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Japan Peace Leadership: Reflection

I will never forget the two weeks that I spent in Japan. For my first ever trip abroad, it was an amazing way to begin my exploration of the world and all it has to offer. I gained way more from my time there than I ever could have hoped. Two parts of the trips were especially significant to me. The time spent in Hiroshima broadened my view of what “peace” truly means. My favorite part of Hiroshima was the opportunity to visit the UNITAR office and meeting Nassrine. This meant so much to me because I had never met such a strong, educated woman who did/does exactly what I want to do. We grabbed a coffee, and though regrettably very briefly, it was very insightful to me. She gave me advice and offered to help me in any way that she could. That was my favorite day of the whole trip because I left feeling inspired and reassured in what I wanted to dedicate my life to.

The second part of the trip that was significant to me was the trip we took to Koyasan. Staying at the monastery and participating in a day of silence. I enjoyed this day because it was, to me, the most beautiful. I woke up to attend the morning prayer ceremony, and then after breakfast, I read a bit about Buddhism and went for a walk. I walked the path through the cemetery to the mausoleum of Kabo Daishi, the founder of the sect of Buddhism practiced on Mount Koya. There, I bought an amulet and wrote a letter to Kabo Daishi that the temple would keep and pray over for a year, then burn in a ceremonial fire. After I explored the mountain a bit more, and then sat in the garden of the monastery to do some personal journaling and reflecting. I got so much, so much clarity from that day. In fact, the whole trip was clarifying to me, and when I returned home, I put in place many of the habits I picked up in Japan into my daily life. I will forever be grateful to the BLI for affording me this opportunity that I will never forget.

By, Semia Clay

Japan Peace Leadership: Reflection

I feel so lucky to have had the opportunity to take part in this trip. Not only did I learn an immense amount of history, but I was also able to better connect with myself as well as establish lifelong friendships. Prior to this trip, I had no idea what to expect. Of course, during our pre-departure meetings, we were able to get a general idea of what we were doing, but none of us had any idea what to expect during our actual workshops. I believe my biggest takeaway from the trip came from the workshop at UNITAR in Hiroshima. When Nassrine was talking about what the organization does, her passion was shining through. It was evident how much she cares about the well-being of people and wants to help benefit the world. After their official presentation, I was talking to her about the conditions of the environment and how much work needs to be done, and she told me how her family constantly questions her for being a vegetarian and using reusable chopsticks. She explained that not eating meat, using reusable straws, and recyclable chopsticks are all small changes that she can make, so she does what she can. I was so inspired, it brought me to tears. I literally could not hold back the waterworks, and she hugged me. The experience at UNITAR helped me realize that I am passionate about making a change and being the difference. There is nothing more I want than to make an impact in this world, and this experience allowed me the opportunity to realize that my passions can be applicable to a career.

In addition to the experience at UNITAR, the overall time in Hiroshima was incredibly eye-opening. I am embarrassed to admit that prior to this trip, I truly never understood what happened in Hiroshima. I was never taught about Pearl Harbor or the Hiroshima bombing or Nagasaki, so prior to the trip, I did a lot of research. Through all of my research, I never came close to finding anything as powerful, informative, or moving as any of the presentations we were able to experience in Hiroshima. It made me realize that it is possible to move forward in a way of peace — regardless of how much violence, aggression, and hatred is behind an act of evil.
At times, I felt embarrassed of the United States, and so many of the people who we were able to meet seemed so proud to be a part of a country that established a community of peace after such devastation. It was very telling of how we deal with tragedy. In our society, when something happens, the first thing we do is point our fingers. Then, we get revenge. After seeing how Hiroshima was able to establish their mayor’s vision of peace, it made me want to bring back my knowledge of peaceful leadership and spread the word that we need to do the same here in America. Although we are the country that influences the rest of the world, we need to step away from the ever-present power dynamic and accept the fact that we can learn some things from other nations around the world.

By, Marissa Sotomayor

Japan Peace Leadership, Reflection

In a time when I could’ve only dreamed of the lush mountains, the busy streets, the close-knit shops, and welcoming community of Japan, I was finally given the opportunity to live this dream out and see it all in person. Growing up I’ve always had the desire to immerse myself in expansive experiences that involve discovering the facets across the world and its people. Japan is one of the most stimulating, engaging, and awe-inspiring places known has been nothing short of an adventure for me.

