Editors, Vineyard Gazette:
My name is Grace Burton-Sundman. I have spent most of my life on Martha’s Vineyard. I attended the Tisbury School beginning in first grade and am a 2006 graduate of the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School. I also hold a bachelor of arts degree from St. Lawrence University.
Last summer I was presented with the incredible opportunity to spend the winter season volunteering in Rwanda, a place that has seen far too much tragedy over the last years and decades. I will be working with the Karuna Center for Peacebuilding, a truly beautiful organization that works to sow peace in the most war-torn areas of the world. (Karuna’s board chairman Paddy Moore is a Vineyard resident as well.) I plan to leave for Africa on Dec. 8.
Karuna has decades of experience working in places like Bosnia and the Middle East, helping former enemies find ways to get along. In Rwanda, Karuna is working to help heal, inspire and empower not only survivors of the horrific 1994 genocide, but all peoples there, so that they can learn to live together in peace and unity.
At age 24 I don’t expect to have the experience or skills to solve big problems. But Karuna has developed techniques that work. Part of their process relies on disinterested people not connected to any of the parties in conflict. I’ve been told that if I’m willing to roll up my sleeves and go to work, I can help make peace. When I was 14 I traveled with my mother and Margaret Penicaud to Haiti to volunteer at a fish farm, and at Mother Teresa’s Home for the Dying. I found that even though I was young and inexperienced, I could be useful. So I’m going to Rwanda in that spirit.
I’m grateful to my family, friends, and the community of Martha’s Vineyard for having given an education and example of how people can work together to solve problems peacefully, even when they have very different opinions on how to proceed.
I plan to be in Rwanda for at least three months. I have the opportunity to stay for up to six months. But without help, a longer stay won’t be possible, for this trip is self-funded. I have been working hard and saving for my trip, but I don’t have enough to stay as long as I would like to. I know it will take me some time to find my way around and get up to speed. That’s why I think a trip of six months would be optimal. So I’m soliciting support to make the most of this great opportunity. I’ve set up a site to explain more about my trip and accept financial support. If you would like to add a few dollars to help with the further education of a young Vineyarder, I would be grateful. I would also be grateful for just your support. I will be keeping a daily blog talking about my experiences while I am there. You might find it interesting to follow my activities (youcaring.com/mission-trip-fundraiser/Simple-Graces/28655).
Donations will help me cover some of my many expenses including housing, food, reserve for additional travel expenses and emergency medical treatment. But more importantly, it will give me, I hope, the chance to make a positive difference in somebody else’s life. Maybe a few somebodies.
Grace Burton-Sundman, Vineyard Haven
The writer can be reached at email@example.com.