27 September Sep 2012 1915 27 September 2012

AVSI at UNGA on religious tolerance - Read the speech of Deogracious

“The Civil Society and the Education on Human Rights as a tool for promoting religious tolerance”. Read the speech of Deogracious Adrawa Droma, teacher from the Permanent Center for Education (PCE) of Kampala, Uganda, at the United Nation General Assembly in New York, 27th September 2012.

On behalf of AVSI Foundation and the Permanent Centre for Education in Kampala, Uganda, I would like to thank you for the opportunity to be a part of this distinguished panel and fascinating conversation.
Three years ago, AVSI was asked by the Italian Cooperation and the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) to enter the complex and challenging context of the immense refugee 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. This request was motivated by a recognition that AVSI has a particular proposal to bring to the world of education, a proposal which can stand up even in front of severe conditions and challenges, such as those facing young refugees whose lives have been shaped by trauma, displacement, violence and uncertainty. 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 UNHCR, UNICEF, Italian Cooperation, AGIRE and the US Government. So far, 730 teachers have been involved in training activities, 310 classrooms have been built or rehabilitated and over 16,250 pupils and students have been supported by AVSI projects in Dadaab. Moreover, hundreds of private donors have also been motivated to respond to the drought and refugee crisis affecting Somali last year and have entrusted their contribution of solidarity to AVSI. Within the framework of these projects, AVSI called upon the Permanent Centre for Education, from Kampala, Uganda and co-funded by AVSI and Italian Cooperation, to make a contribution. The ultimate goal was to go beyond the professional capacity of the Somali refugee teachers and to address each teacher as a human being, to engage him personally, hopefully to convey the proposal that educating youth is a fascinating adventure for the student and the teacher alike.
After one of the workshops, Madam Jane, a lecturer of Mount Kenya University, an institution we work with in Dabaad told me:I have a new look on everything surrounding me after the workshop. I think that tonight I will look at my husband in a different way.’
Through the experience in Dadaab, I realized that either education is a communication of what is truest to me, an expression of the way I relate with reality, or it is just an imposition, a list of instructions alien to the person. What has changed my life is the encounter with a person that looked at my uniqueness and made me discover my infinite value as a person. Education is as simple as to reach the depth, the heart of the person. Even in extremely difficult or critical situations our experience shows that this is the starting point and the aim of our interventions. And education in these critical and fragile contexts is to say the least as important as providing food, shelter, etc. as Mohamed, a teacher in Dadaad told me after the workshop: “Mwalimu (teacher), the salary is little, but I prepare to give the best lesson for my pupils. They are our future and they will mold our future; so I cannot spoil their future only because I am being given low wages”.
Given my Christian background and identity,when I found myself for the first time in front of a congregation with both religious and cultural differences, I had to go back to that encounter that changed my life to be able to feel free in front of the refugees; thus the cultural differences and the diverse religious backgrounds became an opportunity to discover more and more about myself and the others. Rose Busingye, a friend and mother to me tells me: “Education is somebody that holds your hand and tells you; come, let’s walk together, let’s go towards a truth that is not me. The pupil who you are educating does not become the slave of your ideas and commandments, he is a companion on your journey, you correct him, but he corrects you too. My pre-occupation is that the children may be looked at the same way I have been looked at: it is not a difficult gaze, it is just human. I want that the child with everything he has lived is looked at as a man, as unique and of value”.
I tried to communicate to the Somali refugee teachers that there is a way of living a relationship with reality in which every encounter is compared to one’s heart, thereby subjecting every proposal (even the one being given in the teacher training course) to the freedom of the person. This has become for me and the workshop participants a point of unity, and a starting point for dialogue and relationship. Instead of being in the normal position of teacher-student, we found ourselves together in a quest for the answers to the deepest questions and needs of every heart of a person. Religion, culture and any other human attempt hence become only a means to reaching these needs but not an end or solution of the needs, and therefore not an obstacle to the relationship or dialogue with those of another faith, according to the education we have received from Fr. Luigi Giussani.
«Our main theme in all of our writings and lectures has always been education: how to educate ourselves, what education consists of, and how it takes place. We mean a true education, one that matches human reality−that is, educating what is human in us, our source or origin. Although expressed in different ways in each individual, this properly human dimension always reflects the same substance, for behind the diversity of different cultures, customs, and expressions, the human heart is one and the same: my heart is your heart, and it is the same heart that beats in men and women who live far away in other countries or continents».
In conclusion, the proposal which AVSI and the PCE bring to the Somali Muslims living in Dadaab can be a source of real hope for the refugee community because it doesn’t remain at the surface of what education is all about, limiting an intervention to buildings, textbooks, and even teacher salaries and qualifications. The proposal does not cancel out or ignore religious differences, but instead gives value to what’s behind the faith tradition. The proposal of AVSI and the PCE pierces to the heart of the human person, to what is common in all of us, with the certainty that from this starting point something beautiful and lasting can be built.
Deo speech around 1:36:20