One of the most moving and eye-opening experiences of the trip was our time in Hiroshima. It was the most I’ve been able to learn about a city, it’s history, it’s people, and the resilience that has been shown to define an identity of peace. Learning the stories of the hibakusha and having direct exposure to exploring the city gave a significant marker for how much the city has evolved, and where it continues to aim to grow. I think it was quite the blessing to also stay at the World Friendship Center, be so close to the river, and have such a serene community. It was indeed a very scenic accommodation and gave a genuinely comfortable sense of peace.

Overall, everything we experienced in Hiroshima — from listening to hibakusha narratives to watching a one-man play — felt very authentic and I couldn’t have had a bigger appreciation for the value and wonder of being able to deeply absorb unique surroundings. In general, I’ve been able to have this widely authentic experience in every part of Japan we’ve visited, but I believe my heart will always hold a special place for Hiroshima. There were many ‘firsts’ here, including sleeping on tatami mats to trying out onigiri from 7/11, and undoubtedly my first time being able to visit a beautiful country that I’ve had only gathering dust on my bucket list for years.

By, Mehrin Ahmed

Japan Peace Leadership: Reflection

My time in Hiroshima was my favorite part of the trip. There is so much history everywhere in the city and lots happening on the side of peace. Having the opportunity to learn about what happened from multiple different perspectives was incredible. One event, in particular, stood out to me: the one-man play, Living with Father. The actor acted as both father and daughter, the latter surviving the bombing with the former perished. I was blown away by the intimate look we had into the life of a survivor; though the play itself was fictional, it is based in reality. The raw emotion that the actor had as he switched between father and daughter was powerful. The story he wove was one of past trauma, survivor’s guilt, and mental illness. Despite the language barrier, I was moved to tears by the end of his performance. 

We also had the opportunity to take a bike tour of the city with two English-speaking guides. We explored Hiroshima Peace Park, Shukkeien garden, and other historic landmarks around the city. I really enjoyed learning about the city as we cruised around on bicycles, traveling much faster than if we were to walk. We stopped at a Shinto shrine, and we learned how to conduct ourselves: how to enter, how to wash one’s mouth and hands, and how to pray. That cultural experience would come in handy later when we visited Nara, home of Japan’s largest Buddha. The bike tour provided for us a little taste of everything there was to do in Hiroshima: learn about peace initiatives, explore its history, sightsee, and take part in cultural practices. It was an excellent way to wrap up our last full day in the city.

By, Jessica Kosticak

Japan Peace Leadership: Reflection

During our time in Japan, I was able to learn a tremendous amount about Japanese culture. Our first week in Hiroshima was a tremendous learning experience for me. The atomic bombings were a topic that I learned very little about through school. It was lightly mentioned in history classes and framed as insignificant in many instances. Being able to travel to Hiroshima opened my eyes to the harsh effects of the bomb on the city and its people. Having the opportunity to speak with survivors and their family members is something I will never forget. This portion of our trip was where I first began to cultivate a deeper meaning for the term peace leadership. I was able to see first hand how the community of Hiroshima decided to send a message of peace to the world after this incident. In many similar scenarios, countries have waged war and harbored hatred, but Hiroshima established a mission of eliminating nuclear weapons. Visiting the City of Peace was a very meaningful experience that inspired me to see how the best outcomes can come from terrible situations.

The remainder of our trip was also a rich learning adventure. Traveling across Japan was a privilege that I will always be thankful for. Being able to see various cities and learn from various organizations was an exciting experience. I’m glad to say that I was pushed out of my comfort zone during various parts of the trip. I am a firm believer that most learning comes from these uncomfortable experiences. Staying in the Buddhist monastery was a prime example of this. Being silent and unstimulated is a very difficult task, especially in the generation that we currently live in. I feel as though I grew very much from our mindfulness and meditation practices. I learned a tremendous amount from this trip and have acquired new goals and motivations for this summer and the coming year.

