Thursday, April 6
TOWNSHEND -- Steven John is a pretty snappy dresser.

As principal of Leland & Gray Union Middle School, he's known for his selection of wild ties, nearly all of which are on display in his office.

But on a visit to Townshend Elementary School Wednesday, John took his style to a different level.

He sauntered into the school's auditorium wearing a red, black and white patterned shirt and a dark, fez-like cap. Later, he changed into a long pink robe.

This was no fashion show, however. All of John's wardrobe options were traditional Malaysian garb, and he was displaying them to Townshend Elementary's fourth through sixth-graders in hopes of raising awareness about the island nation.

"Salamat datang," he said to the about 25 students. The phrase is a traditional Malaysian greeting. "I walked across the street to share with you my experiences in the Peace Corps.

From 1969 through 1971, John served in Malaysia as a Peace Corps volunteer. He said that's where he got his first teaching experience.

Now, he's using his educational skills to educate people about the country, which has a large Muslim population.

John said it's more important than ever to teach young students about Muslim culture, since there's so much discussion about terrorism.

"I think there's a lot of stereotyping of Muslims," he said.


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"Most of the media is depicting Muslims of being suspect or being terrorists, and that's not really fair to the religion."

This month, John is traveling to the seven elementary schools in Windham Central Supervisory Union, making presentations that give students an overview of the language, culture, geography and economy of Malaysia.

His circular cap with a flat top would traditionally identify its wearer as an adherent of Islam. John said he is not a Muslim himself, but he wore the cap because it was given to him during his stay in Malaysia.

He told the students that Islam follows many of the same teachings as Christianity and Judaism.

"My friends in Malaysia all believed what I did as a Christian," he said. "But they believe what Mohammed wrote in the Quran."

In his presentation, John showed several examples of Malaysian textiles, which are dyed with a special method, called "batik." That method uses wax to prevent dyes from being absorbed throughout the entire fabric, and allows the artisan to create intricate patterns.

He also described regional ecological characteristics, like special types of flora and fauna.

John read a traditional childrens' tale from a book which he donated to the library, and later showed a movie, which gave general information about Malaysia, and its capital, Kuala Lumpur.

This effort is part of a larger project, called Wizard of the World, which is jointly sponsored by former Peace Corps volunteers, Tourism Malaysia, Tuttle Publishing, and eBridgeMalaysia. On Friday, John will visit Brookline Elementary school.


Andy Rosen can be reached at arosen@reformer.com or (802) 254-2311, ext. 275.