D9930 Rotary Ambassadorial Scholar from New Zealand, Robbie Francis, writes from Tel Aviv celebrating completion of her scholarship.
It's hard to sum up the last year in a few words, however, I think the events surrounding my graduation reflect my time here - a time of extremes, oxymorons and irony.
My flatmates and I were at home preparing for the festivities and all had guests arriving for the graduation ceremony, so it was a pretty exciting time. Just as we were putting on our dresses, we got the news that terrorist activity had escalated just hours from where we live.
Terrorists had entered into Southern Israel through the Egyptian border and opened fire on a public bus with rifles, grenades and explosives just outside of Eilat a holiday spot I visited in June. When others arrived to help, a suicide bomber detonated his explosive belt killing himself and the bus driver.
Simultaneously mortars and qassam rockets were fired from Egypt and Gaza. In response, the IDF fired back, destroying rocket launchers and smuggling tunnels.
Casualties included eight Israelis, terrorists, Egyptian military/police and Gazans, not to mention a five-year-old Gazan boy.
We arrived at the graduation venue with mixed emotions. Here we were celebrating a degree in conflict resolution, and hours away people were dying, violence was escalating and the Egyptian/Israeli peace treaty was being violated; and we asked ourselves "what good is our degree? How can we ever help in such a volatile situation? What is our role in this conflict?"
It quickly became clear, however, that asking such questions can be limiting and dangerous, as was highlighted by the speakers at the ceremony.
It is times like these that the degrees of my colleagues and I are more important than ever. We can and will make a difference. To doubt ourselves is to discredit a year of hard work and, even though we are young, we are the workings of a more peaceful future.
This was eloquently put by the students who, during the graduation, planted a pomegranate tree on the university campus as a legacy for our cohort, and said while we might not be around to eat its fruit or sit in its shade, we are planting a seed for future generations who will. In much the same way, while we might not have a direct influence on the tragic terrorist attacks in the South today, we, as resolutionists, mediators and negotiators, are the workings behind a more peaceful future.
Over the last year I've grown; I've had my eyes opened to both the horrors of international conflict and violence, but also to the most beautiful advancements towards international peace.
My heart has broken over the racism and violence that plagues the Middle East, but I have also been encouraged and blessed by some of the most kind hearted, open and inspiring people I've ever met.
My thanks go to God, to Rotary, and to my whanau and friends who have all stood behind me and supported me in both NZ and Israel.
So, from me, signing out of the Middle East - Shalom, salaam, peace to you all.