Close to 600 student and adult delegates from 53 schools across the globe travelled to Jordan last week to attend the Round Square International Conference, which was hosted at King’s Academy from October 7 to 13.
Delegates traveled to King’s, the first Arab school to gain full membership in Round Square back in 2010, from the United Arab Emirates, India, South Korea, Singapore, Australia, South Africa, Kenya, Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom and Switzerland, among other countries.
“I’ve met some amazing people from all over the world, and I feel like I’ve had my world view opened to different cultures,” said Spencer Albert of Lower Canada College. “It’s been incredible and eye-opening because it’s different when you read something in the news and then hear it from someone who’s actually experienced it.”
Under the theme of “Al Salamu Alaikum” (Peace Be With You), the conference program included a diverse selection of keynote speeches, stimulating barazza discussions, adventure trips to Petra, Shobak Castle and the Dead Sea, as well as a selection of 26 different service projects that took place both on and off campus throughout the week.
The opening ceremony took place in the Abdul Majeed Shoman Auditorium, at the entrance of which lay a colorful mosaic of the conference logo – an olive tree – with individual pieces installed by participating schools.
“What you do here matters greatly,” Headmaster John Austin told delegates. “May you imbue (the conference) with your spirit and energy and imagination. May you draw strength and inspiration from one another, and may all of us stand in solidarity with those who seek peace and a better tomorrow.”
After cheering for their respective schools during the opening flag ceremony – student representatives carried their school flags across the auditorium stage, marking the official launch of the event – audience members were welcomed by HM King Constantine, whose speech was delivered by HM Queen Annie-Marie.
“Never was a conference theme more appropriate than the message ‘peace’ that surrounds this gathering,” she read. “Honor – not wealth – is the highest pride. In today’s world, to honor one another is key. True and lasting peace is brought when we honor our differences, not when we eliminate them.”
Delegates were also welcomed via video by HRH Crown Prince Hussein bin Abdullah, who graduated from King’s Academy in 2012 and currently studies at Georgetown University.
“As Round Square brings us together in the pursuit of peace, let’s also remember those in this region and others around the world for whom conflict is a daily reality and peace a distant hope,” said Crown Prince Hussein.
Such gatherings and the six pillars of Round Square (IDEALS of Internationalism, Democracy, Environment, Adventure, Leadership and Service) are critical in order “to create a new global dialogue based on global citizenship, peace, and good will towards each other and towards the world around us,” he added.
“The pursuit of peace begins with each one of us stepping out of our comfort zones, understanding how others see the world, speaking out in the face of injustice and leading by example,” he said.
After the event’s first keynote speaker and King’s alumnus Noor-Eddin Amer ’12 gave a brief history about his home country of Palestine, the Kurt Hahn Prize – “awarded for an exceptional act of service to others” – was given to 13-year-old Poppy Mulford of the Regents International School Pattaya for cycling 418 kilometers from Thailand to Cambodia to raise £5,000 to support a young Thai girl with a hearing disability.
Interactive Q&A sessions took place after each keynote address as did barazza group discussions to give delegates the opportunity to engage in meaningful conversations and debates about the topics.
“The barazza sessions were very interesting,” said Vishal Yadav of The Scindia School. “People are very interactive at King’s. It was easy to socialize with everyone.”
Day two of the conference brought keynote addresses by Afghani education pioneer Shabana Basij-Rasik and Yemeni researcher Azd Al Kadasi, who discussed the importance of educating women in Kabul and how to become “agents of change” in the world respectively. In addition, guests were treated to an evening of international cultural entertainment during which students – and a few teachers – put on impressive dance performances and sang songs from their native countries (colorful dances from India, an intense Arabic-English rap from Jordan, a medley of songs from the United States and choreography from South Africa that rocked the house, among others).
“My favorite part of the conference was the dance because you really get to bond when you’re dancing even though you’re not speaking, so it’s a lot of fun,” said Shukura Babirye of United World College of South East Asia – Singapore.
The morning of October 9 was dedicated to community service both on and off campus. Delegates participated in many different service projects, such as the painting, gardening and fixing of playgrounds at local government schools in Al Jeeza, archaeological site visits and clean-ups in Iraq al Emir, Um Al Rassas, Tell Husban, Madaba Archaeological Park, Al Mukayyat and Mount Nebo, and a Habitat for Humanity build in Faisaliah.
On campus, faculty member Lara Masri worked with kids on a solar project while fellow teacher Rana Matar educated students about the Kursi wa Kitab initiative, which is aimed at supporting kids with cerebral palsy in Jordan. Students also lent their services as Sun Woo Kim ’15, Rami Rustom ’16 and Jalil Khoury ’15 ran the program “A Smile Back” – three separate workshops comprising music, games and crafts for Syrian refugees and children from Madaba.
“Everyone here has been so hospitable and welcoming,” said Purvansh Agarwal of The Scindia School. “We’ve gained so much exposure and learned how to interact with others. We also learned a lot about the different situations in Jordan.”
Later that evening, the spotlight was on King’s own performers – the King’s Players, glee club, orchestra, evening dance group and dabkeh troupe – who showed off their musical talents with traditional and contemporary numbers as well as a comic theater skit and improvisational performance that brought in the laughter.
The following morning introduced “26 ways of seeing and understanding” – a selection of mini speaker sessions on topics ranging from contemporary Arab art, to religious tolerance, to solutions for refugees in Jordan, to the evolution of the map in the Middle East (among others) – before delegates traveled to Shobak Castle and Petra, where they explored Jordan’s ancient wonders and learned about the country’s rich history.
“I talked to some kids about my own experiences because I know what it’s like to be nervous before coming here,” said former Arabic Year at King’s Academy student Whitney Anderson ’16. “Hearing their surprise at how wonderful and beautiful the country is – how they’ve fallen in love with the Middle East and want to go back and change other people’s preconceptions – was really nice.”
On October 12, Sari Samakie ’17 shared his story about being kidnapped in Syria and Jordanian film producer Nadine Toukan delivered the final keynote address about why she makes fiction films and the “imagination deficit” in Jordan.
HE Prime Minister Abdullah Ensour brought the conference to a close, when he spoke about the direction of Jordan’s future and the important role young people have in fighting extremism, overcoming division and promoting tolerance.
“The world needs to show vulnerable people, especially young people, that they have a stake in the democratic consensus, that global justice applies to them, and that they can and will share in prosperity,” Ensour said.
“Global dialogue requires work, it takes mutual respect, and it needs leadership,” he told delegates. “No group of students can better express the power of shared positive goals than you.”
Before delegates enjoyed their final – Arab-themed – night at King’s and prepared to return home, Round Square Chairman Roderick Fraser reminded them of the inaugural flag ceremony, which “symbolizes our individuality and our connectedness simultaneously.”
Until the flags reunite at next year’s conference hosted by United World College of South East Asia in Singapore, Fraser added, “our commitment should be to stay connected in our actions, our homes and in our daily lives.”