Daniel Webb

Daniel’s Story

In March of 2014, Daniel Webb visited Australia’s offshore detention center on Manus Island, Papua New Guinea. As he walked through overcrowded rooms full of guards, he had the impression he was in a prison. One room held more than 100 bunk beds crammed so close together it was almost impossible to squeeze between them. Only days before, 24-year-old Reza Barati was murdered by detention centre staff during protests.

The people Daniel met on Manus Island had travelled to Australia by boat seeking asylum. Before they reached land, however, they were intercepted and detained on offshore detention centres established almost a year before by then-Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd. In July 2013, Rudd announced that no person seeking asylum by boat would be resettled in Australia. Instead, they would be indefinitely detained on Manus Island, in Papua New Guinea, and on Nauru. The conditions in these detention centres are inhumane, with numerous reports of violence, sexual assault, medical neglect, suicide, self-harm, and more.

The people Daniel met on Manus Island were inspiring. He knew they could make great contributions to Australian society, if only given the chance. One man spoke seven languages, two of which he had taught himself in detention. Another, who didn’t speak a word of English when he was detained, has now written an autobiography in English that is over 1,000 pages long. Daniel met musicians, soccer players, women’s rights advocates, and tradespeople, to name a few. But, above all, these were human beings deserving of dignity and respect.

A lawyer by training, Daniel was awarded the Law Institute of Victoria LIV President’s Award in 2010 for his work in human rights and social justice. In 2014, he joined The Human Rights Law Centre (HRLC), an organization that advocates for indigenous rights, LGBTI rights, and other causes related to pluralism. When Daniel joined the HRLC, it was not yet tackling the refugee issue, so he lobbied the board to launch a program defending the human rights of refugees and people seeking asylum, a program he now leads.

To tackle the offshore detention issue in Australia, Daniel has developed an innovative approach that combines legal action, media advocacy, public campaigns and United Nations engagement. Daniel’s work has helped to hold the Australian government accountable for breaches in international law. His work has not stopped there. He realized he needed to change the public perception of people seeking asylum. Australians had to understand that the people detained offshore were not threats, but rather human beings with their own stories, talents and families. In 2016, he coordinated the #LetThemStay campaign, which engaged the hearts and minds of Australians, and mobilized teachers, church leaders, doctors and unions. People protested, wrote letters, and participated in online petitions and telephone campaigns. Polls showed a 17 per cent upswing in favour of letting Daniel’s clients stay in Australia.

Daniel and the lawyers he works with have prevented the deportation of more than 300 people, including 40 babies and 50 children, to Nauru and Manus, and prompted the release from detention of more than 230 people, including families with children. But many of these people continue to be at risk of deportation and he continues his struggle to protect them.

Daniel has demonstrated that the people living in offshore detention centres are not threats to society; they are lost opportunities for Australia. As Daniel explains, “By locking them up indefinitely, we are not only depriving them of their most basic of rights, but also depriving ourselves of all they have to offer our communities.”

Alice Wairimu Nderitu

Alice’s Story

As a child growing up in rural Kenya, Alice Wairimu Nderitu used to climb up into the branches of a large tree to eavesdrop. Below her was a group of elders gathered to deliver justice on matters concerning the community. As Alice watched them come to consensus from her perch, she decided that one day, she would be one of those elders promoting peace in her community. All of the elders were men, however. She was told that making peace was not women’s business.

Decades later, in 2010, as Commissioner of the National Cohesion and Integration Commission, she took a seat at the peace table with 100 elders from ten ethnic communities who had never negotiated peace with each other before. Only a year and a half earlier, in 2007-2008, violence erupted in Kenya’s Rift Valley after the results of a flawed election were announced. The election ignited historic grievances over land and deep-seated ethnic tensions. By the time the post-election violence had abated, more than 1,300 Kenyans were killed and 600,000 displaced. In 2010, with a constitutional referendum on the horizon, tensions soared. Would the region again tear itself apart along ethnic lines? Or would it unite in peace? That was when Alice took her place at the table and began the 16-month peace process. As the only woman among the three mediators, they led the elders in a dialogue that resulted in the region’s first peaceful elections in 20 years.

Alice was also one of the founders and first co-chairperson of the Uwiano Platform for Peace, a conflict prevention agency that was the first to link early warning to early response in Kenya and is largely credited with leading efforts in ensuring peaceful processes during the 2010 Constitutional referendum and 2013 elections.

