Thursday, May 31, 2018

Multicultural agriculture school in Israel plants seeds of hope, diplomacy

The author, Ron, right, with his new friend Mohammad, at AICAT.

By Ron Werner

What would you say if you walked into a classroom in a remotely populated region of southern Israel to find the room filled with students from Africa and Southeast Asia learning and loving Israel? The majority of the students come from countries that don't have diplomatic relations with Israel; so, if you hadn't seen it with your own eyes, you might not have believed it. This is hope, this is the future. This is AICAT: The Arava International Center for Agricultural Training.  

A few weeks ago I visited AICAT, and it was easily one of the most amazing places I have ever seen.

Ron, holding bread, during a Pat Bamelach bread-making workshop on a recent Israel trip.

The Arava is in Israel's periphery filled with modern-day pioneers and Zionists living on the Jordanian border halfway between the Dead Sea and Eilat. These 6,000 people living with less than 2 inches of rainfall a year are growing 60 percent of all Israeli produce and are generating cutting-edge medical research.

AICAT thrives in this region. For the last 20 years, it has taught, trained, and developed 1,000 international students a year, resulting in 20,000 alumni from countries like Nepal, Nigeria, Vietnam, Myanmar, Cambodia, Ethiopia, Indonesia, and Kenya. Students come to AICAT to learn about topics such as advanced agricultural technologies and water management, including drip irrigation. It's amazing to think about how AICAT is bridging cultural and political gaps between various countries and Israel. AICAT creates real hope for our future. 

AICAT students, in their own words
Myanmar farmer finds career, and love, in the desert
A Kenyan agriculture student's 'extraordinary' new life 

The Arava International Center for Agricultural Training serves as a prime example of Israel sharing its know-how with the other countries to make the world a better place. This is tikum olam. This is positively Israel.

The picture above shows me and my new friend Mohammed. We met at AICAT a few weeks after I heard of his amazing story. Mohammed learned of AICAT in his native Kenya. His mother was terrified of the idea of him coming to Israel, for many reasons. Today, he studies in Israel, where he can freely pray as a Muslim, which he does daily in the Israeli fields. As his experience unfolds, Mohammad's mother's world view has changed, and he is planning on changing the minds of others when he returns home. In Mohammad I see hope. He will serve as a great ambassador, carrying out the positively Israel message. 

Ron Werner is president and co-founder of HW Home, a Colorado-based home furnishings retailer and design source. Ron grew up in the Chicago suburbs and now calls both Denver and Palm Springs home. Prior to forming HW Home in 1998, Ron was a senior vice president of investments with Smith Barney. Ron serves on various boards, including Alexander Muss High School in Israel, for which he serves as marketing co-chair. Ron and his husband, Jim Hering, are JNF Negev Society members.

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