Our journey home began with an early 4 am wake up call this morning. We gathered our belongings and traveled to the airport to complete our amazing journey. While our international seminar has concluded, there is a great amount of emotional processing that will continue to take place amongst all fellows. The relationships that we have built between classmates and international connections will be lifelong and unforgettable. We are incredibly fortunate to have had this profound experience. Each Class 46 fellow is overwhelmed with immense feelings of gratitude and appreciation for the experiences that we have had. We must remind ourselves of the lessons that were learned and continue towards a process of life long learning. We could not have gone through our personal transformations without the love and support of the California Agricultural Leadership Foundation. Thank you, we are forever in your debt, but cannot wait to pay it forward. Shalom, andi’o sas, and tosbeho ‘ala khair from Israel, Greece, and Jordan!
We started the final full day of our journey boarding the Athens metro on our way to Alliance Relief, a Christian-based center for families that have migrated to Greece as refugees. Alliance Relief is an amazing demonstration of human compassion that touches people from many parts of the world, including the Middle East and Northern Africa.
The facility is a demonstration in servant leadership, being built through collaboration, love, and faith. While there, we met with staff of the facility that provided us with background of the services and struggles of Alliance Relief. In addition, we were introduced to volunteers at the facility who were former refugees. Their stories broke our hearts, and allowed us a first-hand account of the difficulties a displaced person without country, home, and family faces. Seeing their perseverance reminded us of the strength of the human spirit. This incredible organization provides food, clothing, shoes, and living facilities to families who would otherwise be in completely inhospitable conditions. We were honored to donate a contribution to these efforts.
We ended the day with a group synthesis to summarize the entire trip and what leadership lessons we take away. Furthermore, what we will continue to develop and practice in our own lives, personally and professionally.
We thank all of the donors to the California Agricultural Leadership Foundation for this tremendous opportunity and we thank Dr. Thomas and Dr. Flores for their planning, execution, and patience with our dynamic group.
Josh, Denise, Sarah, and Johnna
Today, the class was able to spend an early morning to themselves by visiting the local sites, walking through a nearby city park, National Gardens, while others visited the Panathenaic Stadium, the original site of the modern day Olympic Games. Street vendors and locals all enthusiastically greeted classmates who chose to do some last minute shopping for their family and friends.
Following an early lunch, the class was visited by a published macroeconomist Yannis Palaiologos whose editorials have been published in the Wall Street Journal and Politico. Mr Palaiologos is also a published author of The 13th Labour of Hercules, an inside look to the Greek financial crisis. His insight and expertise into the events leading up to the current Greek financial crisis was truly respected and appreciated. We all felt that we gained so much more knowledge into the situation from a local and professional perspective. Group discussions following the meeting allowed us to consider our concerns regarding our own fiscal policies and social programs.
In the afternoon, we were invited to the Agricultural University of Athens by Dr. Thanos Balafoutis. There we met a panel of professors, researchers, and students to engage in discussions surrounding a variety of agricultural topics, including production agriculture, political influences, and water resources. Its amazing to see and hear how much the locals in Athens have been following our current political climate with the nail-biting results to follow.
Today was a meaningful and special day to us all as we have been engaged as a class to learn about Greece’s economic climate and the ways they are proactively combating their issues. Hearing from a local macroeconomist’s take on the issues from an honest and open point of view was very meaningful for us all. As the Greeks have hope in getting out of their crises, we’ve learned that by consistency, perseverance, ingenuity and commitment that the staple for change lies within there efforts to make Greece prosper for the future.
We all thank you kindly for following us.
Christian, Erin, Marc, and Ashley
As we began our first day in Athens, we found ourselves focused on the rich history of this beautiful ancient city. After a short walk from our hotel, we passed the Roman Arch around the Temple of Zeus as we made our way up to Acropolis Hill. Our very knowledgeable guide, Anna, provided a narrative walking tour for more than 2 hours.
Our first stop was the Roman amphitheater which is still used today between the months of May to October and seats 5,000 people and continues to be a draw for modern performers like Yanni, Elton John’s concert in memory of Princess Diana, and classical performers such as ballets and orchestras.
We then hiked up to the temples at the top of the hill where we saw the Erechtheion, a temple built for Goddess Athena and Poseidon, and the Parthenon which is currently under reconstruction but offers a glimpse into the masterpiece of geometry dating back to 447 BC. The early Greek civilization was quickly brought to life through these spectacular structures.
The view at the top of the hill was fantastic and offered a panoramic view of over five million people who reside in Athens. The Mediterranean Sea was visible in the distance!
We were then given free time in the historic neighborhood of Plaka, which is known as the “Neighborhood of the Gods” to grab a quick lunch at one of the many outdoor cafes which is in close proximity to the archaeological sites and Neoclassical architecture. We then returned to our hotel in preparation for our formal meeting scheduled at the U.S. Embassy.
