by Sarah Geegan
Christine Kindler graduated from the University of Kentucky in May 2013, and like her fellow alumni she is preparing to start a new career. However, unlike most graduates, she's using her experiences in the Middle East — in Israel and Palestine — to determine what the future has in store for her.
Kindler grew up with a passion for learning. As a home-schooled student from Lexington, her parents always encouraged her to seek out new opportunities and maintain an open mind. It was that mindset that led Kindler to pursue an education abroad opportunity during her junior year.
Kindler chose a Middle East program based in Egypt that allowed her to travel to nearby countries, including Turkey, Israel, Palestine and Jordan.
“I became interested in Middle Eastern culture, history and politics through courses I took at UK,” Kindler said. “I chose this program because I wanted to understand more about the region through experiential and service-based learning.”
In fact, it wasn’t until she studied abroad that Kindler decided to pursue an International Studies minor, with a focus in the Middle East and conflict resolution. She remembers being in Bethlehem one night, talking with a Palestinian about the ongoing conflict in Israel and what he saw as a possible solution.
Kindler listened to a Palestinian shopkeeper recall the destruction that the conflict had brought in his own life.
“Despite the violence he had experienced, he still believed peace was possible through nonviolent activism. And he asked me, as an American, to join him in this cause,” Kindler said.
Her interest in the Middle East and education abroad opportunities also stemmed from some of the courses she took as an undergraduate.
“I think we have an excellent International Studies program at UK. The classes I took during my first two years of college prepared me well for my time in the Middle East,” Kindler said.
While abroad, Kindler had the chance to hear from people of various beliefs and backgrounds. She met extremists, including Zionist leaders and supporters of Hezbollah as well as peace activists such as the Archbishop Elias Chacour, an Arab-Israeli author, educator and peacemaker who founded an interfaith school for children of all ethnicities in northern Israel.
“Father Chacour reminded us that no one in the region needs another enemy, and urged us to become a friend to both Israel and Palestine. It was the attitude and work of Chacour, and others like him, that inspired me to become involved in peace education,” said Kindler.
Now that she’s graduated, Kindler is interning in New York City with the Tanenbaum Center for Religious Understanding, a secular, nonprofit organization that combats religious prejudice and promotes mutual respect. She works specifically with interfaith activists from more than 20 conflict zones from around the world and helped to facilitate a global conference for leaders to share their resources with Tanenbaum’s international network of peacemakers.
“Some peacemakers that work with the Tanenbaum Center are formal religious leaders (pastors, imams, rabbis, etc.), while others are pioneers in the fields of education and sustainable development,” said Kindler. “It has been an incredible experience to learn about and support the efforts of these men and women.”
Kindler’s work doesn’t stop there, however.
In August, she will move to Afghanistan to work for an NGO as an English language instructor. It’s a region she’s particularly passionate about, as the long-running conflicts there provide several opportunities for peacemaking efforts.
“During my time in Afghanistan, I want to develop a deeper understanding of the region’s present conflict,” said Kindler. “Through this experience I hope to gain knowledge and skills that will enable me to work more effectively in the field of peace-building.”
Photo: Christine Kindler stands at the Golan Heights in Israel, with Syria in the background.