Alice is a tireless peacemaker, conflict mediator and gender equality advocate who believes that differences can be strengths, not weaknesses. She encourages a wide range of people with different identities to participate and feel valued in the peace-making process. In Jos, Nigeria, for example, Alice led in bringing women into all levels of the peace process in a dialogue between nine ethnic communities.  In Southern Kaduna, Nigeria, she was the lead mediator in an armed conflict between 29 ethnic communities, successfully insisting that women and youth be included in the process. The result was the Kafanchan Peace Declaration, signed by two State Governors Nasir El-Rufai of Kaduna and Simon Bako Lalong of Plateau in 2015. This was the first time in Nigeria that a woman has played this role. In 2017, in Nigeria’s Southern Plateau, she was again, lead mediator of an inclusive dialogue between 56 ethnic communities, signed by Governor Simon Bako Lalong of Plateau and all the traditional rulers in which again, for the first time, women were included at all levels of the peace process.

Alice has worked to promote pluralism at all levels of mediation and conflict prevention—not only for the sake of those who have historically been excluded, but also because she knows that having diverse voices meet in respectful dialogue is the only way to achieve long-lasting peace. To perpetuate respect for diversity, she develops peace education curricula and trains other female mediators.

As a child eavesdropping in a tree, Alice was told that as a woman she could not participate in the work of making peace. Today, as a lead mediator brokering peace throughout Africa, she has proven again and again that making peace is very much women’s business. In fact, long-lasting peace requires the participation of all members of society.

Leyner Palacios Asprilla

Leyner’s Story

Chocó is one of Colombia’s disadvantaged departments. Situated in the north-western region of the country, it is inhabited primarily by Afro-Colombians and Emberá Amerindians, some of the most marginalized and excluded communities in the country. The region’s isolation and lack of government support left it open to decades of violence and exploitation by battling guerrilla and paramilitary forces. The communities in Chocó saw more than 15,000 deaths in Colombia’s 52-year internal conflict.

The municipality of Bojayá, in Chocó, suffered constant violence from both sides. In the spring of 2002, Bojayá’s citizens again found themselves caught in the middle of a battle between the paramilitary group United Self Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC) and the guerilla group Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).

Community members, the United Nations, and the Ombudsman’s Office of Colombia had warned the government of the dangers a battle would inflict on nearby civilians. On the morning of May 2, as community members were taking cover in a church and the house of the Augustinian missionaries, the AUC occupied an adjoining school, using the residents as a human shield. What followed was the most brutal attack in Colombia’s 52-year conflict. The FARC guerilla forces bombed the church, killing 79 people, including 48 infants and children. One of the people to survive was Leyner Palacios Asprilla. He emerged to find that 32 of his family members had been killed.

Over a decade later, in 2014, Leyner co-founded the Committee for the Rights of Victims of Bojayá, which represents 11,000 victims of the Colombian conflict. For centuries, because of their poverty and isolation, the communities in the municipality of Bojayá had no voice. Each community would act independently, representing only itself before the government, the FARC or international organizations. Because the Afro-Colombian and Emberá communities were culturally and linguistically distinct, they were often wary of one another. However, Leyner understood that many voices raised together would be louder and more powerful than each voice struggling to be heard alone. He united all of the communities under the common goal of stopping the violence and fighting for their human rights. He organized assemblies with representatives from every community in Bojayá, even the most remote, and encouraged each community to include a female representative. Now, these remote communities have created a collective voice that takes their demand for human rights to the highest levels of government, and around the world.

As a result of his fight for social justice, Leyner was asked to represent Bojayá massacre victims during peace negotiations between guerilla forces and the government. For his role in the process, he was nominated for the 2016 Nobel Peace Prize. A further result was that the FARC publically acknowledged their role in the 2002 tragedy and, in a private ceremony in a Bojayá church, requested forgiveness.

By bringing communities together in the fight for social justice, Leyner realized how powerful a chorus of diverse voices can be. Today, he continues to demand that Colombia embrace diversity by respecting the rights of all its citizens, particularly its most marginalized.

The Center for Social Integrity

“This award recognizes that change can come from within, and that what started out as a small-scale local initiative, can become a strong and meaningful movement. It is a great achievement to be able to depict Rohingya people advocating for tolerance and pluralism hand-in-hand with other ethnic and religious peoples. I hope that one day, diversity in Myanmar will not only be accepted but celebrated.”

