Remarks of Ahmad Alhendawi
Special Envoy of the Secretary-General on Youth
Holocaust Education: Tools and Techniques
Professional Development Programme for Educators
United Nations Headquarters, New York
2 May 2013
It is a pleasure to be with you today and talk about how teaching the Holocaust presents an opportunity to fight hate speech around the world.
I, myself, have studied the Holocaust during my Masters studies in Berlin and I spent a good amount of time researching and discussing it. There are important lessons to be drawn from the Holocaust.
The role of teachers in teaching values is extremely important. When I talk about what is important for our world today, I mention three priorities: education, education, and education.
These are the top three priorities for me because I believe, as Queen Rania said, - and I like this quote so much – she said, “A good teacher will teach and a great teacher will transform”. I see you all as transformers.
When we talk about the importance of education we just need to look to ourselves, to this room. I wouldn’t be able to talk to you today if I didn’t receive a good education. I’d like to thank all the teachers who inspired me, and all of us, to change the world.
We can take this lesson from teachers and incorporate it in the way we approach development and other issues.
In my work as the United Nations Secretary-General’s Envoy on Youth, I am charged with the task of bringing the United Nations closer to young people. Our planet today is home to 1.2 billion young persons. This is the largest youth population in the history of the planet.
If we include those youngsters who are aged 10 years and up, the number of youth increases to 1.8 billion. This number will peak in the next 20 years.
Young people today are faced with tremendous challenges when it comes to obtaining a quality education and finding a decent job. This transition from education to the labour market is not easy.
And in many places in the world, young boys and girls do not have access to quality education. This challenge is even more difficult and more complex for young girls.
I see my role as an advocate for youth. I want to make sure that when we talk about the MDGs [Millennium Development Goals] and the post-MDGs, we always prioritize and highlight the importance of youth issues. We must address the needs of the largest youth population in the history of this planet.
In spite of all of these challenges, I can see great opportunities. And these opportunities are coming with this global momentum that has gathered around the Secretary-General’s Global Education First Initiative to increase our investment in education.
Just two weeks ago, the World Bank hosted a joint meeting for ministers of finance to see how they can increase the allocation and budgeting for education. I think investment in education is the smartest investment any country can make towards transforming and building civic values.
I come from the Arab region where the Arab spring has reminded all of us that good education is not only about making the transition to finding meaningful employment but it is also about providing opportunities for young people to participate in institutions and the political process.
As I mentioned earlier, I’m concerned that not every child in the world has access to education. In some cultures the situation is more difficult for young girls. We have read in the news about Malala Yousufzai who is fighting for her right to education. She is an inspiration to all of us.
I’d like to quote the Deputy Executive Director of UNICEF [Geeta Rao Gupta] who said, and in very nice words, “We don’t want our children just to survive, we want our children to thrive as well”. I think this is representative of how the United Nations perceives the goals of education. This initiative is of course led by Secretary-General Ban, UNICEF and UNESCO.
We have heard too often of students being the target of violence, but in some parts of the world teachers have also suffered from violence. Through these acts of violence, the whole education process – teachers, students and schools - has been targeted. Teachers have not only been at the forefront of these attacks, they have been at the forefront of responding to them and promoting the value of tolerance.
I believe one of the most important values that teachers need to reinforce is to remind students that humanity is about peace and acceptance. It is about tolerance, accepting others and celebrating our differences.
I always like to think that we are all different somehow but we are also all equals. Diversity is something to celebrate.
It took thousands of years for the people of this planet to find global norms and to arrive at a place where we all agree that respect for human rights is the way forward.
We all believe that democracy is right for everyone. We all believe in the set of human values adopted in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. These values are worth fighting for and underpin our efforts to promote tolerance and end violence.
As the world becomes more global, and jobs harder to find, youth today are faced with having to immigrate to other countries to find employment.
With this, youth are challenged to be accepted in foreign countries and to accept foreigners into their own cultures. They need tools to function in a multicultural environment – including respect for diversity and tolerance for other ways of living.
Here, I believe, the Holocaust presents a unique opportunity to teach young people about tolerance and the dangers of hate. It’s a lesson in the value of each human being and the need to protect human rights for all.
As I said there are many lessons to be drawn from the Holocaust. This event today will help you find innovative ways of teaching the Holocaust to the younger generation.
When I think about the name of this organization, the United Nations - and this is my own interpretation for why it is called the United Nations - it is because this planet has only one organization mandated in a clear way to unite nations based on values of human rights, dignity, peace and security.
And I think the United Nations is honoured to have this workshop today, which is exactly in line with the goals and the objectives of the United Nations in promoting peace and security, development and human rights for all. Teachers are messengers of peace and messengers of these values.
I would like to thank you all for giving me this opportunity and the Holocaust Programme and I wish you a great day at the United Nations.
And as the Secretary-General is always saying, this is your home as well.
Thank you very much.