Dozens of ORT students have joined teenagers from around the world for an educational interfaith event which promotes understanding and tolerance.
The Scholas World Youth Encounter took place in Panama and continues World ORT’s collaboration with Pope Francis’s Scholas Occurrentes Foundation.
ORT student and staff delegations travelled to Panama City from countries including Argentina, Brazil, Mexico, Peru, Israel, Spain and South Africa. In total, 50 students from 18 countries shared their experiences of life in their home cities.
The theme of this year’s event was ‘pain’ – focussing both on the pain students have experienced personally in recent years around the pandemic and other challenges, and also relating to global situations such as climate change and conflict that affect us all.
The four-day program featured art, music and sport sessions while encouraging the teenagers to learn more about themselves, their peers, their religions and the world around them.
Tali, an ORT student from South Africa, said: “This experience opened my eyes to how many cultures there are, how many languages, how to communicate with people – it’s been great.”
Fellow participant Adam, from Israel, added: “This whole experience has been amazing – it’s really special to meet so many people that you have never seen before. It’s very different from day-to-day life and it has reminded me how big the world is.”
Students spoke openly about their mental health, the need to identify concerns, and understanding local and global issues. They worked one-to-one to better understand life from another person’s perspective, taking into account their background, beliefs and ideologies and then learning how to value that experience.
Using their creativity and imagination, students created projects for their peers to evaluate – giving them an insight into accepting feedback and helping others develop.
On the final day of the program, the participants worked in their national groups to consider concrete actions they could take back to their schools and communities. They will work to share the lessons from the encounter with those who did not travel to Panama.
This year’s event was intended as an introduction to a wider program which will take place throughout the coming year online.
Amelie Esquenazi, World ORT Networking Coordinator for Latin America, said: “Students focused on the strong feelings they have regarding their own hurt as well as pain and suffering around the world. As potential leaders of new generations they are committed to doing everything they can to improve the world for the better.
“Tikkun Olam is a key value of our organization’s work, and we strive to prepare students to lead socially responsible lives. This collaboration with Scholas was a perfect addition to our core work and it was great to see the students approach these issues with peers from around the world.”
Earlier this year Mrs Esquenazi travelled to the Vatican to sign the agreement for the event with Scholas President José María del Corral following an audience with the Pope.
Previous Scholas encounters took place in Jerusalem, the Vatican City, Buenos Aires and Mexico City. This year’s event was supported by the Leo Werthein Foundation and Dario Werthein, former chair of World ORT’s Board of Trustees, and the Congregation Kol Shearith Israel in Panama City.
Read more about ORT’s Global Citizenship curriculum and Education Project Manager Eric Schloss’ visit to Scholas here.