Aung Kyaw Moe, Executive Director, Center for Social Integrity

The Center’s Story

Aung Kyaw Moe dreams of a day when people across his country of Myanmar see diversity as a source of strength, rather than a source of conflict. Inequalities will be addressed and minority groups will finally be included in meaningful ways across social, economic and political spheres.

Armed with this vision, in 2016, Aung Kyaw Moe assembled a diverse team and created the Center for Social Integrity (CSI). Its aim is to develop a non-discriminatory and inclusive society in Myanmar where pluralism is valued. CSI works with youth from conflict-affected regions, giving them the skills and opportunity to build a peaceful, pluralist society.

To build a future free of conflict, CSI is cultivating a generation of young leaders with pluralistic mindsets. CSI provides youth with training on conflict sensitivity, social cohesion and peacebuilding. The only project of its kind in Myanmar, it is often the first opportunity for youth to interact with people from other religions or ethnic groups. Already, these young leaders have become powerful agents for change in their communities, resolving tensions, mediating conflict and spreading respect for diversity.

The organization was founded by Aung Kyaw Moe – a Rohingya humanitarian professional – and CSI’s staff and stakeholders all come from the same regions as its youth participants. This highly localized leadership gives CSI’s staff a deep understanding of the conflicts between different communities and access to communities that other peacebuilding organizations and international NGOs cannot reach. This enables them to work with people who might otherwise be reluctant to engage.

This unique positioning was particularly critical in 2017 when an outbreak of conflict forced nearly 700,000 Rohingya to flee their homes in Myanmar’s North Rakhine State to seek refuge in Bangladesh. CSI was one of only a few organizations with access to the conflict-affected communities, as well as a deep understanding of the longstanding social unrest. In the past, various NGOs and UN agencies have been accused of partiality in their delivery of humanitarian aid, which exacerbated tensions in the area. CSI provided humanitarian aid in a completely impartial manner. Though it was a sensitive endeavour, the organization delivered aid to anyone who needed it, regardless of ethnicity or religion. In just three months, CSI was able to reach 80,000 people. By addressing the human need without prejudice, CSI demonstrated that its compassion does not have limits, and that its respect for human dignity transcends all divisions.

Aung Kyaw Moe understands that in order to build sustainable peace in Myanmar, there needs to be a shift in attitudes around diversity. CSI is making this possible by empowering young leaders from diverse communities to engage in dialogue and become agents of change in their communities. This new generation of pluralistic thinkers can help to build a society that is not just free from harm, but one that is vibrant and cohesive – not despite its diversity, but because of it.

With over 135 different ethnic groups, 110 languages and a wide range of religions, Myanmar is an incredibly diverse country. A British colony for more than 100 years, the nation declared independence in 1948 but was then ruled by a series of authoritarian military governments until 2011. The country’s transition to democracy has been marked by widespread social unrest as well as ethnic and religious persecution. Historic discrimination faced by minority ethnic groups has led to grievances and, ultimately, sectarian violence. The turmoil is considered to be the world’s longest ongoing civil war.

Among the persecuted groups in Myanmar are the Rohingya – a stateless Muslim minority in a heavily Buddhist country. Myanmar’s government denies the Rohingya citizenship, claiming that they are illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, though many have been there for generations. Bangladesh also denies that they are its citizens. The Rohingya’s movements and access to employment are severely limited. They have suffered mass atrocities at the hands of the military and have been forced to flee.

Deborah Ahenkorah

“I feel incredibly blessed to receive this award and after a decade of work championing the importance of African literature for children, this honour highlights how much closer we are to the goal of placing African children’s literature on a deserving global pedestal. I continue to look forward to that day when you can walk into a bookstore anywhere in the world and find incredible African stories available for all.”

Deborah Ahenkorah

Deborah’s Story

Deborah Ahenkorah understands the power of books. As a child, she spent her days pouring over the pages of books she found in local shops and libraries. Inspired by these stories, she imagined starting her own babysitting empire, just like the girls from The Baby-Sitters Club, and she dreamed about cold, wintry holidays. But Deborah had never actually seen snow. And babysitting was not something that young girls did in her community. Growing up in Ghana, the books that Deborah read were imported from abroad and were full of foreign characters with foreign names and foreign problems.

Deborah grew to believe that her culture and its stories were not important. When she thought about her future, it was not in Ghana – she wanted her own apartment in River Heights, U.S.A., the hometown of her childhood hero, Nancy Drew. Deborah envisioned a future far removed from her own culture, history and homeland.

