A gathering of all participants and Drs. Kenneth and Mary Lou Frank from Brenau are on the back row

Finding Peace When There Is No Peace

Brenau Professors Kenneth Frank, J.D., who heads the university’s conflict resolution and legal studies program, and Mary Lou Frank, Ph.D. in psychology, traveled to Greece in May to do training for and judge at a tournament for the world’s largest student mediation organization. The experience provided them with an eye-opening view into the seemingly unending chaos that most of us know only from the continuous stream of troubling headlines and shocking television reports from other parts of the globe. However,  for millions death, destruction and escalating conflict touch every aspect of their daily life. Frank in Greece interacted with  three extraordinary students whose harrowing escapes from war-torn Syria emphatically underscore the importance of learning and executing the art peace-building in and out of legal systems and diplomatic channels around the world. Here is Dr. Frank’s account.

Day 1

We Begin

A gathering of all participants and Drs. Kenneth and Mary Lou Frank from Brenau are on the back row
A gathering of all participants and Drs. Kenneth and Mary Lou Frank from Brenau are on the back row

Saturday, May 14, 2016: We woke up this morning in the cradle of democracy after a long travel day from Atlanta to Frankfurt, Germany, to Athens, Greece. “Woke up” may be a bit strong – Athens is seven hours ahead of Atlanta, and so we were waking up much earlier here. After breakfast, we walked to the Alba School of Management, part of the American College of Greece, where two days of training for mediation will be held. On the walk there, I noticed how narrow and uneven the sidewalks are – and the narrow streets are filled with taxis and motorcycles, which somehow coexist with buses and delivery trucks. Alba is in the city center, so there is little room for parking or walking. We walk along an unpronounceable street, cross equally unpronounceable streets and arrive at Alba and are immediately greeted by our Greek hosts, who seem delighted to have us at the event.

Students from Greece, Albania, Romania, England, Turkey, Syria and the United States are registering for the event. Animated conversations occur in several languages. We meet the two teams of young men from Syria who were recruited from the migrant camps near Thessaloniki to come to attend this event. We find out that our Greek hosts have gone to the camps, contacted the refugees and their families, interviewed them and obtained permission for these students to participate in the training and the upcoming mediation tournament. Our hosts provided them with clothes suitable to come to the event, covered the registration fees and made sure that their English-speaking ability was sufficient to understand the training and participate in the tournament. Immediately we are drawn to the Syrian team members to hear their stories. Most of them were college students before the war started in their countries – some of them are within a year of graduation. They now live in the camps near Athens – in tents if they are fortunate. These young men are bright, appreciative of this opportunity and ready to participate. No women could participate because their families would not allow it.

The training in mediation begins and continues until we break for lunch. We walk down the street to a fast food Greek place with about 15 seats. We all order sandwiches made of pita bread, chicken, tomatoes and cucumbers and quickly eat them so we could return to the training. When the training ends that afternoon, we head off to another Greek restaurant within walking distance and have some of the freshest Greek salads I have ever eaten. We pick up the tab for the Syrian students, who have no money for such meals. I am excited for tomorrow because our presentation will be the first item on the training agenda. What gracious and warm people our Greek hosts are – and the work they have done to ensure the Syrian teams could participate was truly inspiring. In the United States there is virtually no coverage of the conditions of the camps here and elsewhere in the region. Instead, we worry about Keeping Up with the Kardashians.

Day 2

Devastating News

Training judges with the Greek Tournament Director, Elena Koltsaki.
Training judges with the Greek Tournament Director, Elena Koltsaki.

Sunday, May 15, 2016: Today is the second day of training, and we have the first presentation of the morning. So, after breakfast and a brisk walk from the hotel to the host school, Alba, we set up the PowerPoint in the auditorium. Again, the energy in the room is palpable. Even after a full day yesterday, the participants appear eager for more. We discuss the differences between caucus and conference-style mediation and the differences between problem-solving and transformative mediation, including the different outcomes that are possible with each. The message is well received by the participants, and some asked extremely thoughtful questions, which we attempted to answer. We then moved into some specific information about the upcoming tournament, since almost all of the participants have never participated in any mediation tournaments.

