When I returned to Kayan for the second time, I was struck by how familiar it felt; there were the same sea foam green walls, the same desks, the same outdated clock above Rula’s bookshelf. It was odd to me that a girl from Eugene, Oregon felt so at home in the office of an Arab feminist organization in Haifa, Israel. Admittedly, it was the only thing that felt safe and familiar for my first few months here, and I’m sure the staff wondered why a pasty white girl was spending so much time in the office when there was sun and summer and swimming to be had. I should confess that, in addition to the comfort of just being there, the office is equipped with air conditioning, which elated me every morning when I would slough through the door, annoyed that it was only 9 a.m. and I was already dripping in sweat. I never did adjust to the stifling Mediterranean summer.
While things at Kayan felt familiar, I noticed right away that there had also been many changes; there were new staff members and new initiatives, including the one that I have been working on, which is a program designed to empower Arab women to do conflict management work in their communities. As a graduate student studying conflict and dispute resolution, I am focusing my studies on issues of gender during conflicts, and am one of many students of peace studies interested in the ways in which women can prevent violence and promote peace within their communities. I have had the pleasure of working with Kayan staff in an effort to develop our awareness of the issues preventing Arab women from participating in traditional dispute resolution methods, and have been humbled by their graciousness in guiding me through various obstacles to my research on this topic. The Arab women participating in Kayan’s empowerment groups have also welcomed me into their meetings and shared openly with me their experiences of intracommunity conflict and their desire to ensure that their children grow up in villages free of violence and hatred. I have often left those meetings sure that Palestinian women in Israel play and will continue to play an extremely important role in changing the landscape of a militarized and patriarchal society.
When I showed up at Kayan this summer, I was sure that I was embarking on what would become my life’s work – empowering women all over the world to realize their right to a peaceful life. As I got to know Kayan’s work on a deeper level and as I came to understand the contribution that the organization makes to its community, I developed a desire to contribute in the same way to my own community in the United States. I would be kidding myself if I believed that American society was egalitarian, and working at Kayan has challenged me to see my society as it really is, which includes a history of genocide and imperialism, slavery and structural racism. I am excited to begin working locally in an effort to empower marginalized American women to take on initiatives of the same caliber as those at Kayan. I’m not sure yet what this means for my future (I’m hoping someone will pay me to do that work and that it won’t be done from my parents’ basement), but as I return to the Pacific Northwest, I am filled with gratitude for an eight months full of challenge and learning. I know that interns come and go at Kayan, and that all white people kind of look the same, but I hope that I have been enough of a bother to the staff and participants there that they will remember me for at least a fraction of the time that I will remember them. I will leave you with a sincere ‘thank you’ to the staff at Kayan and all of the women they work with for welcoming me into what was a truly transformative internship.
Megan Leatherman, 2012