Between the winter of 2004 and the summer of 2006 I did three combat tours to Iraq. My purpose there was ostensibly to provide search and rescue for American forces in the city, but I discovered and learned more in my serendipitous interactions with the local people of Mosul, Baquba, and Baghdad than I ever did on any mission I was sent out on. Outside the base, I shared time with children who gathered daily in the broken remains of their schoolhouse to play soccer and practice English with the soldiers at the checkpoint. In a teahouse at the end of the airfield, I drank dark bitter coffee with a Turkish Muslim merchant, an Iraqi Christian translator, and an American soldier while discussing the effects of religion on local education in our respective countries. I also came face to face with the consequences of using education for a darker purpose. Three days after I arrived a young Saudi student, who had left medical school to study jihad in a Syrian madrasah, infiltrated our compound and detonated himself inside our dining facility as soldiers and civilians ate lunch; 18 people were killed and 69 critically injured. That was the first of many days spent inside the hospital, experiencing first hand the results of failed efforts to reach an understanding with the cultures and peoples that exist outside our own borders.
I arrived at Brown in the fall of 2007 determined to expand in ways that linked theory, history, practice, and experience to my understanding of the world. How I could transition from using conflict as the lens through which I viewed the world to a perspective based on study, understanding, and participation. This desire to transform understanding, to expand views of cultures in conflict and stress in different parts of the world, has shaped my efforts here at Brown and abroad. My personal experience with war has placed me on a path to find understanding through social education and community development.
My work with NGOs in Brazil has become the outlet in which I can explore this path. Capoeira Cidadã and Cinema Nosso, I feel, have both served as a sort of calling to the realm of program evaluation and development. This experience has helped me to clarify what it is that I find important and relevant about social education and what it is that I need to do to have an impact on this field.