By Mark Friedman, Community Service & Round Square Director
Tomorrow is the final day of the Round Square International Conference. The Athenian students all report that they’re having a great experience. Singapore is sitting in thick haze caused by forest fires in Indonesia. There was heavy rainfall today, which cleared the air somewhat. We even caught a glimpse of the sun for the first time since our arrival. The poor air quality has led to several changes in the conference schedule, but even Plan B has been of high quality.
Today was service day at the conference. We were supposed to be off-campus, but because of the air quality the students did the service work at school. Many delegates worked at the United World College of South East Asia’s (UNCSEA) elementary school, while some worked with senior citizens that visited the school. The late afternoon brought an amazing collection of nonprofit leaders to campus. I went to hear Janne Ritskes, who founded Tabitha Cambodia 20 years ago. The organization has done amazing work to alleviate poverty in Cambodia, with its unique and painful history. The UWCSEA has been involved with Tabitha for 19 of its 20 years and sends 80 students to Cambodia each year to build houses with them. Very inspiring! I went down to meet Janne after her talk and to explore the possibility of bringing a group of Athenian students to Cambodia to work with her organization. Then, in the evening, the conference hosted the world premiere of the film ‘Life is One.’ The film is a moving story about protecting sun bears in Indonesia. The filmmaker, Patrick Rouxel, was on hand and he is a UWCSEA and Cal-Berkeley alum. He just finished the film last week, rushing so that we could see it.
As great as the program is, the best part of the conference is the friendships that are formed with people from around the world. I know our students are doing wonderfully at this, but to give you deeper sense of this, let me tell you about two of my conversations today. I spent an hour this morning talking with Prince Alexander of Germany, who has been involved with Round Square for several decades. (Prince Alexander is the person on the far left in the photo.) While I’ve seen him at many Round Square conferences, we had never really spoken. I asked how he got involved with Round Square and he proceeded to tell the long and fascinating history of how his family, under the guidance of Kurt Hahn, started Louisenlund School in the devastating aftermath of World War II in Germany. Prince Alexander talked about Dyke and Kate Brown. And Louisenlund is hosting next October’s Round Square International Conference. At dinner, I sat next to a teacher from the Amman Baccalaureate School in Jordan. Having been to Jordan for last year’s conference, I know a little about refugees in Jordan (e.g. there are currently about 900,000 Syrian refugees in Jordan). We had an interesting conversation about Jordan’s amazing hospitality to refugees and the situation in Europe.
Yesterday was Explore Singapore Day at the conference. The adults and students were on different programs; the students headed into town first thing in the morning while the adults had a morning full of meetings. My group of adults visited the Asian Civilizations Museum, toured the Singapore River on a bum boat, and visited the Gardens by the Bay. The Athenian students are looking forward to spending a couple of days exploring Singapore on our own after the conference ends. They spent Sunday afternoon and evening with their host families, so some of them already have ideas for places they want to visit, such as a henna shop in Little India with good prices.