In our final episode of the season we are delighted to be joined by Kathleen Schwind. A 2015 Coca-Cola Scholar, Kathleen focusses her research on the issues of water security in the Middle East and North Africa. She has studied at MIT and the University of Cambridge and joins our host, Muna Gasim, to discuss the problem of water shortage and its interaction with politics and international relations, as well giving advice on how to find your passion and make a positive change at any level. An insightful and inspiring conversation, this episode offers a microcosm for what Declarations has sought to achieve over the course of this season: shedding light on pressing problems in our world today and, through our guests, offering guidance on how to solve them. 

Growing up in rural California, Kathleen quickly became aware of the problem of water scarcity and the extent to which it could divide communities. She remembers her high school days where farmers, residents and senior local officials would argue and debate access to water. It is this that captured her attention and represents the foundations of her recent and ongoing research into the issues around water in the Israeli-Palestine conflict. The Joint Water Committee, formed as part of the 1995 Oslo Accords, was intended to be a temporary measure but quickly became one of permanent significance, with the reliance on political cooperation for continuous and safe water supplies in the region ensuring water cannot be forgotten when analysing the ongoing conflict. How the committee should be restructured and operate formed to the bulk of Kathleen’s research whilst she was at MIT but, as she and her childhood experiences inform us, issues of water are not confined only to areas on ongoing conflict, impacting the everyday life of people across the globe and from all walks of life. 

‘Water is a very political issue whether you like it or not’ 

Kathleen Schwind

In the midst of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, water scarcity has only grown in significance. Across much of the world the message has been to wash your hands regularly and thoroughly, raising the question: ‘what about those who do not have access to fresh water?’. It is in this current climate that Kathleen has seen an increase in the number of small organisations, local communities and entrepreneurs seeking to take the initiative and bring change about themselves. Bridging divides, such as those between Israelis and Palestinians, these people have partnered with their neighbours to try and make a positive impact. Not only demonstrating the pressing nature of water shortages, these projects and ambitions also exemplify the benefits of finding your passion and seeking to act upon it. 

It is at this point in the episode that Muna turns to discuss Kathleen’s scholarship. Growing up in a rural community where there were few opportunities for young people who were not blessed with athletic talent, Kathleen decided she wanted to change this. Launching the Gifted And Talented Educational Olympics (GATE Olympics) when she was in 4th grade represented an opportunity for children to show off their problem-solving and intellectual talents. Kathleen was later offered the role of a Coca-Cola Scholar, reflecting the positive impact she had had on her community, offering a chance for both competition and recognition to young people who previously been celebrated to that degree. 

The initiative and ambition Kathleen showed in creating the GATE Olympics is the focus of her new book ‘Ignite Your Story’. Recounting the lives of other Coca-Cola Scholars she has encountered, their passions and actions are shown to have improved the world around them. This not only heralds their achievements, but also offers the reader examples of how to make positive change. Details of the book and where to purchase it can be found below. 

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