Years later, while studying in the United States, Deborah wanted to make sure that other African children had access to books, just as she had. She began an organization that collected donated books and shipped them to different African countries. One day, as she was packing boxes, she came across a book with pictures of a little African girl. That was when she realized that of the thousands of books her organization had shipped to numerous African countries, this was the first one that reflected the realities of the people who would be receiving it.

A social entrepreneur and children’s book publisher, Deborah created Golden Baobab in 2008 to empower African writers and illustrators to tell African children’s stories. Through Golden Baobab’s books, children are exposed to characters from different countries, cultures, languages, religions and ethnicities. This leads children to develop positive views of difference and the critical thinking required to challenge stereotypes and prejudices.

This literary non-profit organization offers the world’s only prize inspiring and celebrating African writers and illustrators, the Golden Baobab Prize. Now in its 11th year, the Prize has inspired submissions of over 2,000 new and original African children’s stories and illustrations and offered monetary support as well as publishing opportunities. The organization also offers training for African writers and illustrators, and works to connect publishers worldwide with African children’s stories.

To help share these authors’ stories with more readers, Deborah created African Bureau Stories – a children’s publishing house and social enterprise that publishes stories from different cultures and ethnicities across Africa. The stories reflect the wide range of African experiences.

Deborah set out to ensure equal representation in children’s books; in the process, she has deeply enriched children’s literature by infusing it with new voices and perspectives. Through her work, Deborah is showing children that the world is a stronger, more interesting place when we value and uplift diverse cultures and stories.

Literature shapes how children see the world and how they understand their place within it. If they are absent from the stories they cherish, they may begin to believe that their culture and voices do not matter. Deborah wants to give all children the opportunity to see themselves reflected in the books they read. She hopes to ensure that young readers everywhere have access to accurate portrayals of Africa produced by Africans.

Research has shown that a strong sense of belonging and inclusion improves mental health and wellbeing in children, which in turn leads to wider acceptance and sensitivity to the needs of others. Deborah’s belief is that when African children see themselves represented in arts and literature they develop a deeper appreciation for their own culture, which makes them more open to engaging with the diversity of people around them.

The “Learning History that is not yet History” Team

“It is very significant to our team to be receiving international recognition for work we have been developing with minimal support for over 16 years. Dealing with the sensitive history of the 1990s Yugoslav wars in our classrooms is very difficult for teachers. We have personal connections to this topic and many, including this team, have buried the topic for decades. It is now the moment to face the past responsibly and to teach about the 1990s conflicts, in order to build a future of mutual understanding, peace and reconciliation.”

Bojana Dujkovic, representative of the award winner, the ‘Learning History that is not yet History’ team

The Team’s Story

A group of students bend over a picture depicting a Bosnian soldier from the 1990s conflicts. Another group studies an image of people walking through the rubble-filled streets of Vukovar, Croatia in 1991. “What do you see?” they are asked. “How does it make you feel? What do you think the photographer is trying to show you?” Discussing a photograph may seem like a straightforward learning exercise, but in the states of the former Yugoslavia, it is much more complex.

In schools, the wars are either ignored or taught in simplistic, one-sided ways, which hinder compassion for people of other ethnic groups. A group of history and education specialists from across the Western Balkan region want to change this. In 2003, they formed a unique regional network which has since expanded to include members from Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, Montenegro, Serbia, Macedonia, Kosovo and Slovenia. The teachers originate from different cultural, ethnic, professional and religious backgrounds. Having all lived through the 90s conflicts in their countries, they have put aside their personal biases to come together to promote the responsible teaching of the past.

Recognizing the danger that simplistic and nationalistic narratives pose to a peaceful society, they set out to provide an alternative approach. They believe that teachers and students must be presented with multiple perspectives on the wars and encouraged to think critically and empathetically about history.  

In 2016, the network of historians and educators from Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, Montenegro and Serbia partnered with the Association of European Educators of History (EUROCLIO) and launched a project that later gave its name to the team, “Learning history that is not yet history” (LHH).

Recognizing that teachers often feel ill-equipped and unsupported to teach these sensitive topics in a way that goes against a dominant, ethnocentric story, LHH created an online database of free resources. These books, articles, videos and photographs support and motivate educators to teach about the 1990s wars using multiple perspectives in ways that do not victimize or blame others. Instead of presenting a specific interpretation of events, LHH focuses on the daily lives of people involved in the conflicts to foster a sense of shared experience.

