Mahmoud Aboulhassan is the Monitoring and Evaluation Officer at the Qalb Masr Foundation for Education and Development. Here, he talks about the organization’s project on peaceful coexistence in Upper Egypt:
I really liked the idea behind the Qalb Masr Foundation and that’s why I joined it. It promotes peaceful coexistence between people of different religions, especially among children. Children are the future, and so it was essential that we start trying to create a generation raised on the idea of pluralism, particularly religious pluralism, all of it built on one principle: Accept me as I am, which means, accept me no matter my religion, so that we might live in security and peace. It was the goals of the project on peaceful coexistence that hugely encouraged me to become a member of the organization.
He lists the goals of the initiative as follows:
1. Taking care of children and people with special needs.
2. Attention to women and their role in society, building awareness of and promoting gender equality.
3. A belief in pluralism and creating a foundation for cooperation between people of all religious backgrounds.
He goes on to evaluate the experience of collaborative work between people of diverse backgrounds:
We’ve started to develop a solid follow-up plan, and we’ll be using personal and group interviews for evaluation with all those we’re targeting, whether young children, parents and guardians, or the natural and religious leaders of the community. After that, we’ll select a random sample of people and send them questionnaires.
On the inclusion of parents and religious leaders in the project:
I really didn’t expect these results. What I mean is that after the sessions with the parents it became clear that they really liked the idea of changing things through art, because this is the first initiative of its kind with this particular community, which has never been offered any kind of training or workshops on how change can be effected through art.
On the impact the project had on the participants:
In terms of impact, we measure the results of this work periodically. We have a weekly session with the children where we do some planned activities and then we evaluate their performance. We were really surprised by the drastic changes we observed. The parents explained the other side of things to us, the change in their children’s behavior at home, such as their adherence to the value of respect, which is one of the values we try to instill in them. So the way the children spoke to their parents changed dramatically. In the beginning we were faced with some real questions: What is pluralism? What is coexistence? We had these questions because we taught them from the very outset that the way to knowledge is through questions. This was a fundamental rule we instilled in them, that if you ever encounter anything that seems unclear you need to ask us about it until you get an answer. Because if they don’t ask us, they might ask someone who isn’t a specialist, or who is a zealot, or someone ignorant. And so when they’d ask, what is pluralism? What is the difference? What is the other? I’d answer that the other is one who is different from you in any way, whether gender, color, or faith, but in the end, we are all one, we are all human.