By: Bonnie Washick & Ana Mirzashvili
Former Indiana Senator Richard “Dick” Lugar was laid to rest last Wednesday. He passed away on April 28th at the age of 87 after a life of public service, much of which directly supported global peace.
Senator Lugar is probably best known for working to destroy nuclear warheads, but in the cultural exchange community, we know him as one of two U.S. Senators who founded the Kennedy-Lugar Youth Exchange and Study (YES) program. The YES program provides grants for high school students from countries with a significant Muslim population to study in America. Not only did Senator Lugar work across the aisle to get the YES program going, but he did so as a response to the attacks of September 11, 2001. At a time when many in the U.S. looked with fear or suspicion on the Muslim world, Senator Lugar worked to open new lines of communication and foster mutual understanding.
I’ve seen Senator Lugar described as a foreign policy “giant” and “sage.” While he was both, these titles can make it seem impossible to fill his shoes. But Senator Lugar believed we all had the capacity to work for peace. Ana Mirzashvili, Outreach Associate at Greenheart Exchange (depicted above with Senator Lugar), learned this firsthand:
In 2008, I was getting ready for college in America when I received a welcome letter from Senator Lugar, who was an alum of my new school, Denison University. He knew my country was at war and wrote to encourage me to stay strong, to find like-minded people, and to fight globally for humanity.
Later, he gave me the chance to join the fight as an intern in his DC office. I learned from Senator Lugar that you can be a big patriot and a world citizen. He did not see these two things as contradictions. He believed that it was our duty as individuals not to focus on differences, but to search for similarities that made peace possible.
In fact, many are already rising to do this important work, thanks to the exchange program Senator Lugar helped create. Current YES participant from India, Krittika Ghosh, shared how she evolved as a human and a global citizen. She learned to use her voice and to give back to society as well as the environment through volunteerism. Krittika recently participated in a conference for burgeoning global leaders. YES alum, Muksin “Jiro” Ibrahim III, said that the exchange program made him realize that even a simple good deed “can affect the world positively on a bigger scale.” Back in the Philippines, he has been doing community service projects, including one funded by a Greenheart Impact Grant. Finally, the YES program helped Tiara Prasetyaningtyas see life as an adventure in learning. She elaborated, “If I can’t do something right the first time I try, it means that I have learned to do it better in the future rather than not trying at all.” Today, Tiara is studying law and wants to help her home country, Indonesia, improve in the areas of education and social justice.
We will all need to shine a little brighter now that we’ve lost Senator Lugar’s star. Thanks to him we have the tools to do so. Let’s honor his legacy by recommitting ourselves to open dialogue, transnational collaboration, and exchange programs, like YES, that build a strong foundation for peace.