|Dadaab teacher trainer speaks at UNGA on religious tolerance|
On September 27, the day of its 40th anniversary, AVSI Foundation participated in a ministerial session during the United Nations General Assembly in New York. The event focused on the topic “Civil Society and Education on Human Rights as a tool for promoting religious tolerance”.
The session was co-chaired by the Ministers of Foreign Affairs of Italy, H.E. Mr. Giulio Terzi, and of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, H.E. Mr. Nasser Judeh, and began with key-note speeches from the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Ms. Navanethem Pillay, from the UNESCO Director General, Ms. Irina Bokova, and from the Special Adviser of the Secretary-General on the Prevention of Genocide, Mr. Adama Dieng, to followed by expert-level interactive panels and an intervention from Amb. Suzan Johnson Cook, U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom.
In the first panel, AVSI was represented by Deogracious Adrawa Droma, a Ugandan teacher with the Permanent Center for Education (PCE), who witnessed to his experience as a teacher trainer in the Dadaab refugee camps in Kenya.
Three years ago, AVSI was asked by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) and the Italian Cooperation to enter the complex and challenging context of the immense camps in the Dadaab area of north-eastern Kenya, home to almost 500,000 refugees, mostly Somali from different groups and of the Muslim faith.
AVSI accepted this challenge and has built a presence in the camps around programs for teacher training for the official Kenyan Primary Teaching Certificate and construction of new classrooms and schools in collaboration with the PCE, Mount Kenya University, UNHCR, UNICEF, the US Government and the Italian Cooperation. So far, 730 teachers have been involved in training activities, 310 classrooms have been built or rehabilitated and over 16,250 students have been supported by AVSI projects in Dadaab.
The UN session sought to underline the importance of religious tolerance, the defence of the right to religious liberty, and protection of religious minorities by showcasing non-governmental organizations (NGOs) whose programs focusing on education promote dialogue, religious tolerance and religious freedom.
In a context where 98% of the refugee population is Muslim, Droma, whose experience is strongly rooted in Christian tradition, found himself in front of an opportunity: in meeting others from a different tradition, he was able to better understand himself and his own tradition.
“Each person carries certain questions and hopes in his or her heart,” Droma says. “My relationship with the participants of the training course is based precisely on the desire for goodness, beauty and truth, and so becomes a dialogue. Religion, culture, and every other human aspect of life are the paths to respond to these needs, and so they cannot be obstacles to relating to and dialoguing with those who follow beliefs different from one’s own.”
AVSI’s educational proposal for the Somali educators in the refugee camp is not simply a technical one, nor does not suppress or ignore religious beliefs. Although not a project designed for interfaith dialogue per se, AVSI has found that this interaction of people of two faiths to work for a common good—the education of the youth—has lead to greater respect and opening of horizons. The identity that AVSI and its staff carries to its work allows for a method that affirms the value of the faith and tradition of each person, arriving at the level of the human heart with the certainty that it can be the foundation to build something beautiful.