www.whyville.net Oct 27, 2006 Weekly Issue

Times Writer

Bring Peace to the Middle East

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As some of you may recall, there was a poll on the Whyville welcome page a while ago. It asked us if we would be interested in a project, which would help unite Israeli and Palestinian teens; teens just like us. If you had answered yes to this question, you would have gotten a special invitation to a meeting in the Greek Theater. If you answered no, well, listen closely and I will fill you in!

On Monday, January 4, many of us attended the exclusive, special-invitation only meeting at the Greek Theater. Once my cartoon was permanently stationary in my seat, and people began to chat, I saw that the City Workers, Jen, scyllaCat, and Mark, were in the middle of the theater. However, I noticed a new face among them as well; her username was Ronit. After the City Workers hushed the crowd of Whyvillians, the chat-bubbles disappeared and Jen began to talk; she introduced the guest.

Her name is Ronit Kampf. Ronit is from Stanford University and (after doing some of my own research, I found out that) she is a postdoctoral student, whom is currently using new technologies to study conflict resolution. Jen told us that Stanford University is looking to create a website, similar to our beloved Whyville, that will help bring together Middle-Eastern teens during this time of crisis. "I came to Stanford to develop a virtual world like Whyville to bring together these kids," Ronit told us.

Suddenly, a question popped up on the screen of the Greek Theater. The question was asking us whether we thought this project was a good idea, yes or no. The vote was unanimous: yes! Nevertheless, everyone had questions and concerns about this project. For instance, I wanted to know how the teens would communicate with each other, considering there are different languages in the Middle East. Ronit said that "the virtual world will be run in English, Hebrew, and Arabic and will also use a lot of visual language that can be understood, such as icons ??? a newspaper or a mailbox." Many Whyvillians wanted to know the name of the website; however, Ronit informed us that it does not have a name yet. For now, Ronit calls it the "virtual meeting ground".

Jen had given us Ronit's email address, in case we had any questions, concerns, or suggestions about the "virtual meeting ground". Personally, my mind was overflowing with questions such as, what will this virtual community be like; and who will have access to this website?

Immediately, I emailed Ronit and interviewed her about the "virtual meeting ground":

Morganna: For the Whyvillians, whom could not attend the meeting, can you explain what the "virtual meeting ground" is?
Ronit: Whyvillians that expressed an interest in the project were invited to attend the meeting. The virtual Meeting Ground project aims at creating an online world, like Whyville, to let teens in the Middle-East play, interact, and talk with one another. Especially among Israeli and Palestinian youths, a long history of cultural and political conflict makes it hard for them to get to know each other. We hope that our virtual world can bring these youngsters together, help them share personal stories and hopefully sow the seeds of peace among the young generation in the Middle East.
Morganna: Has Whyville inspired you to create this website? If so, what certain aspects of Whyville have inspired you?
Ronit: I guess I should say of course, but in fact, I was inspired by the concept of virtual worlds rather than by a specific world, like Whyville. Because of the conflict in the Middle East, Palestinian and Israeli teens cannot meet on a regular basis. As you probably see and hear in the news, this conflict is characterized by many violent incidents that make it difficult to meet on a face-to-face basis. I believe that virtual worlds like Whyville can build a bridge between Israeli and Palestinian teens, and serve as a meeting ground (the project's name) for them to play and interact even during periods of unrest.
Morganna: Will this website be open to people worldwide or exclusive countries?
Ronit: In the beginning, we intend to open the website only for Israeli and Palestinian teens as well as for other young people living in the Middle East. After some time, the website will be open for kids all over the world. However, teens in the Middle East will be always considered as the main audience of this website, after all, kids living in Europe and North America already have their virtual worlds, like Whyville.
Morganna: Is Stanford University the only institute who will be working on this project?
Ronit: Stanford University initiated the project. However, we are also talking with different organizations in the Middle East and in the USA to get their thoughts and ideas about the project. For example, we ran the session in the Greek Theater to learn what Whyvillians think about the project and which suggestions they can offer.
Morganna: Can you give an estimated guess as to when this website will be put into effect? (I.E. in a year, two years, etc.)
Ronit: The sooner the better . . . I hope it will be put into effect within a year or so.

I also interviewed two Whyvillians, whom attended the special-invitation only meeting at the Greek Theater. The first Whyvillian I interviewed was ps2man1:

Morganna: Do you think that this meeting was helpful for Whyvillians, the City Workers, and Ronit?
ps2man1: Well, actually, yes I think it was helpful and fun for us to recommend ideas for a world to connect the kids in the Middle East.
Morganna: Why do you think the meeting required an exclusive invitation in order to get in?
ps2man1: As scyllaCat said, we got invitations to the meeting because on the survey on the front page about this, we said we were interested, so probably just so people who are interested in the topic would come, so people not interested wouldn't take up space.
Morganna: What is your opinion on (what Ronit calls) "the virtual meeting ground"; do you think it will be a success?
ps2man1: I think it's a very good idea, but of course, I have my doubts. Many kids might not get parental approval to go on, because of the wars there; and I want to ask Ronit, how will it stay peaceful? Kids believe in what their parents do a lot of the time, and that wouldn't exactly help the peace on the site.

The second Whyvillian I interviwed was EmmyEmmy:

Morganna: Do you think that this meeting was helpful for Whyvillians, the City Workers, and Ronit?
EmmyEmmy: I think this meeting was very helpful to Whyvillians, City Workers, and Ronit.
Morganna: Why do you think the meeting required an exclusive invitation in order to get in?
EmmyEmmy: Maybe, because the Greek Theatre is small and can't hold many people.
Morganna: What is your opinion on (what Ronit calls) "the virtual meeting ground"; do you think it will be a success?
EmmyEmmy: I think the virtual world sounds very fun and educational like Whyville. I think it will be a success; well, for the people who have computers.

So, will creating a virtual community truly allow Middle-Eastern teens to learn about different cultures, peacefully interact with each other, and perhaps settle disputes about the war? Unfortunately, we will all have to wait for these questions to be answered. Until then, we can help Ronit and Stanford University, in making this vision of peace into an ideal and authentic community, by offering our input. Please email any of your questions, comments, or concerns about this project to Ronit at rkampf@stanford.edu. Thank you Ronit for including us in this inspiring project, keep us posted; we wish you the best of luck, and welcome to Whyville!

This is Morganna on the case, hoping that this article proved to be entertaining and inspirational to our wonderful and unique community.

In the words of Tina Turner, Whyville . . . "you're simply the best!"

Author's note: I wrote this article the day after that meeting in the Greek Theater, which was several months ago. After writing it, I sent this article in yet it was not accepted in The Times. Recently, however, I was going through some files on my computer, and I came across this article. It reminded me of how much I use to love Whyville, and writing for the Times. I reread the article and remembered how interested I was in Ronit and her idea of a "virtual meeting ground" in the Middle East. Then I thought, this idea could have encouraged peace in the Middle East!

However, Whyville seems to have forgotten this brilliant plan of a common place for Middle Eastern teens. Perhaps the world is so consumed with our own agendas that we have let ourselves forget about what's important in life, this is similar to the world's disregard for the conflict in Darfur. The war in the Middle East is not a lost cause. By uniting and accepting this responsibility, we can bring peace to the Middle East, Darfur, and many other troubled regions of the World. Such terrors and hysterias cannot be forgotten! Peace cannot be forgotten!


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