PAX/FLEX students Ketevan Svanadze from Georgia was selected to take part in the Better Understanding for the Better World Conference in Orlando, Florida in February 2009. The four day conference turned out to be a “lifetime experience” for Ketevan because it caused a big change in her; a change that was so profound that Ketevan wrote an essay reflecting on her experience. Below are some pictures and excerpts from Ketevan’s essay.
What the Conference meant to her:
The great thing this conference gave me is the opportunity to understand the people I never understood before. I met a lot of different groups and types of people, but there were two, whom I have never communicated and had friendships with before: first, an amazing group of Russian kids, coming from the country I should be “hating”, because of recent war between Russia and Georgia. And secondly, incredible Muslim people, whose religion is considered an “axis of evil” in the world, mostly in a Christian country, like Georgia.

On Russia and Peace:
All I have seen about Russians since I was born is that they try to take over our territories, my uncle dying in the war, while protecting Georgian soil from Russians, and my cousins growing up without father. Growing up I saw the cold war going on between Russia and Georgia and right after I arrived in the USA, the Russian government invaded Georgia. Russia bombed my nation, my people died. Obviously, my thoughts about Russia weren’t pleasant and positive. In Orlando, I became familiar with Russian people. From the very first day, it turned out that Georgians and Russians were sitting at the same table having an incredible time laughing and sharing their experiences. It lasted till the end of the conference and now it continues through the internet. I realized that the war is actually between the governments and government interests. The people have not changed from any of the nations, they always understood and liked each other and they still do. I went through a long process of analyzing this fact, and realized that the most important thing is Peace.

On Muslim Religion:
I have never understood the Muslim religion. All I have learned about Muslim religion is that, throughout the centuries, Muslim countries have invaded Georgia, they have been terribly cruel and they have tried to change our religion; or “terrible” Muslim terrorists kill innocent people for the sake of Allah; or, “poor” Muslim girls, who have to wear burkas. All of these ignorant statements sound funny now after I met all these Muslim people, who wear burkas, because it makes them feel better, who are terribly against terrorism and are ready to fight against terrorism and who are not trying to make you believe in their faith. On the contrary, they are ordinary people, just like my Christian friends. They talk to you and understand you. You laugh together and you have an amazing time with them. I was happy to realize this. Ever since my experience in Florida, every time I see a woman with a head scarf I feel positively instead of feeling sorry for her. I want to talk to them, learn more, and tell them that I know they are not different from me.

Going Forward:
I definitely know that after this trip my views have completely changed and improved. After I learned so much about the world, a huge protest rose in my feelings, I wanted to share with everybody what I just learned. I want to make a change in my country, the way we understand the world. I know that it will be really hard and I know there will be a lot of resistance from my people. But there has to be someone who takes it on himself and makes this change, and suddenly I have this vast desire of being that person. The conference, gave me the courage and if I don’t give up fighting for a better world nothing will stop me. If everyone encouraged themselves to be the ones to bring the change, it will be a huge step towards the improvement of the world by bringing peace and democracy to all the countries.

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