The partnership and collaboration of LHH represents the first time that history educators from the countries involved in the 1990s wars have reviewed the available educational resources on the topic. The results of their project – a database, teaching materials, and training sessions for teachers – provide the only non-biased approach to learning and teaching about the recent wars.

LHH is giving students and teachers the tools to fight against the kind of division and narrow thinking that could lead to new conflicts. By stimulating discussion, reflection and the recognition of shared experience, LHH is using history as a powerful tool to build sustainable peace in their region.

The conflicts that took place across the Former Yugoslavia during the 1990s continue to have a deep impact on people’s lives. Relations between different states and ethnic groups are sensitive and discussions around the wars remain controversial. The 1990s are remembered across the Western Balkans in uneven and often conflicting ways. Efforts to face the past have been very slow and one-sided. The wars have not been taught in schools until recently. Certain interpretations of history are promoted by political elites as the “official” story. This history is then used to re-shape ethnic and political identities in ways that marginalize and exclude certain groups while amplifying nationalism. These narratives carry over into the education system.

Namati Kenya

“Being recognized as a winner of the Global Pluralism Award for this work is a true honor. It is a testament to the idea that everyone – even those who have long been at the margins – can be an agent of change in creating a pluralistic society.”

Mustafa Mahmoud, Namati Kenya

Namati Kenya’s story

Botul, a mother of four and a member of Kenya’s Nubian community, was told that her children could no longer attend school because they did not have birth certificates. She could not apply for their birth certificates, however, until she received an identity (ID) card. In Kenya, a national ID card is required to vote, to move freely around the country and to access basic services, such as health care, education and employment. Unfortunately, obtaining an ID card is not easy for someone like Botul. As a member of one of Kenya’s predominately Muslim communities, she is one of five-million Kenyans who face a discriminatory vetting process when trying to acquire basic legal identity documents. While most Kenyans can acquire an ID card in a few weeks, many others from minority ethnic groups that are predominantly Muslim wait months or years—or never receive documents at all.

Botul eventually found the guidance she needed through Zena, a community paralegal trained by Namati Kenya. Zena helped Botul understand her rights and supported her through every step of the ID application process. Botul was able to obtain her ID and immediately applied for her children’s birth certificates. Now, while her children attend school, Botul is busy sharing her new knowledge with her community.

Through its Citizenship Justice program, Namati Kenya trains and deploys community paralegals to support and empower marginalized citizens to understand, use and—eventually—shape the law. Since 2013, Namati Kenya’s paralegals have assisted over 12,000 Kenyans apply for legal identity documents. With data collected from these cases, the organization tracks patterns of discrimination across the country and pushes for systemic change. Namati Kenya also spreads legal awareness through grassroots mobilization, door-to-door outreach, community forums and a rights-based community radio show. Currently, Namati Kenya is leading advocacy efforts on amendments to Huduma Namba, a new national biometric ID system, to ensure no Kenyans are excluded.

Working with and through a coalition of partners, Namati Kenya brings diverse communities together to recognize their common challenges and to engage in a national dialogue about “who is Kenyan” and what it means to belong. Creating these connections across diverse communities is a fundamental step in the establishment of an inclusive, pluralistic society. Through their work on citizenship justice, Namati Kenya is transforming the law from an abstract system that serves a few to a powerful, practical tool that all of Kenya’s diverse citizens can use to improve their lives and build a society that honors the rights and dignity of all its members.

Kenya, home to nearly 50 million people, has an incredibly diverse population that includes over 40 ethnic groups representing four major language groups. The country is also religiously diverse, with a Christian majority, a sizeable Muslim minority and communities adhering to Hinduism, Sikhism and Indigenous religions. Following a contested election in 2008, violence erupted along ethnic lines. After months of conflict, a new constitution was drafted to recognize the pluralistic nature of Kenyan society. Despite this, many minority groups, particularly Muslim-majority communities, are considered outsiders and struggle to be recognized as full citizens.

Puja Kapai

“By honouring my work in advancing social justice in relation to race, gender and minority rights this Award renders visible the lived realities of all those who are routinely marginalised and experience systemic exclusion and discrimination”

Puja Kapai

Puja’s Story

Growing up as an ethnic minority in the racially homogenous society of Hong Kong, Puja Kapai faced barriers to education from an early age. Racial segregation in schools was common practice, so Puja enrolled in a public school with a high concentration of ethnic minority students. The school would become one of a handful of designated institutions for ethnic minority children. While her ethnic Chinese counterparts attended Cantonese lessons, a language that would enable them to pursue better jobs in the Hong Kong workforce, Puja was ushered into the music room for self-study sessions along with other ethnic minority students.