Unfortunately, into this room of good feelings and joy, the world intrudes again. We receive news that there has been an attack on a hospital in Syria where there were deaths and the taking of hostages from that facility. Two members of the Syrian team have relatives in this town. Immediately they turn to the phone connections they have to find out about their relatives. This event upsets all of us – one of the Syrian teams has to drop out of the training and the tournament due to the impact of this incident. We search available media for information about the event, but only the BBC carries any information.

The rest of the students turn to the task at hand. The various trainers break out into several rooms with small groups of students to work on practice opening statements for both mediators and advocates. We then gather to see a demonstration of a mediation round presented by two Polish students and some American students who have participated before. This night there is a bus tour of Athens for all participants – we discover some of the students cannot afford tickets, so we donate ours so students can take the tour. We go to dinner knowing it has been a good day and looking forward to the tournament tomorrow.

Day 3

Some Assembly Required

The special medallion prepared for the Syrian participants.
The special medallion prepared for the Syrian participants.

Monday, May 16, 2016: Today the tournament began. It was my responsibility to train the judges that were coming from Greece and the surrounding areas. The venue also changed – we were now at the American College of Greece, Deree Campus. Brenau had sent me 100 luggage tags with our new Golden Tiger logo to use as a token of our appreciation. However, these tags were not assembled, so before the judges arrived at the room for training, we started assembling the three parts of the tags – inserting the card and tying on the plastic tie. However, the judges arrived early and they joined in. One of the judges remarked that it was like knitting – a way to work together and break the ice.

I appreciated the generosity of the Greek people. The assemblage of the tags went quickly with so many willing hands.

Judges were primarily from Greece, mostly lawyers, but there were several non-lawyer mediators from Greece, as well as lawyers and mediators from Romania, the United Kingdom, the United States and Germany. By talking with the judges I discovered that many of them did mediation in more than one country, and that several countries, including Romania, had made mediation mandatory in certain cases. In other countries, mediation is rarely used. In Greece, for example, despite the fact it takes many years for a case to go to trial, the use of mediation seldom occurs. I also discovered the lawyers in Greece have been on strike for almost five months. The judges were eager to begin and seemed to have a good grasp of how to evaluate the student participants.

The students were participating in two rounds today, using cases which were supplied by International Academy of Dispute Resolution, the umbrella organization under which all of the student mediation tournaments are held. The second case of the day was a case I had written involving an international element and a family dispute. The students were eager to begin, and I judged in one of the rooms of students for each round. It was amazing that, with only two days of training, these students were doing a credible job of mediating and advocating in English – not the first language for many participants. I was delighted that they received the feedback we offered from the judges’ perspectives, and we could see how the second round was better than the first. Like all other teams, the Syrian students split up into rooms and began their work. These young men are sharp and are getting the concepts. I am so pleased with the enthusiasm of everyone involved – the student participants, the judges and the hosts of the tournament.

We did pause to take a group photo of all the participants, many of the judges and the hosts of the tournament. It was taken on the campus, and it shows the participants from the various countries. So far, the tournament, especially for the first-time hosts and most participants, is going very well.

Day 4

The Final Round

Preparing to judge the finals round and distributing the ballots.
Preparing to judge the final round and distributing the ballots.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016: Today is the second day of the tournament for the 22 teams at American College of Greece, Deree Campus. This morning, I trained the judges for the third preliminary round. We had some returning judges and some new judges. I judged the third round as well, and I continue to be impressed with how quickly the students are learning these skills. Each round is better than the previous one. We broke for lunch, and we all ate at the college dining hall, treated to wonderful Greek food. After lunch, the semifinalists were announced. Everyone was delighted the migrant students had done so well, and there were cheers when their team was named.

