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Fouad Al Khouri ’17 in the Norman Miller Center for Peace, Justice & Public Understanding

Experience of War Leads to Work of Peace-Building

It was the work of war that would initially connect Fouad Al Khouri ’17 with his campus internship at the Norman Miller Center for Peace, Justice & Public Understanding – an internship that would one day allow him to plan significant Israel/Palestine experiences for his student peers.

Al Khouri, the college’s first-ever student from the Gaza Strip, was among the graduating seniors at Commencement last month. Office of communications intern Mariah Doughman ’18 interviewed Al Khouri during his final weeks on campus.

Community played a large role in the success of Fouad Al Khouri ’17 at St. Norbert – especially during his first year, he says. And it was community that connected him to an on-campus internship that would shape his undergraduate career.

While he was searching for a way to pay for his dorm on campus during his second semester freshman year, Al Khouri was introduced to Robert Pyne at the Norman Miller Center for Peace, Justice & Public Understanding. “[Pyne] knew my background and the fact that I did Search and Rescue in Gaza during war times and so forth. So he connected me with someone who used to be a mercenary.” That former mercenary was visiting Miller Lecturer Sean Callaghan. Once caught up in South Africa's war in Angola and Namibia, Callaghan now works for sustainable peace through his agency Strategic Impact. 

Al Khouri says, “[Callaghan] was visiting here, so I sat down with him and we talked for a couple hours about human rights and so forth, and personal experiences in war. And after that, apparently he went to tell Bob, you know hire that guy. I didn’t know that he did that, and I had no idea that even Bob was going to consider hiring me! So a week later, Bob tells me, hey, you’re going to be on my team of community organizers and interns.” 

An important mentor
Over the past three years, Pyne has been a significant influence, Al Khouri says. “He is a great person; he’s the person I want to be when I grow up. He’s intelligent and when I’m with him, I imitate him because you want to learn from people like that. He left his mark on me.” 

Through Pyne and the Miller Center, Al Khouri, an international business major with a minor in leadership studies, was able to make connections with other peacemakers. “It caught me off guard and I liked it so much – community outreach and community organizing, and social justice issues in general. So, down the line, that’s my hope: to be involved in one organization or two that are concerned with the economic development of Third World countries, basically caring for others – this sort of solidarity theme that took over me since I came here.” 

Al Khouri’s work with the Norman Miller Center has inspired him to continue in the field of peace and justice: “For now, I’m going to work for a year at least and then after that go to grad school in economic development and international studies. I want to work with NGOs, I think if I ended up in an office from 9 to 5 I’d not make it at all, so I’m trying to avoid that.

“There’s this organization called Voice, they are down in Virginia, they basically do what I used to be involved in here but on a bigger scale. So they do practical and effective work with the community, and helping school districts get funding and helping disadvantage people get housing. When the whole recession happened and a lot of people lost money on their mortgages and lost their houses even, they were there on the front lines fighting for people against big money and big corporations; and this is the kind of organization I want to be involved with, this is the kind of work I want to be doing. So I applied there and hopefully I get it.” 

Pyne has also helped connect Fouad to graduate programs like the one at Denver Korbel School of International Studies.

A return home
Through his work at the Norman Miller Center, Al Khouri has contributed to the Israel/Palestine experiences offered to SNC students in 2016 and 2017. He was involved from the beginning: putting up posters, reaching out to donors and taking part in info sessions ahead of the trip.

“The whole concept is really important in terms of what it does for the people involved in the trip and what they do afterwards,” he says. The trip allowed participants to do something that other trips do not: to connect with residents in the host country. “They lived with them, they shared meals with them, they danced with them, they hung out with them, they sort of understood this other dimension of relationships and another dimension of another human being. It reassured me that an idea that might seem possible to me – it could be doable with the help of others, and with the help of people who really know how to maneuver through these sort of connections and networks; and how to find the right way to do things.” 

Al Khouri, a Palestinian Christian, was also a part of Better Together Day. “My sophomore year there were some xenophobic comments and hateful comments about some of our Muslim students, and they were very hurt by it. They were very scared, they were tense. I invited these students to help clear out some of the misconceptions about themselves, and we started this Better Together Day that year. There were more than 200 people grouped in the Campus Center; there was dialogue going on and there were questions from the audience about the Muslim faith, and these students helped clear it up. So I think that’s another big thing that’s left its mark on me, and reassured me in how sometimes these conversations help. There is a way to handle these things and it’s not with who’s the loudest. It’s with who’s the most creative, who’s the most effective about how to voice their opinion.”

In the spirit of communio
Al Khouri says, “A lot of international students sometimes in other schools feel excluded and alone, but here I didn’t really feel that. There were a lot of people who were intrigued by my story but at the same time welcomed me for a lot of opportunities and positions on campus.” 

Students and faculty continued to support him during difficult time: “My freshman year still felt new and everything, even though I had lived in this area before, but the community was very supportive of me in times of stress and nervousness when my family back home was in danger and under threat. I don’t think I’d find that sort of welcoming and help from a bigger school or a bigger city.”

June 6, 2017