More than 500 students from around the world have taken part in a four day World Youth Encounter organised by Scholas – an international welfare group promoted by Pope Francis – with ORT.
Among the attendees at last week’s event, 57 delegates were representing ORT from our schools in Latin America, South Africa, Spain and Israel.
The Pope celebrated the culture of the encounter in a video message to the students thanking all who made the event possible.
“I would like to celebrate together with you this meeting; a meeting of people, a meeting of different religions, countries, languages and realities. A meeting from different identities,” he said.
“We are not something which is fully defined or established. We are on the way and we are growing. And on the way, we encounter diverse identities to enrich each other.”
The Pope added: “I want to thank all those who have made this meeting possible. Parents and teachers of each of the students for allowing and accompanying us. To the authorities for opening the doors and made this experience possible.
“To World ORT and all the religious communities for enriching from diversity the account of this meeting and of each participant.
“And thank you to you, Scholas’ youths for allowing life to tell you a new chapter with each step. Thank you for mixing your language, opening your stories without giving them up, for allowing the other, the different, the unknown rewrite you.”
The project aims to encourage youngsters from different societies, cultures and religions to work together, sharing their passion and experiences to create a more peaceful world.
Dario Werthein, chair of World ORT’s Board of Trustees, said the experience of the conference had been “a pleasure for all of us to share with all these kids from around the world”.
Through activities involving the mind, the heart and the hands, students went on the journey of the encounter.
For ORT participants, the youth encounter was a moving experience.
Florencia Mora, a student from our ORT affiliated school in Colombia, said: “I met people from all over the world and I felt really immersed in an international society. I am really happy.”
Serufe Molefe, who works to train teachers in South Africa and was part of the ORT South Africa delegation, said: “It’s my first time in Argentina and I feel privileged and grateful to have been invited.
“The children have learned to express themselves, to have empathy with others. For the world to be respectful, to be at peace, we need these kinds of platforms.
“I am going to share this with the teachers that I work with and they can share it with the children. I want to help make a difference with my countrymen and the children who are going to be leaders tomorrow.”
Those sentiments were echoed by teachers from the ORT-affiliated King David Schools in Johannesburg.
Mandy Gruzd said she had watched children “open up and take everything in”.
“They have learned so much and grown so much in the few short days we have been here.”
On Tuesday, delegates considered the “language of the mind” – looking at thinking and the ways schools can encourage pupils’ development.
They explored how knowledge can be inspiring, sharing ideas with each other through games, art and discussion.
Students were then asked to leave the mind aside so they could fully open their hearts and focus on their emotions. They met and shared their experiences and some activities with young primary school children.
Rotem Karni, a World ORT Kadima Mada student, added: “The event gave me a lot of friends around the world, and impacted my attitude to people from other countries generally.”
The ORT students benefited not only from a life-changing experience sharing their ideas and passions with young people from all over the world, they also had the unique chance to strengthen their relationships with peers from the ORT network. Seven ORT countries were represented at the event: Argentina, Mexico, Brazil, Colombia, Spain, Israel and South Africa.
At ORT, we are passionate about preparing our students for the future, providing 21st century skills and helping each individual to fulfil their potential. One of the most important attributes for the future will be their capacity to network and to create connections within their community.
As part of the event, our students visited the ORT Argentina school where they were able to witness what a leading ORT school can offer. From custom learning tracks available from grade 7 onwards, to state-of-the art facilities in their media studio, ORT Argentina is a great example of modern education.
For Kgopolang Masoga, a student from a township in South Africa who travelled with the ORT delegation, it was a motivating experience.
“One thing that ORT taught me,” he said, “is that being the best is not that important, but doing your best is all that matters. When you are working hard you will succeed in life.”
Arianna Lozada, a student at ORT Colegio Estrella Toledano in Madrid, said: “What impacted me the most was the amount of talented and amazing people around the world.
“I came back with great ideas and projects, such as working on my identity and working for the future of our generation and others.
“The highlight of my trip was creating new friends around the world and working in the area of painting.”
For her fellow school pupil David Keslassy, the trip made him think about life for teenagers in other countries.
“I’ve learned we aren’t very different and one of the things most people like is music, this connects us a lot. We were all like a big family, learning from each other. I came to the conclusion that all humans have the same rights, no matter where you live or your religion – we are equal.”
Another highlight came when teachers took part in an exercise in which they used individual strings and shared the threads to create an interwoven net. The threads represented their commitments to their pupils and prompted a series of productive ideas and thoughts about education.
Felipe Moraes, an ORT teacher from Brazil, said: “Using the string we started to build a ‘net of commitments’. Each teacher shared something they would try to do after this great event when we go back to our communities and different countries.
“It was very emotional. We all realised how equal we are and how powerful the students are. Elaine da Conceicáo Peronilho and I, teachers from ORT Brazil, are committed to fight for a better education and to listening to the kids in our country.”
Many teachers committed to developing spaces at their schools for students to express themselves freely through art and to share their emotions, opinions and dreams.
During the closing ceremony on Thursday, attendees planted an olive tree as a symbol of peace and goodwill.
Amelie Esquenazi, ORT Education Network coordinator for Latin America, said students had been especially moved by hearing Holocaust survivors’ testimonies.
“Many students have never had the opportunity to know first-hand what really happened,” she explained.
“They talked about human rights, dignity, horror… and especially about losing their loved ones.”
Vladimir Dribinskiy, ORT’s Chief Program Officer, travelled to Buenos Aires for the event and spent time meeting students and their teachers.
He said: “I had a great feeling of togetherness here. ORT is a family and here I feel like I have an extended family. I am so grateful to all the people who made this happen.”