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BRAVE event at Roseburg school: 'Building Respect and Value for Everyone'

Presenters representing 17 nations greeted students at Joseph Lane Middle School in Roseburg to meet them and learn more about their countries of origin, April 24, 2017. (Photo courtesy Andrea Gray)

ROSEBURG, Ore. -- How do you stop bullying before it stops? One way is to boost understanding of those who are different from us. That was the goal of Monday’s BRAVE World program, an international culture fair and assembly held at Joseph Lane Middle School and attended by all Jo Lane sixth-graders.

Presenters ranging in age from teens to octogenarians, representing a total of 17 nations, greeted students who rotated through the library to meet them and learn more about their countries of origin. Guests were surrounded by everyday items (photos, maps, clothing, games and art) that helped tell the stories of their cultures.

After lunch, everyone gathered for an assembly and panel interview in the cafeteria. Here, the guests took questions about their journeys to this country, the challenges they encounter here, how people in their respective nations handle conflict and other subjects.

The BRAVE World program was organized by Jo Lane seventh-grader Marin Gray. (BRAVE stands for Building Respect and Value for Everyone.) Marin, who also holds the title of 2017 Miss Oregon Junior High, got the idea for the event as her family was talking over some of the causes of bullying.

She said she developed BRAVE World as a way to give her peers insight into what it is like to have to assimilate into someone else’s culture, and to increase understanding and appreciation of other cultures. Six community groups also joined forces to help pull together BRAVE World.

Marin, who has visited 11 other nations so far in her travels, said she began seeking participants for Monday’s gathering back in the fall. In addition to checking with local restaurants featuring international cuisine, she tapped “friends of friends” and groups with multinational connections, such as Douglas County AFS.

Marin said she hoped students who attended BRAVE World would come away with a better understanding of what people go through when they live in or visit a culture that may be very different from the one in which they were born.

“It’s something I experienced three years ago in a mosque in Oman,” she recalled. “I remember thinking how different I was from everyone around me.”

Many of the questions Marin posed to the guest panel during the assembly brought that point home in ways that were either touching or humorous.

Catherine Kerns, who was born in Taiwan and came to the event to represent China, said one of the more shocking sights she saw early in her U.S. residency was a man and woman kissing in an elevator.

Susan Bettis became emotional as she talked about being bullied as a child, when she was routinely described by Americans as “half-Icelandic” and sometimes encountered rudeness.

Yet she also had many positive experiences and is proud of her Icelandic heritage.

“In Iceland, we say ‘goodbye’ as ‘bless bless.’ And if you see me around the community, I will be happy to teach you more words in Icelandic,” she said.

Jo Lane sixth-graders giggled after H.D. Honscheid took the microphone to answer Marin’s question about what American foods were hard to get used to.

“Peanut-butter sandwiches, because they stick to the roof of your mouth,” he said. “Also the hamburgers here – they are so very large.”

To find out more about student exchange programs through Douglas County AFS, visit https://sites.google.com/site/douglascountyafs/ or send email to douglascountyasf@gmail.com.

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