Despite this unequal footing, Puja has gone on to become a widely published researcher, lawyer, professor and social justice advocate. She combines in-depth empirical research with grassroots mobilization and advocacy to enact lasting change in Hong Kong. Her comprehensive report on the status of ethnic minorities in Hong Kong brought together extensive data to present—for the first time—how the systemic nature of racial discrimination is embedded across multiple domains, including education, employment and housing. Puja’s work demonstrates the importance of looking at interlocking factors, such as gender, race, age and immigration status, which, in turn, underscores the need for an intersectional approach to understanding the root causes of inequalities in Hong Kong.

Most impactful was Puja’s careful illustration of the detrimental effect segregated schools had on the lives of Hong Kong’s ethnic minorities, resulting in the loss of opportunities and deprivation across multiple domains. She presented this research to the Hong Kong government and to three United Nations treaty bodies reviewing Hong Kong’s obligations relating to racial discrimination, children’s rights and human rights more broadly. In 2014, as a direct result of Puja’s research and advocacy, and in collaboration with local non-governmental organizations leading the work on these issues, the Hong Kong government abolished the official policy designating separate schools for racial minority children, and the government introduced a Chinese Language Curriculum Second Language Learning Framework for public schools.

This is but one example of what a tremendous force for change Puja has become in her society. Her work addresses issues of education, domestic violence, children’s rights, gender-based violence, discrimination based on race, gender, religion and sexual orientation, and unconscious bias. Puja’s work has guided lawmakers, government departments and civil society to develop laws and policies using an intersectional approach, across a range of areas, to ensure equal protection for everyone. She has successfully advocated for the revision of governmental procedural guidelines for handling cases of child abuse, child maltreatment, domestic and sexual violence involving ethnic minorities, as well as the improvement of training programs for police officers handling cases involving ethnic minorities. Her research and advocacy have also led to targeted measures by the government to support ethnic minorities.

Having experienced the harmful effects of exclusion and prejudice first-hand, Puja works tirelessly to advance equal rights for all people in Hong Kong. Whether she is researching, advocating, mobilizing or teaching her students how to recognize and address the social justice issues happening around them, Puja is driven by her knowledge that every Hong Konger deserves equal respect and opportunity, and that her city’s laws and policies will be strengthened by their inclusion and recognition of their equal dignity.

While Hong Kong has a global reputation as an international hub, it is a racially homogenous city, with ethnic Chinese people making up about 92 percent of the population. Ethnic minorities account for 8 percent of Hong Kong’s population. Among them, 4.2 percent are foreign domestic workers on temporary work arrangements under a specific labour scheme, and 3.8 percent are longer-term resident ethnic minorities. Ethnic minorities face limited opportunities, bias and systemic discrimination in many areas, including education, employment, housing and health care. Language barriers exacerbate the structural challenges minorities face. Without an education in Cantonese or Mandarin, ethnic minorities are more likely to work in low-paid positions. Poverty and unequal access to essential social services disproportionately affect these communities.

Hand in Hand: Center for Jewish-Arab Education in Israel

“With each new student, school, community, and partner we are sending out ripples of change that lay strong foundations for an equal, pluralistic society for Jews and Arabs, where everyone feels they fully belong.”

Dani Elazar, CEO Hand in Hand: Center for Jewish-Arab Education in Israel

Hand in Hand’s story

In the Max Rayne Hand in Hand Jerusalem School, co-teachers Sirin and Chaim welcome their second-grade students after summer break. Sirin and Chaim ask half the class to hold hands and circle the other half while music plays. When the music stops, the students face each other. Sirin says, in Arabic, “Ask your friend: What excites you about coming back to school?” The next time the music stops, Chaim prompts, in Hebrew, “What was the most fun thing you did over the summer break?” Over the course of the school year, these Arab and Jewish children will study together in both Hebrew and Arabic, learning one another’s language, history and heritage. They will celebrate the stories, songs, symbols and traditions of Muslim, Jewish and Christian holidays. They will learn, as they are learning in this circle activity, to listen to each other, to trust each other and to laugh with each other.