The semifinal round started with judge training again, and this time I only had two judges who had not judged before. There were enough judges for this round that I did not have to judge – which is probably for the best, since I had been tapped to judge the finals round late this afternoon. We took the opportunity to rest a bit, since we had been going nonstop for four days. We came back for the finals round, and there are three judges in each of the two rooms. My co-judges were the tournament director from Greece, an accomplished Greek mediator, and a law professor from Kent in the United Kingdom, whose teams had won international mediation competitions before. I was honored to judge with both of these women, who brought so much expertise to the round. We heard the mediation round. Of the six student participants in room, none of the students were native English speakers. However, we were seeing the best of the best. The skill level was impressive. The round ended, and we were treated to an outstanding dinner of Greek dishes catered by the college food service staff.

The awards ceremony was the final order of business on this very long day. A representative of the Greek Ministry of Justice and representatives from the American College of Greece handed out the awards.

Almost every country participating won team or individual awards. The Syrian students placed 10th in advocacy. They were honored with a special medallion. The winning mediation team from Greece included some of the students I had trained in earlier rounds.

It was the most celebratory awards ceremony I have ever attended – and I have been to many over the past 15 years. Every award was loudly cheered, and pictures were taken at every opportunity. At the end of the awards ceremony, a DJ played music and there was dancing. So many students wanted to connect on Facebook and wanted my business card so they could stay in touch. We were honored to be part of this process and hope this will become an annual event. It was well supported by the mediation community in Greece, as well as the International Academy of Dispute Resolution. Tomorrow we meet to debrief the tournament and plan for the future.

Day 5

The Road Ahead

The winning mediation team from Greece posing with Mary Lou Frank, Ph.D., and Kenneth Frank. J.D. from Brenau University who earlier trained this group of students.
The winning mediation team from Greece posing with Mary Lou Frank, Ph.D., and Kenneth Frank, J.D., from Brenau University, who earlier trained this group of students.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016: Today we are meeting with the President of the International Academy of Dispute Resolution and other board members to discuss the tournament that ended yesterday. The consensus of the group was that the tournament was an overwhelming success. The addition of a venue in southern Europe will fill a void and open the door to additional participants from the region. We will be meeting with the primary tournament organizers in Greece to see if it is their intent to continue using Athens as a venue for this tournament.

As someone who has organized a good number of tournaments, the enthusiasm of students and judges was so impressive. All of the meeting participants were impressed with the organization of the tournament and the involvement of the local mediation community as volunteers and judges.

The next discussion was about the Syrian participants. We heard there is potential for at least one of the students to obtain a scholarship to study at the American College of Greece. However, all of the young men need assistance. These are difficult times, as each student is part way to a college degree – their progress stopped by the war in Syria.

One of the students came through Turkey to Greece. Two came via the ocean.

They told stories about how their families were treated. They could not be delivered by boat to the Greek coast. After being turned away, some passengers were dumped into the water, hoping for rescue. Many were not saved.

One of the participants at the training earlier in the week has offered to accompany us to the New Acropolis Museum at no cost, another example of the warmth of the Greek people. One of our taxi drivers summed up how the Greek sense of hospitality has impacted the migrant situation. He noted that given the serious state of the Greek economy, taking the Syrian refugees was not something the Greek people wanted to do. However, once they were here, it was only right to help them.

Now the Facebook friend requests are coming in. I will soon have as many Greek friends as I have Facebook friends in Georgia.

Letters From Syrian Migrants

Since the tournament concluded, I have received correspondence from several refugees who participated in the competition. In the files below, three Syrian students recount their experiences of fleeing from their war-torn homelands. They also talk about the impact of the mediation tournament on their future plans and what they want the international community to know about the largest humanitarian crisis since World War II.

One Response to “Finding Peace When There Is No Peace”
  1. Mohammed Arab says:

    It was my pleasure to be there among many important professionals and academics. I’m so proud for being there to see those people from all around the world … It was the first opportunity for me to be there but really
    I felt like I belong to this place. I appreciate all the people who helped us especially Ms.Elena Koltsaki because she encouraged me and supported me and she was the reason for me to take this opportunity .. I’m looking forward to seeing all those wonderful people again because it has been an honor for me to have met them … it’s hard to say what is in the bottom of my heart but what I want to say

    and Ευχαριστω πολυ Ms Elena

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