UNRWA Promotes Diversity and Tolerance on Human Rights Day
Sounds of laughter and children playing games drifted across the school yard on an unusually warm and sunny December morning. One could assume this was a normal day at the Aqbat Jabr Coed School in Jericho, however today was different, today they were celebrating Human Rights Day. The excitement in the air was palpable as students performed plays, songs and dances around the different themes of diversity, tolerance, equality and more.
UNRWA schools in Gaza, the West Bank, Syria, Lebanon, and Jordan brought together students, parents and teachers along with representatives from countries around the world to participate in activities to mark the day. Most activities were from the Human Rights, Conflict Resolution and Tolerance (HRCRT) toolkit which is part of a United States-funded education program that supports the integration of these human rights concepts into all subjects.
Some guests were asked to identify actions that promote diversity, others watched as students acted out a skit about gender equality. One classroom demonstrated an exercise on democratic processes and leadership as they cast ballots for their new school parliament representative. Heba abu Laban, a 13-year-old member of her school parliament in Gaza, has been studying human rights since first grade and talks about her experience. “I have learned a lot about diversity and human rights. Now I know that people have different religions or colors, but while we all have the right to be different, we need to be treated equally.”
Human rights education is not only about knowledge and understanding. It is also about changing attitudes and behavior. Explaining the impact of this program, UNRWA teacher Maison Askar said, “what I have observed is that there is less intolerance among students in the school, they are more respectful with each other and towards each other’s opinions. They consciously listen to each other.”
Throughout the year the HRCRT program helps cultivate an environment of understanding, tolerance and appreciation for differences, both inside and outside the classroom. One involved parent remarked, “By learning about human rights in the UNRWA school, my children gained different perspectives regarding certain issues. They became more tolerant of other viewpoints, and they listened to others.”
The HRCRT Toolkit is being implemented in an increasingly challenging environment across all five fields of UNRWA operations, where some children witness and experience human rights violations first hand on a regular basis. Teaching children to resolve conflicts through dialogue rather than violence, and to respect each other’s rights is an important component of the programme, which also extends to the entire community through events and advocacy videos.
Thanks to the generous support of the United States, this program enables all 500,000 students enrolled in UNRWA schools to promote a culture of human rights.