Då Gud heldt fest i Fjaler – Det kjende diktet til Jakob Sande rører ved hjarta til mang ein Fjalerbu.

Haifa Staiti (’00 – ’02) Elev på UWC

When I moved from Palestine to Norway to attend UWC Red Cross Nordic, it was more than a culture shock. I had not met any of my classmates or teachers before, knew virtually nothing about Norway – except that Oslo was the place where the infamous peace accord between Palestinians and Israelis was signed- and spoke very little English. Despite that my two years at RCN remain to this day the most important and transformational years of my life. I learned numerous things at the College, about my academic subjects, about different countries and cultures, and the skills needed to thrive in today’s world.

Many of the values I hold dear today, such as respect for the environment, belief in democracy and universal human rights, and appreciation for peace and international understanding are values that are core to the UWC education and ones that I gained during my time there. But of all the things I learned, two skills stand out as the ones that influenced the development of the person I am today the most: Critical Thinking and Empathy.

To me critical thinking means always asking Why? What if? Is there more to this? These questions have always served me well in both my personal and professional life. When I look back on times when I made poor choices, it is always in the cases where I failed to employ my critical thinking skills.

Empathy is defined by experts as the drive to identify another’s thoughts and feelings, and to respond to these with an appropriate emotion. Our empathy is usually higher for people we perceive to be part of our group than those we see as “outsiders”. Gaining empathy for those different from us is easier when we get to know the “other” and spend time with them. There is no better place to do that than in the common room, cafeteria or computer lab of a United World College. At RCN I lived and studied with 199 students of 85 different nationalities. Some came from places I’ve never heard of before, others from places I knew well, and some from places I held deep seated beliefs and prejudices about. It took only a few weeks for all 199 of them to become good friends of mine. By the end of the two years it was impossible to think of a country somewhere in the world and not think of a friend I have from that place. When you have close friends from all around the world it becomes very easy to empathize with people from the world over. This is true even for groups that may be in conflict with one another.

So when I met Professor Simon Baron-Cohen, who studies the neuroscience of empathy, a couple of years ago, I became very fascinated by the concept and interested in the potential that understanding the science behind empathy holds for peace-building and conflict resolution. My conversations with Simon, other scientists and groups working in peacebuilding led me to establishing Empathy for Peace (EfP). EfP is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to the advancement of empathy research and application. We believe that empathy is the key to building peaceful, just and fair communities, and our goal is to advance empathy awareness through empathy research and education with specific applications to evidence-based conflict resolution, peace and reconciliation processes.

We will do that by 1-funding scientific empathy research, 2-supporting the translation and dissemination of the research findings, 3-supporting community groups in applying the research to develop empathy-based tools for peacebuilding and conflict resolution.
Empathy for Peace is the culmination of everything I learned at UWC and 15 years of learning and growth after that. I cannot think of anything else I could have done that embodies the UWC spirit more, and I am so excited to begin this new adventure and new leg of my journey since graduating into the real world in 2002! I am today more than ever so very grateful for my UWC education and the precious two years I spent in my adopted country, Norway.

To learn more about Empathy for Peace visit www.empathy-for-peace.org
To contact Haifa email at haifa.staiti@gmail.com
Haifa Staiti, Palestine, 2002
Founder and Executive Director, Empathy for Peace

October 17th, 2016

Kjelde: Tekst og foto: UWC i Flekke.

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