By, Freddie DeLaRosa

Japan Peace Leadership: Reflection

The most noticeable aspect of this trip that stood out during these two weeks in Japan is human interaction. I had a feeling that almost all Japanese we interacted with were genuinely happy to know us. Even strangers that we met briefly, such as the elementary school kids who said hi to us, the old lady who introduced her dog to us, or the waiter who was the sweetest waiter I have ever met, they were all so pure and genuine. At the same time, they do their work extremely well. All the people we met who talked about the work they do, or the service they provide, such as the people at the leather factory/education center, the teachers at the elementary school in Hiroshima, the one-man-play actor, the host at World Friendship Center, the volunteer tour guide at the peace park, the monks at the monastery, etc. I could feel they were not treating their job just as something to make a living. On the other hand, they pour their heart and effort into making all details perfect, and they derive a sense of meaning and happiness through the work they do, and they made other people feel their love for their work. As Ram said, we learned a lot from the polite and respectful nature of public interactions in Japanese culture, and we also learned about the unique aspects of the dignity of labor in general in the Japanese culture, as well as their attention to details.

I am deeply attracted to this culture, even more than before I went on this trip. I would love to go back to Japan again and revisit some people we met during this trip, and I would like to stay longer in Japan and get to know the people and the culture in a deeper level during a longer period of time. I want to know what Japanese people and their lives are like beneath this simple politeness and hardworking that most tourists will notice when they come to visit Japan for the first time. For example, despite the forgiveness and peaceful mindset they seem to show to foreigners regarding the Hiroshima A-bombing, I would love to know if they do feel some other hard and miserable feelings which they hid from strangers and foreigners, or if the forgiving attitude is truly deep through their bones. There is so much more that I am curious and passionate about the Japanese culture that I did not have time to explore there, but revisit Japan is definitely on my to-do list!

By, Emma Ma

Japan Peace Leadership: Reflection

I feel extremely grateful for my experience in Japan with the BLI and my cohort. Despite the preparation activities and research we did leading up to the trip, I still wasn’t sure what to expect as we left Detroit, which I believe served me well. Everyday, every experience, every city we went to was unique, and that is the beauty of traveling to a country that is very different than your own on a premise of cultural humility. From a student’s perspective, I felt invigorated by the constant and multi-dimensional opportunities to learn.

This was my first time traveling outside of North America and Europe, and the traditions and ways of life I was able to gain exposure to helped broaden my worldview. There is much to admire and respect about the culture of Japan. I immediately noticed the hospitable and kind nature towards travelers, the commitment to caring for the planet, and respect for older family members. I would also describe the Japanese culture as resilient and strong, facing adversity with bravery and not wasting or using resources frivolously. While in Japan, I was forced to face my American identity, which I take for granted while in the United States. This was a cultural experience I will never forget.

While in Hiroshima especially, we focused on studying peace leadership. After the atomic bomb struck the city, Hiroshima and its people decided to create the narrative of peace to navigate the future, rather than rebuild in a context of revenge or hatred. I didn’t encounter venomous remarks towards the U.S. at all during my time there. I thought about the way America reacts when attacked, and the way I personally react when I’m attacked. In all honesty, my nation and I historically share a defensive or aggressive disposition. This experience made me realize the power of choice. Peace as a tool to moving forward is a powerful choice, and I believe the leaders of Hiroshima saved the city and its people by pursuing peace over anger following the attack. This was extremely eye-opening and valuable for me to see. I think other nations and individuals can learn from the example Hiroshima set as it transformed into the Peace City.

This trip also provided me with the opportunity to study myself and my interpersonal relationships. We journaled on the mindful mindset every day of the journey, and we had the opportunity to spend three nights at a Buddhist monastery in Mt. Koyasan. This experience provided me with self- reflection time that I haven’t managed to carve out for myself since I started my college career. It was invaluable to me and I’m committed to incorporating these practices regularly in my life from now on, as I immediately felt their benefits. And apart from my relationship with myself, I feel lucky to have made fantastic friendships with my cohort members. Each of us brought something different to the table as we went through the program, yet we were bonded by an interest in peace and a goal of becoming more mindful leaders. This was a special moment to share as a young adult with other aspiring leaders.

By, Christiana Cromer

IceVax: Capstone Bootcamp Reflection

Our project idea before boot camp was to create a box that could transport vaccines over long distances and be stored at cool temperatures that vaccines need to be stored in. We had an idea that there were some places we wanted to implement it in, such as Pakistan and Yemen, through connections we had already established.

