Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Retirees Target African Change

Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Retirees Target African Change

Article excerpt

DEBATES: Couple work to expose emerging nations to nuances of democracy

When John and Gloria Tredway say they envisioned a "different kind of retirement," it would be hard to argue with them -- especially this week.

The Tredways left their quiet home with a backyard garden in South Venice for the heart of the Arab world and a mission to build foundations for democracy.

Subsidized by the U.S. State Department through its overseas embassies, the Tredways are setting up academic debates, bringing together native and American students on issues such as cultural stereotypes and civil disobedience. The debates will have judges, scoring and all the rigors associated with competitions common in the United States.

What makes these debates different is that they are taking place in a region where, until recently, dissent could be a death sentence.

John Tredway, 63, was a debate coach for 30 years at Ashland High School in Oregon before moving to Venice a decade ago. In retirement he and Gloria, 62, a former college accountant, saw the chance to spread the message about how organized debate can strengthen a society.

A former French colony, Tunisia ignited the Arab Spring in 2011, when a revolution ousted dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, who had ruled the country for nearly a quarter-century. And, unlike Libya, Egypt and Syria, Tunisia's transition has been mostly peaceful.

"Of all the countries where the Arab Spring was felt, Tunisia has perhaps the best chance of building a civil society," Tredway said. "Debate is new to students there, but it has really taken hold. They have at least 24 debating clubs."

Still, the idea of blending American and Tunisian students into debate teams to question almost any aspect of power would, until recently, have been unthinkable.

And that is where the Tredways come in: In addition to setting up host families and planning where to hold the debates, their mission is to help foreign cultures see the benefits of arguing issues from all sides.

"Debate is as much about listening, about empathy as it is about speaking," Tredway said. "It is also empowering, particularly for women in these nations, to be able to stand up and make an argument. …

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