COLUMBIA, Md. (WJZ) — As peace talks finally resume between Palestinians and Israelis, another region in the Middle East is using a different tactic to bring peace to its divided people.
It’s called the “Cyprus Friendship Program,” and Maryland families are part of the process.
Mary Bubala reports.
Just standing next to each other would have been difficult before two teens came to Maryland this summer. They’re from Cyprus–an island 70 miles from Syria.
Conflict has divided their country with a United Nations patrolled border since 1974. Angelica lives on the Greek-Christian side. He-Lie lives on the Turkish-Muslim side to the north.
“We live in the same island. We are the same,” said He-Lie.
The Cyprus Friendship Program brought 60 teens from the two sides together to stay with American host families for the month of July, breaking the cycle of fear and mistrust.
“Our belief is that the best way to bring peace to an area of longstanding conflict is to have the teenagers of each side get to know each other,” said Tom McCarthy, Cyprus Friendship Program. “When that happens, they become friends. The animosity and prejudice they’ve grown up with melts away.”
The teens got along so well everyone thought they were sisters.
“She’s five days older than me,” said Angelica.
“I’m her bigger sister,” laughed He-Lie.
The Kelly family in Columbia volunteered to be their host family. They’ve watched as these young women have risen above their country’s conflict to build a deep and lasting friendship.
And host families find the Cyprus Friendship Program enriches their lives as well.
“It’s been a wonderful experience, it really has, to have them here for one month,” said Lisa Kelly, host mom. “And they’re going to go back. But they will still be part of our family. They are actually in our hearts now.”
“I have two more families. One in Cyprus from He-Lie and one here,” Angelica said.
The program is run by volunteers and funded with donations from churches and rotary clubs. They are looking for host families for next year.
If you want to learn more about the program, click here.