As California Ag Leadership preaches, we packed our flexibility when the bus couldn’t get to us due to a protest in front of the Parliament Building across the street from our hotel. After a short delay, the bus met us and we were on our way to the briefing.
As with previous Embassy meetings, security is a fine-tuned process as we were ushered through checkpoints and not allowed to photograph our meeting. We always have a sense of gratitude that our State Department officials are able to provide time in their busy schedules to meet with us. Today we were privileged to meet with Andrew Johnson, Deputy Economic Adviser and Julia Jacoby, Deputy Political staffer regarding Migration and Refugee issues. They provided a meaningful discussion of current issues affecting the Greek economy and the Refugee Crisis. We were surprised to learn of the drastic measures the people of Greece are taking to solve the enormity of the economic and refugee situations.
As the people of Greece try to find a path to tomorrow, we are privileged and thankful to embrace this experience that California Ag Leadership Foundation has provided so that we may further appreciate our seeds of democracy and become better leaders in our community, state and country.
Gayle, Drew, Jorge, and Heather
Today has been day of transition. We’ve had a beautiful time discovering the sites, sounds, historical treasures and spiritual significance of Jerusalem.
We’re now on our way to Athens via Tel Aviv. One stop along the way was the Sorek Desalination Plant directly south of Tel Aviv on the Mediterranean. This facility is the largest sea water reverse osmosis plant in the world providing 28% of the potable water for Israel’s municipalities. Their Business Development Manager, Yoav Menashe, was kind enough to give our group a presentation on his facilities capabilities and a thorough tour of their plant and incorporated technologies.
In 2014 Israel had its most historic drought in recorded history. Because the Sorek plant came online in 2013 this drought was not noticed by Israel’s population at large. The foresight of the country in planning, bidding out, building, and commissioning this facility within 3.5 years is tremendous and something we as Californians could certainly learn from, given our own drought issues.
Boarding the plane to Athens in 45 minutes we look forward to touching down in Greece and starting the journey anew there tomorrow.
Adam, Sal and Zach
The Lords Prayer
Our last day in Jerusalem, we walked from the hotel to tour the heralded sites that Christ walked upon and ascended from. Our first stop was at the Domaine National Francais, as known as Eleona, the place that Jesus taught his disciples the Lords prayer. This is a special and spiritual site since it is the only church on the mount and the Lords prayer can be found in over a hundred languages.
Chapel of Ascension
We then proceeded to walk to the highest point on the Mount of Olives. We viewed the site where Jesus made his ascension into heaven at Chapel of Ascension. Amazingly there were plenty of spiritually guided people from around the world to witness the same holy presence as us.
2,000 year old olive tree in the Garden of Gethsemane
Our tour guide then led us to the Garden of Gethsemane where we were amongst thousands of spiritual seeking individuals who all wanted to witness the 2,000 year old olive trees and see the place where Christ prayed the day before he was sentenced to be crucified. We were all fortunate enough to attend a partial mass at the Church of Gethsemane which was given in English by a proud Irish priest.
Statue of King David
The amazing amounts of history all contained in a 2 mile square block is overwhelming. We visited the site of David Tomb’s and was able to also walk up stairs to the site of Jesus’s last supper.
Burial site of Jesus at Golgotha
A quick bus ride to the Garden Tomb/Golgotha was the last site we saw today. It is said that this is the site where Christ was crucified and then laid to rest in the Garden then arose for his apostles. This is arguably one of the two sites scholars and archeologists claim to be the burial site of Jesus prior to his ascention to heaven.
We finished the afternoon gathered to reflect our time spent in Jerusalem. The heartfelt synthesis allowed us to reflect on our journey in Jerusalem as well as our journey over the last 14 months as we have grown together in this leadership program. We are grateful for having the opportunity to be in this program and to all the alumni, fellows and donors who have made this possible.
Christian, Johnna and Shawn
Having a free day in Jerusalem, the Class had a chance to explore the Old City. These activities included the Ramparts Walk on the Old City Wall, the Jerusalem Museum, History of Israel Museum, the Souks (shops), Churches, and David’s Tower Museum – one could be here for a month and not see all that the Holy Land has to offer. Classmates found that walking around the Old City, without a guide, was an adventure in itself. And many worked on developing better negotiation skills at the Souks.
Later in day, we were honored to meet with two representatives from the U.S Consulate in Jerusalem regarding the Israeli/Palestinian relations. Topics covered included the aid packages given to both regions from the U.S., refugees, farming, the Two-State Solution, and their economic status and future. This was a great opportunity to ask questions and connect the dots on all we have been exposed to over the last few days.
We finished the day with a traditional Shabbat dinner, which is one of three meals that is specially prepared for the Jewish Holy Day. A Rabbi came to our table for a kiddush blessing followed by a wonderful feast of challah (braided bread) and wine.
