ORT students from around the world have described the ‘spectacular’ experience they enjoyed at a global interfaith event.
The four-day World Youth Encounter encouraged youngsters from different societies, cultures and religions to work together, sharing their passion and knowledge to create a more peaceful world.
The event was organised by Scholas – an international group promoted by Pope Francis – and ORT, and was hosted this year by Colegio Israelita de México ORT (CIM-ORT) in Mexico City. Fifty-five ORT students from nine countries took part and also enjoyed an ORT ‘reunion’, bringing them together for a unique exclusive program outside the Scholas framework.
The week’s activities saw more than 200 students – aged 14 to 18 – take inspiration from the richness of Mexican culture through their music, food, history and dance. They visited the iconic Teotihuacan Pyramids and shared their own customs and cultures with each other. ORT students also accompanied Dario Werthein, chair of World ORT’s Board of Trustees, to meet Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador.
Among the countries represented were Argentina, Bulgaria, Brazil, Colombia, Spain, United States, Haiti, Honduras, Israel, Italy, Mexico, Mozambique, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Portugal, Dominican Republic and South Africa.
Kian Klip, a Mexican ORT student who took part, said: “This was a spectacular event, with people from countries throughout the ORT community, and from other schools, getting together. We learned about other cultures and other societies, we had a connection that helped us look to the future. It was brilliant and I made friendships that otherwise I could have never made.”
The educational tracks on offer for the students included classes in painting, photography, music, thought and play and encouraged the youngsters to open their minds to what it means to be a teacher.
On the final day, a group of local six to 10-year-olds took part in sessions so the older children could implement what they had learnt.
Isabella Murillo, from the Colegio Isaac Rabin school in Panama, said:“It was one of the best experiences of my life. I met people from all around the world, to share our way of thinking, music, likes and dislikes. I’m thankful for the experience because now when I visit any of these countries I will have someone to show me around.
“These gatherings are important because they get us out of our comfort zone and push us to adapt to different situations and that will help us in life. I totally recommend it.”
During the closing ceremony, Pope Francis used a video message to thank ORT for its efforts to make the event such a success.
Scholas president Jose Maria del Corral also addressed the youngsters. He said: “There is a language that can’t be translated, that brings us together. Today you taught all of us what it is to be young nowadays. It’s to paint, to dream, to play, to create music together, to achieve harmony, to find togetherness. And this will bring peace on earth.”
Dario Werthein, chair of World ORT’s Board of Trustees, told the students: “It’s really wonderful to hear you. I want to ask you to be a little bit irresponsible! Keep messing around, keep enjoying life and transform this world as you think you should. That’s the way to achieve that. Follow the same path you create.”
Representatives from all the participating countries planted an olive tree – symbolizing union and peace – alongside a commemorative plaque blessed by Pope Francis.
Among those assisting the planting was Rabbi Leonel Levi of the Beit El Conservative Congregation in Mexico City; Moises Romano, president of the Central Committee of the Jewish Community of Mexico; and Avi Meir, CIM-ORT director.
Moshe ‘Kinley’ Tur-Paz, head of World ORT Kadima Mada’s educational network in Israel, attended alongside Israeli students and said: “These were four intense days of the children learning together, playing, meeting the President of Mexico – doing things together and achieving a lot.
“I think they learnt a lot and they came out more mature than they were before. It was one of the best seminars I’ve ever been part of.”
The closing ceremony also featured students presenting examples of the work created during the previous days – including members of the music school playing different instruments to bring their experimental music to life. Photography students displayed images they had taken and edited at the encounter, many of them inspired by Mexican culture.
It was announced that next year’s World Youth Encounter would take place in South Africa.
Scholas operates in more than 190 countries and brings together thousands of schools and educational networks from all religious and secular backgrounds.