University of the desert

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University of the desertFirst year researcher Martin Lestra has just returned from 5 days in the deserts of Oman as part of a UNESCO backed project to build bridges between cultures.

The Outward Bound project, set up in 2004 seeks to establish dialogue and understanding between young Arabs and Europeans.

For five days 18 people from a variety of backgrounds, but all with NGO experience, trekked through the desert, making conversation in the day, before sitting down for structured discussions in the evening.

“You talk about the stereotypes of your country,” explains Lestra who admits the focus was predominantly on the issues surrounding perceptions of Muslim and Arabs.

“For me the most important thing was to learn about the people themselves. There was a guy who had lost his brother in a suicide attack in Basra in southern Iraq and a 20 year old Palestinian guy who acted like a 40 year old man. He was going to study medicine in the US, but the day he had to get his visa from the American embassy he got held at a checkpoint for 9 hours. So instead of going to the US, he’s in the Yemen.”

The idea is that those who partook in the project return to their home countries and promote the scheme, and some of the things they have learned.

For Lestra, the experience was especially useful as it feeds into his research. “I hope to look next year at the work of foundations, and the use within these foundations of high skilled migrants to build networks with other institutions and countries.”

Such foundations have been particularly active since 9/11 with the biggest operating out of Saudi Arabia and Qatar. Lestra work hopes to place these foundations as a tool of cultural diplomacy, operating as part of a wider foreign policy.

To take part in Outward Bound participants need to be under 25 and currently enrolled in higher education. For more information please visit