EduCare/IIWP Collaborate

Bring Peace to the Middle East

"We never anticipated our work would reach so profoundly into the Middle East and that we would have the opportunity to bring healing to the peoples
of that region."

by Stu Semigran

When my wife, Candy Semigran, and I started EduCare in 1990, we knew we wanted to impact and empower children and schools through the education of the heart. However, we never anticipated our work would reach so profoundly into the Middle East and that we would have the opportunity to bring healing to the peoples of that region. Yet, that's exactly what we are involved in today! We are in the middle of an "Achievement and Commitment to Excellence" (ACE) pilot project that works with Israeli, Arab and Druze children in Haifa, Israel. It's sponsored by the EduCare Foundation, the Institute for Individual and World Peace (IIWP), and EduCare Israel

In August 1999, about 120 Jewish, Arab, and Druze teachers from four separate elementary and junior high schools came together through the ACE Teacher Institute, to learn how to integrate the ACE Program into their classes. For many Jewish teachers it was their first time together with so many Arabs. The tension was high to say the least. However, once each person realized their common interest -- the welfare of the children -- the tension began to dissipate. It even became joyful and fun.

On the third day we did a process called "Cup of Dreams" in which each teacher shared their "dream" for their students and then all of their dreams were "combined" into one big dream. In every sharing, there was the word "peace." It was phenomenal to watch as each teacher discovered he or she wanted the same things for their kids: peace, to grow up knowing they are loved, knowing they can be successful, knowing they can make a difference in the world.

The group also participated in a process we call the Friendship Ring. It was wonderful to see this group of teachers move past each other and past their differences, sharing handshakes, hugs and even tears of joyful release and healing.

Two months later, in October, the first of a series of three-day ACE Student Workshops began. About 85 wonderful, enthusiastic Arab fifth graders and their teachers and counselors came together in a modern community center in Um El-Fakm, an impoverished Arab town on the outskirts of Haifa. As the three Israeli ACE facilitators-in-training and I came to the front of the room to begin the workshop, the children burst out in a song of welcome. "We are pupils of this school. Welcome! Welcome! Welcome! We are friends!" They sang loudly in English and for many that was as much English as they probably knew. It was a gracious, loving welcome, the spirit of which lasted throughout the three days.

The students did great, participating in the same ACE program we do here in the States. They involved themselves in activities of building greater self-regard, teamwork, listening and respecting others, and choosing positive attitudes. The facilitators spoke either in Hebrew or English and the translator spoke in Arabic and back to us in Hebrew or English. It actually worked very smoothly.

One of the highlights for the children was moving past the barriers of separating the girls from the boys. Several of the teambuilding activities integrated all the students and the kids commented how great it was that boys and girls could play and learn easily together.

Despite all the progress and success, toward the end of the third day we were presented with a challenge that almost ended this project for good. It seems that Aviva, the Israeli woman who is head of EduCare Israel, had arranged a meeting with the Arab town mayor. When she learned he was considered by the Israeli government to be an active political extremist, she canceled the meeting. The mayor was deeply insulted. He was considering canceling the program before it was off the ground.

At mid-day on the last day of the student workshop, the principal told us that the kids would be going home right now unless we agreed to see the mayor, but without Aviva. We wanted to meet the mayor, however we also believed it was critical to the Program for Aviva to be there. It was a stalemate. The principal was upset and his reputation was on the line.

The good news was that the Arab teachers and principal had seen what the ACE Program was already accomplishing with their kids, and they loved it. The principal pulled all of his dozen teachers aside to confer. Our little group stood about fifteen feet away from them, also trying to figure out what to do.

I asked for inner guidance, then listened for an answer. Then I got it! The solution was very near; fifteen feet away to be exact. We Jewish EduCare ones could walk those fifteen feet over to the teacher group and join them. We could work this out, but only if we worked together. We took a step, and then another.

It was marvelous! Before we knew it, we were brainstorming. We all loved the kids and the program and we kept that at the heart of our talking-not the politics, not the hurt feelings, not the petty egos-the kids and our desire to cooperate. Within minutes, we had the solution. Two of the male Arab teachers said, "Stu, you and the two of us, let us go first and speak with the mayor. Let us tell him that Aviva comes in forgiveness and let us ask him to allow her to come with us all to tell him about the great ACE Program and to have it continue throughout the year in our school" It was a gem!

We finished the day with the students and then the men and I went to the mayors office. He was traditional in his manner, very gracious. After we shared food and I expressed to the mayor our appreciation for hosting ACE in his town, the Arab teachers spoke up and praised ACE. Then one of them quietly approached the mayor and asked him to allow Aviva to visit.

The mayor became thoughtful. We held our breath. He paused, then nodded his approval.

The Arab women teachers and Aviva were nearby at one of the teacher's homes where Aviva was being graced with food, friendship, and lots of love. She later told me that even if she wasnt going to get to see the mayor, her time with the women was the best. Within minutes, Aviva and the women teachers arrived. Kind words were shared, apologies were tendered and accepted, and the mayor gave us his blessings on the program. One of the grandest parts of it all was how we all got to choose the win/win solution and how the teachers and we (and the mayor) all chose to play on the same team in support of the children.

The ACE program in this school and the three others is moving on with plans for the Arab students to begin holding workshops together with their Jewish and Druze ACE counterparts. In total, nearly 400 students will be participating this year. Imagine the possibilities.

I felt very aware throughout the week that peace was in the air: Peace between the students, between the girls and boys, between the Arab and Jewish adults. I was not sure how it was going to resolve itself, however I was very confident that through the love of the children, peace would prevail.

I strongly felt the presence of Peace ever so close. I also felt that none of this was accidental. There were great opportunities unfolding here. I saw that we adults were moving toward peace as we became living examples of ACEs lessons of peace for the children. The Arab children and teachers touched my heart deeply and they in turn declared how valuable the ACE was for them.

It is all very thrilling. The Israeli government is already quite enthused about our work. Newspaper articles and an Israeli TV news show have highlighted ACE. We ask for continued blessings with the children, the teachers, the families, and all those involved. We are so fortunate and happy to be playing a part in this wonderful unfoldment.

OUR ENCHANTED PLACE

Our heart is a room without boundaries.

We want to fill it up with love and giving of gentleness, warmth, respect, and understanding.

Our heart is a room full of many pleasant memories. Let's take from there the beautiful moments.

Let's learn from our good experiences and from our mistakes.

Let's learn to forgive, to be forgiving of others and accept them as they are.

Let's open our hearts to others... our heart is full of love...

By Fatan Arin and Hasin Zahar
Girls,10 years old
ACE Student Success Program
Usafia, Israel



IIWP and EduCare continue to collaborate in support of youth worldwide.

 

EduCare

Stu and Candy Semigran founded the EduCare Foundation, a non-profit 501 (c)(3) corporation.

EduCare is currently serving more than fifty schools in the Los Angeles Unified School District. Their work is supported by the generous donations of those who share their vision of peace and prosperity for all through empowering children with positive values, confidence and self-worth.

Contact EduCare at:

818-735-6600,
and visit their website at:

www.educarefoundation.com


 

 

IIWP.ORG