Over the course of boot camp, we learned about how many other stakeholders are involved in the implementation process and how there would be many other people we need to contact, from regulators to other community partners. We also figured out which research methods would be most helpful to obtain the data we were looking for. Additionally, we developed a clearer picture of how we would evaluate our success. Lastly, we received a lot of great feedback on our pitch and how we can best present our idea.

One specific personal highlight that we all agree was really cool and helpful was the development of our vision statement which helped us see what our goals were for the future and what work we would have to do in order to get there. Overall, the BLI boot camp was crucial in the development of our project.

By, Essam Alsnayyan, Sikander Khan, Huzaifa Piperdi

Project Healthy Schools Global: Capstone Bootcamp Reflection

Our project idea prior to the Capstone bootcamp included a preventive health education curriculum that was focused on solely diet and nutrition. Project Healthy Schools Global began in 2015, and in 2017 we launched our first pilot run of the program throughout Dhaka, Bangladesh reaching over 200 students. Our team had the advantage of already running a pilot program, however, we still had a lot of room for development.

Throughout the bootcamp, our team received an abundance of valuable and constructive feedback, from other members of our cohort to the panelists we met through speed dating, about how our project can grow and what steps we can take to ensure that it is sustainable. One of the ways that we believed that our project could expand is by making our health education curriculum more comprehensive and capturing the various dimensions of health present in developing countries.

Being culturally aware and sensitive to the community has always been a priority to our team, which is why we’ve, from the beginning, emphasized that our project is culturally adaptive. Though we have already taken steps to ensure that our project is culturally adaptive, the workshops and lessons that taught cultural humility and sensitivity were extremely helpful in recognizing possible unintended consequences and strategies to overcome these obstacles. Moreover, although we are all Bangladeshi, as we travel to Bangladesh in August to complete a needs assessment and engage with stakeholders, we will be seen as outsiders. Therefore, the “Cultural Humility” and ”Working With Communities” workshops were extremely beneficial; we must be aware of the identities we hold and remain cognizant of how our identities will intersect with the identities of the stakeholders we will engage with.

One of our personal highlights from Bootcamp was working alongside and collaborating with other student teams. It was inspiring to engage with other students who were passionate about their projects and genuinely desired to make a positive impact in the world. Seeing other students work hard motivated us to continue working passionately as well. Additionally, every stakeholder and panelist that participated in the bootcamp brought enthusiasm with them. It was wonderful being able to receive advice from people that have significant experience in their industry and that genuinely want to help students succeed. It was also meaningful making these important connections because they may be able to assist us with our projects in the future.

BLI provided numerous resources and guidance to us during this long week, but most noteworthy is the unwavering support that they provided to all the teams by creating a safe space that promoted learning, growth, and compassion.

By, Khadiza Begum, Joeita MacField, Faatimah Raisa

Host Your Voice: Capstone Bootcamp Reflection


The vision of Host Your Voice was to enable a nonprofit’s reach to more potential donors, volunteers, and individuals to be impacted by the nonprofit’s cause. When Amulya founded Host Your Voice 5 years ago, his initial vision behind the organization was to help nonprofits reach by teaching them how to apply for a Google advertising grant. Since then, Host Your Voice has scaled to over 10 plus countries and over 20 partners, including a partnership with the United Nations

One important aspect of the Bootcamp for Host Your Voice’s development was an emphasis on long-term feasibility and growth prospects financially for Host Your Voice. Since our beginning, it has been Host Your Voice’s mission to not commercialize nonprofits. As a result, it has been our goal during the Bootcamp to research “What other markets can Host Your Voice apply it’s marketing expertise to allow it’s team long term financial stability?”

Our mentor Kevin Finnegan was honestly one of the best mentors we could have asked for. We immediately knew he was the right fit when we met him. We could tell he cared a lot beyond project development – he wanted to help us on a personal level, too. Every day, he gave us extremely thoughtful feedback, and he pushed our minds to think beyond what we were used to. It was a pleasure working with him, and we’re really excited to continue our relationship with him.

One of our initial highlights of the bootcamp was our notice that we had won the London Idea Team award. It was truly an honor to win, and we can’t wait for the opportunity to collaborate with Ellen, Alex, and the foundation this upcoming summer.

We also loved talking to the rest of the cohort – every team had such brilliant individuals who were pursuing ambitious projects, and it was really motivating to hear about everyone’s personal stories/connections to their work.

By, Amulya Parmar, Varun Madan