Our first morning in Jerusalem brought us an amazing view of the Old Jerusalem. The beauty of the city was a perfect way to begin our day learning about the historical significance of Jerusalem to many faiths.
We began with a visit to the Wailing Wall where we witnessed people of the Jewish faith presenting their payers to the wall. Then we headed into the Muslim side of the Old City where we viewed the exterior of the Dome of the Rock and learned of the significance of this site to Muslims. Once we had exited the Muslim area we immediately began our walk of the Via Dolorosa where we walked in the steps of Christ along the stations of the cross.
Our final stop of the day was Yad Vashem, the Israeli Holocaust Museum. This visit can best be described as a somber experience which helped us better understand all sides of the regional conflicts.
The day provided some fascinating lessons in the different impacts of leadership styles. We saw the benefits of persistent leaders and servant leaders while also witnessing the damage that can be inflicted by strong but ill intentioned leadership.
Border Crossing from Jordan to Israel
We started our day bright and early as we bid farewell to our new Jordanian friends. Today’s class focus was a land border crossing into the Holy Land of Israel.
With the advice of our fearless leader, Dr. Thomas, we arrived early at the Israeli border and thankfully avoided the crowds. Upon arrival, it was apparent border security was all business and very efficient. After various checkpoints, our passports were reviewed five times yet we were still able to pass through the border in under an hour. We were then greeted by our new guide and bus driver.
Group Photo with our Jordanian Team
Palestinian School Visit
We then traveled for an hour into the West Bank and visited the Latin Patriachate School of Jerusalem – Beit Jala, Palestine, under the Direction of Principal Suhail T. Daibes. The school is Christian-based with a unique enrollment of Muslims and Christians. We were able to have small group discussions with 11th grade students and hear about their struggles. The students openly shared their passion about living in an area under occupation. We exchanged contact information and left the students with soccer balls as parting gifts.
Students and Class 46 Fellows during small group discussion
The Shepherd’s Hill and Church of Nativity
Our next stop was Shepherd’s Hill and Chapel, the site where angels appeared to spread the good news to the three shepherds that the Messiah had been born according to the Gospel of Luke. Following the route of the Shepherds, we arrived at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. Bethlehem means “House of Bread;” Jesus is the “Bread of Life.”
This is the site of the birth of Jesus Christ.
Our final stop was at the Alrowwad for Culture and Arts Society. It is situated on the Aida Refugee Camp in Bethlehem, Palestine where 6,000 refugees reside. The needs are vast where two-thirds of the population are under the age of 24. Dr. Abdelfattah Abusrour shared his passion for the future of the youth. His motto for the children is “Don’t Die for Palestine, Live for Palestine.”
We look forward to discovering more of Israel and Palestine over the next few days and the leadership lessons found in the Holy Land.
Gayle, Blake, Sal and Shaun
Jordan Baptism Site
The day began with a trip to the Jordan River baptism site. We walked in the steps of Jesus and John the Baptist to witness the location of Jesus’ baptism. We then finished the walk to the River Jordan on the Jordan Israel border. We witnessed not only people completing a very personal spiritual journey with their baptism, but saw this happening alongside the armed border guards from both nations. There was a significant difference in the sides of the location with the Jordanian site being simple and rather humble in nature. Many of our fellows took this opportunity to further their connection to this spiritual site by removing their shoes and placing their feet in the water of the holy site.
Feet in the Jordan River
The second stop of the day was the Dead Sea, the lowest land point on the Earth. There is a tremendous connection between the Dead Sea and the Jordanian culture. During our visit it became very apparent the strong belief in the healing powers of the salt water and mud of the Dead Sea. This site is a more resort type area bringing in many tourists and tourism is a vital part of the Jordanian economy.
Shoreline of Dead Sea (salt included)
Christian V. with Jordanian boy and his new soccer ball
Jordanian School and Christian Church
The final component of our day was to a Baptist church with a congregation of only about 60 people which has been operating a free school for Syrian refugees in a rural part of Jordan for the past 16 months. The 130 children they educate must be bused in from the remote locations and are provided with breakfast, lunch and snack. While the school is funded by Christian organization, they do not teach religion in the school and in fact teach mostly Muslim students. We were pleased to be able to provide the school with a donation of much needed classroom supplies and soccer balls. They are doing amazing work with incredibly limited financial resources. They are working on plans to open a second school and already have a waiting list of students.
Donation of school supplies
As our trip to Jordan wraps up we find ourselves humbled by the generosity and incredible hospitality of the Jordanian people. We have encountered so many wonderful people, some of whom when so far as to open up their homes for overnight stays, who welcomed us as we learned about their history and culture. Our group agreed that we have never felt so safe and welcomed in a country by our dynamic team of guide, driver and tourist police who were our true life examples of servant leadership.
We are so thankful for our Jordanian experience.
Shannon, Melissa, Adam and Jorge