In October of 2014, Oak Wattanasirakul listened as former President Jimmy Carter introduced the Illinois College Pathways to Peace Program. Oak immediately knew he wanted to be a part of this distinctive experience, sponsored by Khalaf Ahmad Al Habtoor, Chairman of the Al Habtoor Group.
The Pathways to Peace Program offers six students and six professors the unique opportunity to study the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in-depth, with the goal of offering innovative solutions for peace. Students will then travel to the Middle East for a hands-on experience.
Oak participated in a rigorous application process and the college selected him for the prestigious program. He currently participates in weekly seminars, where students study the history of the conflict. They also benefit from visiting guest speakers who are actively involved in current conflict resolution efforts. Additionally, each program participant is conducting an individual research project.
The Pathways to Peace Program is a powerful educational opportunity that Oak believes will help him reach his long-term career goals. In Oak’s native Thailand, the people of the Karen tribes are treated as second-class citizens. They endure racial discrimination and are deprived of many opportunities because of their social status. Oak wants to return to Thailand after completing his degree and work toward creating equal opportunities for the Karen.
Oak believes that his studies “will serve as a model of resolution for me when I am faced with other conflicts in my work with Karen people, whether they be cultural differences, contrasting ideologies, or clashing religious views.”