[Alumni Reflection] Katie Loovis: “Your head might hurt, but your heart will be full”
Complex. That’s how I often describe Israel and the West Bank. There are religious, political, economic, geographic, cultural, and social layers that make me believe this is probably the most complex place on earth, and also one of the most dearly loved.
In the US, we have a lot of noise about Israel and the West Bank, which can make it difficult to truly understand and empathize with the complex realities of this region. So, I think the best thing an ACYPL delegate can do is simple: leave your opinions and preconceived ideas at home. Arrive in the Middle East with an open mind and open heart. Ask a lot of questions and seek to understand the many layers and people, and I believe, like me, your heart will be filled and your life may end up taking a new turn.
This blog is my humble attempt to convey my understanding of the contours of life in this region to help prepare you to make the most of your ACYPL experience. Like us, one day your delegation might meet with a Palestinian farmer who experiences daily challenges trying to access Israel markets to sell his produce. The next day you might crawl through a bright-colored playground that doubles as a bomb shelter for Israeli school children living near the Gaza border (who must dive into this shelter in less than 15 seconds on any given day). The juxtaposition between these two realities captured for me the day-to-day struggle and the profound difficulty for achieving any lasting peace.
Another experience that really symbolizes the complexity of this region for me is the immovable ladder. When our delegation toured the Church of the Holy Sepulchre (venerated as the site of the crucifixion, burial, and resurrection of Jesus), we noticed a ladder on the outside ledge of the second level of the church. What we learned is that the ladder has been there for more than 100 years and no one can agree on how to properly remove it from this sacred ground – a small but telling reality for this region.
Despite the intense challenges facing the region and the struggles men, women, and children living in this region experience daily, the resilience and openness of the people made a positive and lasting impression on me. Throughout the exchange, we got to know our hosts, meet their families, experience their way of life, and learn about their hopes and wishes for the future.
Shortly upon my return to the US, I made a major career change – from a domestic non-profit to a global healthcare company that is tackling public health challenges around the world. I am forever grateful to ACYPL for including me in this meaningful international exchange. While the complexities of Israel and the West Bank still make my head hurt, my heart is continues to be full.
Katie Loovis is Director of Corporate Responsibility for GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), a global healthcare company.