On October 24th, approximately 95 SECWAC members and guests gathered at the First Congregational Church in Old Lyme to hear Jonathan Starr speak on his work building the Abaarso School of Science and Technology in Somaliland. We started with a brief Annual Meeting at which SECWAC President Rick Stout identified three new members of the Board: Liz Lightfoot, Bruce Cummings, and Chip Goodrich, and yours truly outlined plans for 2019-2020 and the new programs on offer (“Great Decisions” Community Partnership with Essex Meadows, the Quarterly Colloquium, and Luncheon Meetings).
Then, using slides showing the many young people who make up this remarkable success story, Jonathan Starr described how the School he started on a bare piece of rural earth 10 years ago has developed into a wonderful opportunity to educate young people. That this would get off the ground is a testament not to luck – Jonathan explained that the chance of it happening was very low – but to the vision, drive, and motivation of Jonathan, the students, and alumni.
In addition to telling us about the school, Jonathan quoted the Chinese military strategist who wrote 2,500 years ago about the importance of specific circumstances in driving unexpected outcomes – in this case, the importance of peoples’ personal vision and drive in making this very difficult project a reality. He also spoke briefly about the cultural issues involved in establishing an American-style school in a rural Muslim countryside. Aside from some difficulties early on with local individuals who do not like “things American,” a natural hesitation on the part of parents of the children had to be addressed. Jonathan nicely explained that this hesitation is mostly due to a lack of understanding of the benefits that an education at Abaarso could bring, and not because these parents love their children any less than we do ours.
The presentation ended with a robust Q&A (always an interesting part of a SECWAC meeting), and with Jonathan signing copies of his book “It Takes a School: The Extraordinary Success Story that is Changing a Nation” (as always, kindly provided by Bank Square Books in Mystic).
Also, a special “thank you” to Courtney Assad (Chamber of Commerce of Eastern CT) who manages our registrations and, on this occasion, came to the rescue to solve an issue with our projector!
We hope to see you at the next SECWAC meeting on November 12th at Connecticut College, when Katherine Brown, President and CEO of Global Ties US, will speak on the public diplomacy work of Global Ties, and her book, “Your Country, Our War: The Press and Diplomacy in Afghanistan.”
Executive Director & Program Committee Chair
The mission of the Southeast Connecticut World Affairs Council (SECWAC) is to foster an understanding of issues of foreign policy and international affairs by study, debate, and educational programming, primarily through a Speakers Series of 8 to 10 monthly meetings.