On 28 April, the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) Askar Basic Boys School No. 1 won the first annual prize for tolerance, an honour the Kingdom of the Netherlands hopes to grant each year to a person or group who spreads tolerance in Palestinian society. The Askar project,‘Beacons of Change’, involved three years of effort from the teachers and students alike in combating prejudice in their school, their lives and their community in Askar camp, near Nablus.
Competing against more than 20 other candidates, the Askar boys’ school’s project focused on the various virtues children, adults and all members of society should live by. Honesty, loyalty and tolerance were among the virtues practiced by students, the emphasis rotated on a weekly basis. The idea, introduced by a school teacher several years earlier, is expressed in the curriculum, the demeanour of the teachers, extracurricular activities and even in school decorations.
During the week dedicated to tolerance, students learned how to accept others regardless of their appearance, race or opinions. They joined peers with disabilities for joint activities, staging a play and doing volunteer work together. Mohammed Dirbas, 13, described its impact: “I always accepted my mates with special needs, but now my sense of responsibility towards them has increased.”
Students also made a visit to the Samaritans in Nablus and enjoyed a field trip to Jacob’s Church, learning more about other religions and increasing their awareness of the importance of religious tolerance. Ninth-grade student Abdallah Sabrisaid, “It turned out that I didn’t have much of a clue about other religions. It’s true that there are different religions but I learned that we have a lot in common and hold on to the same ideas and values.”
The prize – a miniature version of the ‘Angel of Unity’ donated in 2013 by the Netherlands to the Garden of Nations, in Ramallah – was awarded to Askar principal Ahmad al-Riyahi by Dutch representative Birgitta Tazelaar at a ceremony at the Netherlands Representative Office. It was a special occasion, commemorating 20 years of Palestinian-Dutch relations as well as King’s Day, the birthday of King Willem Alexander of the Netherlands. Palestinian Prime Minister Dr. Rami Hamdallah, representatives of European Union member states and Palestinian public intellectuals were in attendance.
“This tolerance project is one fruit of the many projects implemented by UNRWA schools. Another such example is the democracy and human rights core curriculum offered in all UNRWA schools”, said Mr. Riyahi. He added that the school would continue with this activity after winning the prize. “We will continue developing our ‘virtues curriculum’, especially after the positive influence it has had on the students’ lives and the change it has brought to the local community as a whole.”