This vibrant, multicultural atmosphere is characteristic of Hand in Hand schools, but it is rare to find outside of Hand in Hand. Israel’s education system is segregated along religious and ethnic lines. Often, individuals from different communities do not encounter each other until they are young adults, at which point many are locked into one or the other side of a complex and violent conflict that has been going on for generations.

In 1998, Hand in Hand introduced a transformational alternative to this segregated reality by bringing together its first integrated, bilingual classes of Jewish and Arab students. Recognized by the Israeli Ministry of Education, Hand in Hand’s award-winning public schools now serve over 2,000 Jewish and Arab students, in preschool through grade 12, in locations across Israel. Teams of Jewish and Arab co-teachers use innovative methods to enrich students’ sense of identity while fostering respect for their peers. Equality, empathy, responsibility and respect are the pillars of a Hand in Hand education. Students learn to think critically, disagree respectfully and consider history from multiple perspectives.

Over the years, Hand in Hand’s model has broadened from a network of schools into a three-part model of shared living and learning that includes integrated schools, inclusive communities and more and more public partnerships. Hand in Hand staff, parents, students and alumni are part of a countrywide movement driven by shared values and the choice to build sustainable change that extends far beyond school walls. Hand in Hand’s community programs engage thousands in building a proud shared society of inclusion, equality and respect through dialogue and language programs, cultural events and celebrations, lectures and workshops, civic engagement and activism, leadership seminars and countrywide conferences. By collaborating with municipalities and the Ministry of Education, Hand in Hand’s work is increasingly influencing the national education system from within. Every day, in Hand in Hand schools and communities across the country, thousands of children and adults learn not just to tolerate one another but to respect, embrace and learn from each other. They discover that diversity is not a threat. Rather, it is an enriching experience and a tremendous opportunity to grow, as individuals and as a society.

Mistrust and fear between Arab and Jewish communities within Israel is deep, stemming not only from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict but also from the spatial separation of Jewish and Arab communities, as well as the division of the public education system into siloed school streams along ethnic and religious lines. This greatly contributes to the divide between the two groups. Most Jewish students in Israel have little to no exposure to Arabic or Arab culture in a school setting, with both communities denied the opportunity to build the inter-communal relationships and partnerships that are fundamental to building a more pluralistic society.

REFORM: The Palestinian Association for Empowerment and Local Development

REFORM’s Story

At a café in the Palestinian city of Ramallah, young men and women sit in small groups discussing passages from Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist. They have come from different communities and backgrounds across Palestine to participate in this Cultural Café activity organized by REFORM: The Palestinian Association for Empowerment and Local Development. Guided by a facilitator, they discuss how the book relates to issues of belonging. Later, they stand up for a lively role-play game inspired by the book, in which each person assumes the role of another. These youth live in the nearby refugee camp, C areas (which are Israeli-controlled zones of the West Bank), the city of Ramallah or the surrounding villages. Encounters between them are extremely important due to the lack of civic space and the tense context of Palestine.  

With movement highly restricted due to the Israeli occupation, there is a lack of democratic process and civic spaces; there are political divides, ongoing violence and economic uncertainty. Palestine is highly volatile and fragmented by stigma and social exclusion. Palestinian youth are increasingly encountering challenges that hinder their participation in social and political spheres. Many women are also marginalized in civic and economic life, while rates of gender-based violence are increasing.  

Founded in 2012 by a group of young activists, REFORM is a Palestinian non-governmental organization working to empower marginalized groups and hard-to-reach communities to engage in social life and influence decision-making. To respond to the complex needs of their society, the Association has developed a wide range of initiatives—from its Access Beyond Borders project, which enhances the social and political participation of stigmatized youth and women from refugee camps, C areas and hard to reach communities, to its Governance and Public Policy Program, which reforms the public policy process to be more inclusive. Other projects increase women’s participation in society through economic opportunities and advocacy efforts. REFORM also trains and equips youth with the tools to transform conflict between groups and political parties, empowering them to respond positively to difference. 

REFORM creates safe spaces for dialogue and connections between different areas and groups in Palestine, including marginalized community members and decision-makers. They are focused on increasing cohesion and solidarity between different Palestinian groups, especially those who are most polarized. Through a unique combination of awareness-raising, capacity-building, training and mentoring, they are enhancing the participation of all members of this diverse society, as a step towards the lasting peace and pluralism they envision for Palestine.