Launch of the Program: U Thant Institute, in an effort to foster peace through education and to promote intercultural understanding, launched the Friendship Across Cultures program on 13 June 2007. The Program was launched with the support of UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and CulturalOrganization), UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund) and Mrs. Ban Soon-taek, wife of the Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.
Mission: Guided by the ideals and vision of U Thant, the U Thant Institute seeks to help future generations build a global society that values diversity and encourages its citizens to demonstrate the virtues of tolerance, cooperation, understanding, and compassion. Toward this end, the institute has developed a program entitled “Friendship Across Cultures.”
Goal and Objective: The goal of the Friendship Across Cultures Program is to create a network of young students from middle schools around the world who, through their connections with one another, will explore their mutual values, break down cultural prejudices, and practice tolerance, cooperation and mutual understanding and respect.
In turn, they will realize the value of diversity and promote the idea of interdependence and the concept that we are all citizens of “One World.”
• The Institute developed lessons with list of activities and themes that reflect the goals of the program: Theme 1: Who we are, Theme 2: Who are the peacemakers, and Theme 3: What we can do to contribute to peace.
• The Institute established a pilot program which linked middle schools in Algeria and the Republic of Korea with the United Nations International School in New York City.
• Offered as part of a media club, the students in the “Friendship Across Cultures” pilot program were introduced to each other “virtually” by making short videos about themselves and their schools and videos were exchanged. Students met weekly, with students at each site creating an online magazine/newspaper that was published three times over a 15-week period.
• Students researched and wrote about many topics related to peace, shared their ideas with each other and responded to articles and postings from students at partner schools.
• Each weekly meeting began with a variety of peace-related activities to develop students’ knowledge, leadership skills, and cross-cultural understanding while simultaneously acquiring media, writing and communication skills.
The Institute has received inquiries from schools in US and abroad express their desire to join the Program. The Institute hopes to add 2 schools each year. Riverdale Country School in New York will adopt the Program in their curriculum this Fall.
It is the Institute’s hope that the Friendship Across Cultures program will help promote intercultural understanding and create culture of peace. The Program will further the legacy of U Thant , who firmly believed that education could counter intolerance and fear-often the root causes of hatred, prejudice and violence.