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Peacemakers, Employers Come Together for Education

Syrian refugee children, who fled their homes with their families, play on swings, in the southern port city of Sidon, Lebanon. (AP Photo/Mohammed Zaatari, February 2013)
Syrian refugee children, who fled their homes with their families, play on swings, in the southern port city of Sidon, Lebanon. (AP Photo/Mohammed Zaatari, February 2013)
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For VOA Learning English, this is the Education Report.

Imagine you are a high school student in Lebanon. A new girl in your neighborhood has just arrived from Syria. You don’t have classes with her. But after school you see kids calling her names and bullying her.

Now imagine you are that Syrian refugee. Your family just escaped from the Islamic State militants. Since school is crowded, you go to school in the afternoon and Lebanese children go in the morning. They call you “stupid” because you have not studied French. Sometimes you get so angry that you want to fight with them. Your parents say you should make friends.

But how?

This is the problem many nonprofits and international educators want to solve, including Search for Common Ground. Helping different cultures live, work and learn together is their goal.

Elisa Dari is the country director for Search for Common Ground in Lebanon. She says the Rainbow of Hope project, now in its second year, is giving English lessons to more than 600 children daily in Lebanon after school.

Dari says that, “In Syria, it can become very difficult for the Syrian children to enter a Lebanese school, so there is often a separation between the two.”

Most Lebanese children learn Arabic and French. Most Syrian children learn Arabic. Some learn a bit of English, too.

“But also, outside of school, there is little opportunity for Syrian and Lebanese children to play together, and to be children together, so to speak, so we wanted to provide that space for the children of these communities.”

Half the children in the program are Syrian, and the other half are Lebanese. Some are Palestinian. At these classes, Syrian children, ages 6 to 11, meet Lebanese children. On weekends, they play games and have fun. They make friends and learn to accept people who are different.

This video shows children in the Rainbow of Hope program.

Youth find common goals in the arts

Search for Common Ground also has a program for older youth in Lebanon. It is called Better Together.

The program brings young people ages 15–25 together in a summer camp. The youth live together and try different arts for a week. Then they choose to produce a play, a video create music or make a comic book. They explore the arts and learn life skills in workshops. At the end of the camp, they tour their communities to bring their message to a wider audience.

“So [The program is about] the breaking down of stereotypes, learning how to deal with conflict in a constructive manner, and dealing with the tensions, coping with the very difficult environment in which these children live.”

Eventually, Dari says, the young people are able to “deal with the conflict and the tensions in a constructive and collaborative manner, rather than with hatred, and stereotypes and adversarial approaches.”

In this video a young woman who attended Better Together speaks.

International education and peacebuilding

NAFSA, the Association of International Educators, recently sponsored an event for nonprofits and educators in Washington D.C. The event marked the 16th annual International Education Week. It is called “The Role of International Education in Peacebuilding.” World Learning and Alliance for Peace Building are among the participants at the event.

Melanie Greenberg is head of the Alliance for Peacebuilding. She says, “We all have the power to create peace. I feel it is our responsibility as senior peace builders to give students the tools to harness civil society energy and become leaders themselves.”

Greenberg adds that students can learn these four “basic building blocks” in order to build peace:

  1. Understand culture and difference.
  2. Learn to listen to other points of view.
  3. Act in your own community to make a small change.
  4. Connect the local to the global.

Like Search for Common Ground, World Learning works with Syrian refugees in Lebanon. The organization helps schools in 300 communities handle nearly 2 million Syrian refugees. They prepare teachers to help students deal with painful memories.

Employers value intercultural understanding

Beyond peace, businesses also want people with cross-cultural skills in a global economy. These include critical thinking, cross-cultural communication and collaboration skills.

For students and others who cannot travel to another country to learn cross-cultural skills, Search for Common Ground organizes online conversations, called “virtual exchanges.”

The virtual exchanges are like a video call online. A trained leader guides the conversations of young people from 27 countries. Many come from the U.S. or Western Europe. The others are from Muslim-majority countries like Egypt, Qatar, Yemen, Chad and Indonesia.

Funding from governments and nonprofits will pay for more than 1 million of these virtual exchanges in the next five years.

Shamil Idriss is president of Search for Common Ground. He says it is good that international education is also supported by businesses.

“Those attitudes, skills and relationships that are important for peace building also happen to be some of the most critical skills, attitudes, and relationships for employability in today’s world.”

I’m Kaveh Rezaei. And I’m Jill Robbins.

Dr. Jill Robbins wrote this story for Learning English. Hai Do was the editor.


Words in This Story

bullyv. to frighten, hurt, or threaten a smaller or weaker person

stereotypen. an often unfair and untrue belief that many people have about all people or things with a particular characteristic

adversarialadj. involving conflict or opposition; hostile

interculturaladj. something that occurs between people of different cultures including different religious groups or people of different national origins

alliancen. a union between people, groups, countries, or a relationship in which people agree to work together

harness v. to use (something) for a particular purpose

cross-cultural adj. relating to or involving two or more different cultures or countries

collaboratev. to work with another person or group in order to achieve or do something

stupid - adj. showing a lack of ability to learn and understand things

bit - n. a small piece of something; something small or unimportant

comic - adj. of or relating to humor; causing laughter

constructive - adj. helping to develop or improve something

conversations - n. discussions

funding - n. available money; money that is used for a special purpose

Now it’s your turn. Have you studied in a different country from your own? How was your experience? Do you think international education helps to build peace? Write to us in the Comments section or on our Facebook page.