US Trip – Monday, 17th October

Thursday, 20 October 2022

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By David Gray

My second full day in the United States. I spent the entire day at Westtown School, a Quaker school founded in 1769 set in magnificent grounds including forest, a lake, an outdoor Amphitheatre and with the most splendid facilities and atmosphere.   I met many students and staff during the course of the day, and was impressed by their demeanour, their warmth of welcome and by their genuine interest in what was happening in Lebanon and in how they might help our school. Without exception they warmed to the ethos of Brummana High School, the plight in which it found itself and the 4 values to which we adhere which coincide with Quaker Principles: individuality, respect, tolerance and peaceful resolution.  I sat in on several lessons and was asked to participate in them from the perspective of Western Asia and the Middle East.  The first lesson was  a lesson on the Cold war, but then when I arrived it became a discussion on modern day  Lebanon and the place of Brummana High School within it; the second lesson was on Modern Asia and so it was really handed over to me to talk about Brummana High School in the context of Lebanon and the school itself in the context of the Middle East and then developed into a question and answer lesson between the students and me.  Later in the morning, I was asked to lead an assembly of about 300 students who had been having a lesson on Quakerism .  I really gave the presentation I had  been giving to adult groups and this elicited many questions from the heterogenous group of students before me.  The  assembly was also attended by the school’s Principal and by many of the staff.

Outdoor amphitheatre Westtown School
Westtown Boarding House

I then had a meeting  with the Head of Boarding at the school which was very interesting. Boarding is compulsory in the final years of schooling  for students at the school and it plays a significant role in the life of the school. Westtown  has about 300 boarders in all out of a total of about 500 students.  I was also interested during the course of the morning on the emphasis placed in the school on the Arts, particularly on Drama and on Music, and the school has a magnificent theatres in which I had led the morning assembly.  I had lunch with Quaker leadership students who talked to me about how they saw Quakerism in their lives and how it influenced the way in which they led students and coordinated  their community service programme.  I was very interested in the fact that a lot of authority and responsibility is passed on to the students to manage all kind of events, occasions and activities like community service, although they are overseen and supervised by staff.  The Quaker leadership group reminded me a little bit of the I Serve club which has been re established this year and through which community service of all kinds is being organized at Brummana .

Fall at Westtown School
With the Head of Westtown School

In the afternoon I had a meeting with Chris Benbow, the Head of school/Principal. The meeting took the form of a tour of the outdoor facilities at the school which include a lake and an amazing forest walk, particularly beautiful in the Autumn sunshine. We  talked about ways in which West Town School and Brummana might develop links in the future, perhaps through fundraising, perhaps through exchange of students and teachers, perhaps through  their attending the Model United Nations conference in May, 2023.  These are possibilities for the future which I shall follow up in due course once the trip is over.

In the evening I met online with a potential donor and then later in the evening I joined George and Georgette Hamaty for dinner.  They have been extremely kind to me, set up the arrangements in the Philadelphia area and also driven me from place to place to the venues for individual presentations.

More News tomorrow.