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Embracing diversity ultimately improves the human condition

September 10, 2007|By DONNA BRIGHTMAN

Editor's note: Once a month, Washington County Board of Education members and school staff use this space to write about school system issues. This month's column is written by School Board member Donna Brightman.




On July 27, I attended the 2007 International Model United Nations at Saint James School.

Close to 60 teenagers from China and South Africa joined Maryland teens in a summer camp organized by the Frederick-based UNESCO Center for Peace.

"We want them to realize there are many ways to live," said Serge Atontsa, the peace camp coordinator. "To succeed, they will need to be able to appreciate, respect and negotiate with people from other nations."

Guy Djoken, founder and executive director of the UNESCO Center for Peace, introduced the many officials who attended, including (Washington County Commissioners) President (John F.) Barr, (Hagerstown) Mayor (Robert E.) Bruchey, Robin Summerfield, field representative for (U.S.) Sen. (Benjamin) Cardin and David Lee, executive director of the governor's office of Asian Pacific American Affairs.

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As I prepared my short address to welcome the group to Washington County, I considered the importance of cultural exchange, diversity in our county schools and how we need to encourage and embrace a conversation about our common humanity. What follows is that speech.

UNESCO United Nations Summer Camp.

I bring greetings to you from the Washington County Board of Education and welcome you to our county. Washington County is on the cusp of change, evolving from a rural, agricultural, historical, industrial crossroads toward a yet-to-be-defined future.

Much like our own personal lives, change is the one constant. With change comes the opportunity for new and diverse experiences. This first-time event, here at Saint James, is such an opportunity and I applaud your willingness to participate, reaching out to others who come from different cultures and perspectives.

By respecting our various differences, through gaining knowledge of our common humanity and sharing experiences, we begin to understand the real strength and unity which emerges from that very diversity.

I believe that education is the bridge connecting cultures and countries. To quote the Mexican author Carlos Fuentes, "Education is called to mediate between cultures, challenging prejudices, pushing our limits, increasing our capacity to give and receive, and broadening our ability to understand all that is foreign to us."

There are 900 million illiterate adults in the world, 130 million children who do not attend school, 100 million children who stop attending school during the primary years. Every year, the world spends $800 billion on armaments, but can't find the $6 billion needed annually to educate all children worldwide.

Exclusion from educational opportunity is not insignificant. As educated individuals, how do we share our good fortune? What is our responsibility, on a local level, in changing these statistics? How do we make education the first item on the agendas of all governments?

As you depart this event and return to your respective home countries, please remember that your experiences here can become that bridge, that link between our two cultures. In the end, our thoughts and actions must build bridges rather than burn them.

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