CEB: Best Practice Insights and Technology

Building “Family” in a Divided World

19 July, 2016

As I write this, scenes from recent violent events are swirling in my mind. Our global community has been shocked by terror in Istanbul, Bangladesh, Saudi Arabia, and Iraq. In the United States, our sense of justice has been rocked by killings of African Americans and, most recently, police assassinated in the streets of Dallas. It feels all too easy to fall into despair and hopelessness.

But my recent Volunteer Service Fellowship experience—which took place at the very same time—gives me hope: hope for reconciliation, for bridging divides, for building stronger, better, communities.

Thanks in part to support from CEB, my wife, my two sons, and I spent a week on the Fort Apache Reservation in the northeast corner of Arizona. We worked in the hot desert sun on this Apache tribe’s community farm, adding irrigation systems, building a greenhouse and well house, and doing lots and lots of weeding!


My sons made it abundantly clear that this wasn’t their idea of a summer vacation, and a vacation it definitely wasn’t. However, they will readily admit that they came away with a sense of accomplishment and better appreciation for the struggles of Native Americans yesterday and today.

What gives me the greatest hope was the approach that the organizer of this experience, the Highland Support Project, is taking. It operates on the fundamental assumption that when people of different backgrounds, races, and cultures work to build things together, in a spirit of generosity, the people themselves become tied together in a family.


We worked side by side with the White Mountain Apache rather than doing the work for them. Clayton Harvey, second from left in this picture (dark gray sweatshirt), is leading the effort to restore this farm for his tribe. Here at the outset of our work he explained that the People’s Farm (or “Ndee Bikiyaa”) is really about healing historical divides, both within the Apache nation and with other groups in the United States.

And that’s exactly what happened. Divisions by age, race, culture, geography, class—they all fell down. By the end of the week, we were one family, proud of what we had been able to do together.

As we parted, we knew we had all been enriched and would always have this week as a common bond. Now, back in Washington, DC, my family and I know the violence around the world won’t end. But we also know that many people in many places are working to turn despair into hope.

If you aren’t already building “family” where you live, find a place to jump in with both feet. And if you can, take your present family members along!

Mark Van Buren HeadshotMark Van Buren 

Research Leader