|Miriam Rayward learned the importance of flexibility in leadership one summer at the Coca-Cola Leadership Camp. She’d attended a Girl Scout career and leadership program in Boston years earlier and had honed her skills, first with disabled kids and then as a Spanish- and French-speaking camp counselor. She expected to be regarded as the successful and popular leader she’d been in previous stints over three summers, but the girls at Camp Coca-Cola wouldn’t even speak to her. They rolled their eyes at her enthusiastic pep talks. She brought it down a few notches, only to meet with the same response. To make matters worse, there was conflict among the organizers, and racial tension undercut camp morale. Miriam needed a new approach. These were kids from rough backgrounds with emotional baggage and a lack of trust in authority. She began with individuals, getting troubled girls to talk about their lives, goals, and dreams while sharing a chocolate bar. “Chocolate builds trust,” Miriam says. The group slowly changed, and the girls began confiding in her. Ultimately, they bonded and, compared with other cabins, achieved the most awards. “Teamwork makes the dream work,” was her motto. She began to see that people’s capacity to achieve is determined by their leader’s ability to empower.
Miriam began to feel that she could make a difference in the world. Conflict had been a part of her life since she was born in Spain as the daughter of a Palestinian father and American mother. She is an American citizen, though raised in Spain where her father had come to study at the University of Madrid. In addition to the intense conflict facing Palestinians, Miriam’s family also feared the ETA in Spain, a Basque terrorist organization bent on kidnapping and murder, and Al Qaeda-affiliated Moroccan terrorists. It’s not clear which group was responsible for the March 11th, 2004 bombing of the Madrid train station, killing 191 people and wounding 1,800.
“I saw how Madrid pulled together after March 11th,” Miriam says, “and I participated in the two-million-person march against terrorism a few days later.” The gray, rainy day matched the somber mood, but “Peace was the real winner.” The horror had caused people to stand up in unity against terrorism.
Full of hope and determined to facilitate change, growth, progress, and understanding between Muslims, Christians, and Jews, Miriam first entered St. Louis University’s Madrid campus, and then transferred to USD, majoring in communications with a minor in peace and justice studies.
Update: After graduating from USD, Miriam received the Kathryn Davis Fellowship for Peace, enabling her to participate in an intensive summer program to study Arabic at the Monterey Institute of International Studies, a graduate school of the Middlebury College. At Middlebury, she worked toward an MA in international policy studies with an emphasis in conflict resolution, also earning her mediation certification and working in the California Court system. She plans to go to Jerusalem for the last six months of the program to work with an organization in Jerusalem called Hand in Hand, a network of schools in Israel and in the Palestinian territories that teach students from both schools together. She is grateful to the US State Department for awarding her with the Critical Language Scholarship in Morocco and to the National Security Education Program’s Boren Fellowship in Jerusalem.