Ruba Rafat Al-Qedra and Nour Al Hoda Rafat Mohamed El Shear, two ninth-grade UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) students from the Gaza Strip, have been named winners of the 2014 Inspirational Messages of Peace Contest by the US National Park Service and International World Peace Rose Gardens. This competition celebrates messages of peace written by youth throughout the world. More than 1,900 students participated in the competition this year.
The awards ceremony, held on 8 May 2014 at the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia, USA, is unfortunately out of reach for these two young Palestine refugees. Due to the movement restrictions placed on the Gaza Strip, travel outside of the enclave is severely restricted. Engraved plaques with the students’ messages will be displayed in the rose gardens for one year. With over 700,000 visitors every year, it is quite an honour for these two ninth graders, and their messages of peace to be recognized in such a way.
UNRWA has a long-standing commitment, as a UN agency, to teach students about the foundations of human rights. With the support of the United States Department of State, UNRWA integrates human rights concepts throughout its more than 700 schools. In Gaza, UNRWA, supported by the Government of Norway, has implemented a strong human rights curriculum in its 245 schools. Every week, all 225,098 students in grades one through nine take a stand-alone human rights class teaching tolerance and respect for human rights.
In coordination with the US Department of State, in 2013, two delegations of UNRWA students aged 11-13 traveled to the United States to learn more about human rights and the history of the civil rights movement in America. All of these students were the presidents of their school student parliaments and the top scholars from their human rights courses. They were selected for the prestigious honour after competing through essays and interviews, demonstrating their knowledge of the values enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
In fact, one of the winners of the 2014 poetry contest, Ruba, was a participant in last year’s trip. As part of the trip, Ruba visited the Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change in Atlanta, where the plaque celebrating her message of peace will be displayed. During the visit, the youth discussed past winners of the poetry contest, noting how previous students from UNRWA schools in Gaza have won the prestigious competition. “Having had the opportunity to visit the peace garden only last year, I am happy that my message of peace from Gaza will be shared with future visitors,” said Ruba.