the city of Arezzo.)
About Noam Pupko
“I am Noam Pupko, I was born and grew up in Rishon Lezion, finished high-school majoring in Science and then did a ‘year of service’ in Kibbutz Yotvata. I served in the military in the Education Corps and studied for my bachelor’s degree in Social Work at Ben Gurion University. At the end of my studies, I was told about the Rondine program and signing up for it seemed to me at the time to be the best way to form international contacts while at university, so I signed up.
There were many reasons for wanting to join this program, but the main one was wanting to closely, personally, maybe even intimately get to know Palestinians. To break the physical and psychological barrier between us. I also wanted to introduce Palestinians to a different type of Israeli (for many of them, their only acquaintance with Israelis is at points of intersection with soldiers or settlers), I also aspired to be part of a nonaffiliated organization in the future, and I thought that the program would help me to develop and grow professionally. Although, today I can say from experience that a student with any background can develop professionally in her/his area after the two years at Rondine, I know that I surely did.
The Rondine educational program grants knowledge and analytical tools in understanding conflicts and the dynamics of conciliation and dialog, in the deeper understanding of social-political processes on a geopolitical level, in the area of diplomacy, international law, social initiatives and innovation and overall it improves and heightens a person’s core humanity.
Please note that at the same time, I studied for a degree in Mediation at an Italian university (every student receives a scholarship for a degree in Italy alongside the Rondine program), yet another great opportunity to grow professionally. All the same, it’s difficult to convey the satisfaction, the meaning and personal growth derived from getting to know so many new friends from around the world for a student at the beginning of her/his adult life.
But I won’t embellish things. Life in the village wasn’t easy, living in a shared community with 30 other students from a myriad of cultures and religions, managing a near autonomic day to day routine, chores, challenges and pleasures was complicated, but at the end of the day also very meaningful. The first three months were almost completely dedicated to learning Italian. But naturally the challenges and complexities ‘pay off’ in the end.”
About the Rondine program:
“It’s a 2-year program and consists of an educational part within the organization as well as a degree at a Toscana university chosen by the student. Three years ago, the organization launched a master’s degree in Conflict Management and Humanitarian Action in collaboration with Siena University and the international organization of Doctors without Borders.
The basic content is rich and offers many opportunities for personal and professional growth in different areas of social and political activities. From working with young people to working with diplomats, from art initiatives to building a social start-up. One of Rondine’s purposes is for each student to plan a social/cultural/political project and execute it after finishing the program, upon her/his return to her/his country. Due to the large variety of academic backgrounds of the students, each person takes her/his initiative and its development to their own place. For example, an Israeli student with a degree in Architecture, returned to Israel and started an initiative in her area of expertise related to the cooperation and connections between Israel and its neighbor countries. An Arab student from Israel, started a project meant to eradicate violence in Arab society. Students from other countries who studied Economics, began initiatives for import/export between Russia and Chechnya, two countries in conflict, and the students actually found economic collaborations through which they could promote dialog and reconciliation.
Additionally, after finishing the 2-year program, the organization has a subsidiary, an alumni organization. Recently the alumni have thought of an interesting project before the elections in Sierra Leon, as the elections there are usually violent and aggressive. We decided that all the alumni and students would go there [I (Noam) too traveled there and it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience]. When we got there, we had meetings and taught lessons about Democracy all over the country. We think that this affected the elections and how they were run in our effort to annihilate the violence and aggression surrounding the elections process. My own project has been put aside for now until I return to Israel as I have remained in Italy in the name of love. I fell in love with an Italian woman and have chosen to remain there, working for Rondine and working with Italian youth who come there to learn excellence and leadership. I work with them to promote leadership in the context of conflict, and my work fills me with hope every day. Oh, and I’m also a new father…”
And of course, what would this post be without some adventures and stories
“Let’s start with the odd experiences: during my first year I was cut by a knife in the kitchen and my two Lebanese friends took me straight to hospital. When we arrived, we saw the doctors exchange glances and question us about the circumstances of the knife wound. Eventually when the ice was broken, they told us that they were sure that I’d arrived following a racial incident and were surprised to hear and to see the friendship between us. A similar story happened at a hotel. On weekends we would go on trips throughout Italy and this time I went with a Palestinian friend. When we arrived at the hotel and left our passports at the reception desk before going up to our room, we were detained under suspicion and were questioned and investigated, and then all the hotel employees had to come and see this wonder. This behavioral pattern of the people around us just goes to show how the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is rooted in people’s consciousness and how hard it is to change people’s viewpoints.
As to the Jewish Israeli part, Achinoam Nini is a Rondine organization favorite, and collaborated with us on some of our events and of course sang there, we love her, and she is very stirring. Another moving story is about an Italian Holocaust survivor called Liliana Segre, 90 years old, she’s an honorary member of the Italian parliament. She preserves Holocaust remembrance throughout Italy, and lately quite publicly, when she decided to give her last recounting here, in Rondine, under the auspices of the Rondine organization. She shared her last testimony from that time, she wants the organization to continue to preserve the memory of the Holocaust and work to prevent racism in the world while promoting the values of human dignity and human rights.
As previously mentioned, last year at an event at the UN, the Rondine organization represented Italy. The event was during the celebrations marking 70 years to the signing of the Charter of Human Rights. At the event in the UN headquarters in New York City my Palestinian friend and I gave the central speech. For me it was a vey stirring speech that broadcast a lot of hope to the world, it wasn’t easy for us to stand together, but we felt that despite the difficulty we wanted to pass on a message to the world. And that was a moment that made me proud of all the work we’d done and proud of the organization that led us to this and where I today work and am a part of it.”
Some last words from Noam:
“The program did not completely change who I am and my opinions, but during my time here, I also grew up, evolved, learned a lot and received the opportunity to define my opinions and become more eloquent in expressing them. I broadened my friend base quite a bit. We are trying to maintain an international connection in order to preserve hope. Also, practically, we are continuing to try to execute many projects and initiatives that connect the world. We are now working on a peace tourism project guided by our students, the program alumni will discuss the conflict and the different narratives on the one hand, while on the other they will show the connections. That way we will gain different viewpoints on conflicts, and on how to deal with them.”