Help a child wrestle with a complex idea, or advocate for a child’s right to education, an adequate diet, and a safe environment and you will begin to glimpse part of what drives and satisfies Nancy Nye. "I have always had a concern for children; from an early age, I felt led to go into education," she says. But given that early calling and growing up in the Midwest, she didn’t imagine the unusual places and experiences to which her calling would lead.
Nancy Nye grew up in the Christian faith, but as a young adult she began "to question the institutional home" for her beliefs. The environment of the 1960s, her active opposition to the Vietnam War, her campus advocacy for civil rights, and her growing understanding of women’s rights—all these helped her realize that "church homes I had been a part of were not where I was in my thinking."
Her first teaching job was in Richmond, Indiana, "where I came into contact with a number of parents of my students, who were part of the Earlham community. I decided to begin attending Quaker meeting and immediately felt at home, not only because of Friends testimonies, but also because I felt more comfortable in an atmosphere of quietude. Clearly I belonged among Friends. I continue to be grateful for the Earlham community, with its many Quaker examples."
Nye next took a job that would have allowed her to live anywhere in the southwest corner of Ohio, but she chose Wilmington because of its strong Quaker community. She joined and has retained her membership in Wilmington Meeting.
Nye is grateful for the opportunities that being a Quaker has afforded her. She was principal of the Friends Girls School in Ramallah; she worked at FCNL on Middle East issues; she has served on various AFSC committees; and she has traveled widely, meeting Quakers from around the world. But the note she makes specifically about the influence of Quakerism on her is that she is "always inspired that the strength of Quaker commitment doesn’t diminish as people age." She recalls, "As I was approaching my 50th birthday I visited two Quaker meetings where I met men who were over 100 years old, still actively involved in leadership roles in their Quaker meeting." It dawned on her that she was "not even halfway there," and that there was "so much more" she could do.
Nye says she occasionally is troubled by some Friends who "feel they’ve already arrived and need to help me with my search, rather then continuing with their own. That kind of self-assured humility doesn’t serve us well, I feel."
Currently, Nye’s work is with American Near East Refugee Aid (ANERA), in their program with the schools in Lebanon, Jordan, and West Bank/Gaza. She generates and oversees its Scholarship Fund, which sponsors extraordinarily needy children—orphans and the physically challenged (polio, spinabifida, etc.). She regularly visits the seven schools and the approximately 235 recipient children in her portfolio. Recently, she has assumed a new role in which she has greater responsibility for relating to major donors, which involves significant travel. She also interprets the full range of ANERA’s work to policymakers in the United States, who oftentimes are blind
to what is happening in the Palestinian areas and the work that various organizations are doing on the ground—"awesome work" in her judgment, including food distribution, building water systems to provide clean water in villages, and after-school programs that deal with the psychosocial trauma children
"When I talk to U.S. policymakers, I ask, ‘Regardless of your political beliefs, what can we do about the high rate of malnourished children now? What can we do about the numbers of children drinking contaminated water?’ My advocacy is validated by conversations with Palestinians in their homes who insist, ‘I don’t care what the form of government is; I simply want food for my children; I want them to be educated; I want them to be safe.’
"I really believe that if children are fed, educated, and live in a community free of violence, we’ve gone a long way toward creating a peaceful world for them, regardless of the political structure under which they are living."
Talking about her life in education, Nye recounts with amusement that someone said her tenure in Ramallah might be best remembered for her having built toilets inside the school buildings! While she’s happy to be remembered for that accomplishment, she recalls another experience: "When I was working at FCNL, a young man from the General Committee told me he had been in my ninth grade Civics class my first year of teaching. He said, ‘I bet you couldn’t imagine that some day I’d be your boss when you were working in Washington, D.C.’ Knowing I was a part of his educational experience and seeing how he has flourished and is contributing to the world is a wonderful feeling."
In her spiritual life she says, "There are two things that are very important. I need to have regular time when I’m alone and quiet. It’s not always meditation; sometimes it’s reading. The other thing is time to praise God, which often comes through music. Playing the piano and singing is a wonderful release of praise and adoration. I need both silence and sound to help me feel whole as a growing Christian."
Nye is deeply grateful for having grown up in a close, loving Christian family. She also feels fortunate to have married into a family that is welcoming to those who marry in. She pays tribute to her mother-in-law, Huda Awad (now deceased), whose mantra was "we have to forgive, because we are Christians." Huda’s "first message was always love, always love. She had a profound impact on me, helping me to put forgiveness and love first."
On a more personal note, Nye says, "People might be surprised to know that I don’t sleep very well at night until I’ve done a crossword puzzle. Or that I despise cooking. I could wash dishes until the end of time, so I’m in the perfect marriage with a man who loves to cook but not to wash dishes.
"And I’m an early riser—I think I was supposed to be a dairy farmer! At conferences, I’m frustrated when meetings don’t start until ten o’clock in the morning—that seems like such a loss of productive time!"
Regarding how she makes choices, Nancy says, "The process used to be agonizing. Then, in graduate school someone gave me an essay, The Courage to be Imperfect, which helped me understand that multiple options could be equally correct." Faced with a major decision, she spends time in contemplation and converses with other people. For her, "the freeing thing has been to recognize that there are multiple paths, equally good, equally right."