Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

On the road for peace

Israeli students bring message of hope to city kids

  • Print

Somewhere between delivering curling rocks, strapping on downhill skis for the first time and knocking down a few bowling pins, a group of Arab Israeli students visiting a Winnipeg Christian private school hope to talk about making peace.

The students from Mar Elias High School in Ibillin, Israel, want to explain to their Winnipeg hosts how they cope with the conflict and the dramatic political change now underway in the Middle East.

"We want to talk about ourselves, describe our lives in Israel and to make the world know we live under an uncomfortable situation and we live under conflict," says 16-year-old Wagdi Nicola, a Grade 11 student.

Nicola and seven classmates, along with teacher Emil Haloun, are midway through a 10-day visit to Westgate Mennonite Collegiate, a Christian junior and senior high school located in the stately Armstrong's Point neighbourhood.

"There's going to be dialogue, but we don't just want it to be heavy," says Westgate teacher James Friesen of this first ever interfaith student exchange between the two schools.

"It doesn't always have to be a political conversation, but relating to people, and recognizing differences and similarities."

The eight students -- four Christian, four Muslim -- were selected from the 1,200 Christian, Muslim and Druze students who attend Mar Elias High School, a private Catholic school founded in 1982 by Father Elias Chacour, now an Archbishop of the Melkite Catholic Church. All the students are of Palestinian descent but are citizens of Israel.

"Our father (Elias Chacour) told us that on the road to peace we should avoid discrimination between Arabs and Jews," says Grade 12 student Saliba Makhoul, of the culture of peacemaking at Mar Elias.

The foundation for this visit was laid nearly two decades ago, when a group of Westgate students met Chacour in Israel. Last June, Westgate students visiting Israel dropped by Mar Elias High School for a brief visit, sparking the idea of a longer exchange between the two schools, says Friesen, who has led six student study tours to the Middle East.

"That's when Emil (Haloun) said we need to make this bigger and let's make some sort of exchange," says Friesen.

"It was a very spontaneous idea. My students had this wish to come to Canada," says Haloun.

While Haloun worked out the logistics from his end, which including gaining permission from Israel's minister of education to travel to Canada, Friesen and his students busied themselves raising funds to cover the $9,000 in airfare for their visitors.

In total, the Westgate students raised $15,000 for airfare and other expenses. Any extra cash will be sent home with the Mar Elias students as a donation for their school, says Friesen.

Seventeen Westgate students will return the visit in June, planning to stay with their exchange partners for three days of their three-week visit to the Middle East, says Friesen.

While in Winnipeg, the Israeli students hit the slopes during Westgate's annual ski day, attended classes and school events, and visited several Mennonite schools and churches.

Their plans for the upcoming week include curling with Jewish students at Gray Academy and sharing a meal with the Muslim community at the Grand Mosque on Waverley Street.

"It's important for us to build our awareness of people who live there (in Israel) on a day-to-day basis," says Nadia Kidwai, who is organizing the event at the mosque.

The Winnipeg leg of the exchange is designed to expose the visitors to several faith communities in the city, as well as giving Winnipeg students the opportunity to meet teenagers who live with conflict and unrest daily, says Westgate principal Bob Hummelt.

"It gives our students, beyond the ones going on the exchange, a taste of that political situation," he says.

"When you hear what's going on in the Middle East, forever more you'll remember the kids that visited us."

Although the goal of the trip is to talk about peace and connect people of different faiths and traditions, the teenagers on both sides of the exchange also want to compare notes about music, hobbies and favourite foods.

"I'm looking to learn about (Canadian) culture," says 17-year-old Yara Maty, who hopes to become a medical doctor. "If I like Canada, maybe I'd come here and study."

"What makes this program special is that we communicate with teenagers rather than older people," says Nicola, who plans to study science after high school.

"In the future, we can make a difference. Maybe someday we can make peace."

brenda@suderman.com

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 16, 2013 J14

Fact Check

Fact Check

Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories?
Please use the form below and let us know.

* Required
  • Please post the headline of the story or the title of the video with the error.

  • Please post exactly what was wrong with the story.

  • Please indicate your source for the correct information.

  • Yes

    No

  • This will only be used to contact you if we have a question about your submission, it will not be used to identify you or be published.

  • Cancel

Having problems with the form?

Contact Us Directly
  • Print

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

The Winnipeg Free Press does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. These terms were revised effective April 16, 2010.

letters

Make text: Larger | Smaller

LATEST VIDEO

Glenn January won't blame offensive line for first loss

View more like this

Photo Store Gallery

  • Someone or thing is taking advantage of the inactivity at Kapyong Barracks,hundreds of Canada Geese-See Joe Bryksa’s goose a day for 30 days challenge- Day 15- May 22, 2012   (JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)
  • A baby Red Panda in her area at the Zoo. International Red Panda Day is Saturday September 15th and the Assiniboine Park Zoo will be celebrating in a big way! The Zoo is home to three red pandas - Rufus, Rouge and their cub who was born on June 30 of this year. The female cub has yet to be named and the Assiniboine Park Zoo is asking the community to help. September 14, 2012  BORIS MINKEVICH / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

View More Gallery Photos

Poll

Should confessions extracted through Mr. Big police stings be admissible in court?

View Results

View Related Story

Ads by Google