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International Day for Tolerance

Today is the International Day for Tolerance, a day when the world celebrates toleration, acceptance of difference and peaceful coexistence. Last year, UNESCO’s Director-General Audrey Azoulay’s summarised very well what tolerance is: “Tolerance is respect, acceptance and appreciation of the rich diversity of our world's cultures, our forms of expression and ways of being human.” This day reminds us all about the value of human-being, diversity and human rights. This is very important, especially this year because conflicts and violence are on the rise globally.

The International Day for Tolerance traces back to UNESCO’s Declaration of Principles on Tolerance to increase toleration in the world and the celebration of the United Nations Year for Tolerance in 1995. After the year of tolerance, the UN General Assembly universally agreed to celebrate November 16th as the worldwide day to raise public awareness over the dangers of intolerance.

Intolerance is a serious threat to societal cohesiveness, peace and democracy, as well as an obstacle to sustainable development. But most importantly, intolerance is a serious disregard for human life. Intolerance includes violence, racism, discrimination, marginalisation, exclusion and stirring up fear. These are often committed against the weakest in the society: national, ethnic, religious, social and linguistic minority groups, immigrants and refugees.

There are multiple ways to fight intolerance. First, legal methods – enforcing human rights and punishing people who commit crimes against human rights. Second, improving people’s access to a variety of information, as hate and racism are often spread by media and politicians. Third, raising awareness and mutual understanding between different cultures, and fighting against stereotyping, stigmatising and racial slurs. Fourth, direct grassroots action: not just waiting for the governments and international organisations to do the work but communities need to take the initiative to their own hands.

However, education is the best way to promote tolerance. This is because ignorance, racism and hate are most often learnt already at an early age. Changing people’s attitudes later is very difficult as the individuals have already grown up to their values. Thus, the key for building a tolerant world is to educate the children about tolerance and mutual respect when they are still free from racism and hate. In addition to teaching the value of difference and humanity, education promotes tolerance by the simple fact that schools are places for children to interact with children from diverse backgrounds. Therefore, schools are places for children to learn how to interact with different kinds of people and to accept difference.

In fact, UNESCO’s 2013 report found out that there is a strong relationship between the level of education and toleration. The report found that people who have a secondary school education are 47% more tolerant towards different races than primary school educated in Latin American countries. And in the Arab States, the secondary school educated are 34% more tolerant towards people who speak a different language.

COCO’s commitment towards tolerance is summarised in our values and beliefs: “COCO believes that all children, regardless of race, gender, ethnicity or economic circumstance should have the opportunity to receive an education.” Indeed, tolerance and inclusion are key parts of our Schools for Life programme. Our students are rich in diversity and our education aims to promote mutual understanding between children from different backgrounds.

In the communities where COCO works intolerance is a serious challenge. A lot of stigma and prejudice exist towards different marginalised groups. One prime example of that is the discrimination against people with HIV/AIDS. Our partner organisation Naiver in Kenya’s Bwayi community works strongly to fight against discrimination against orphanage children whose parents have died because of HIV/AIDS. Many of these children have been kicked out from their homes after the decease of their parents. In addition, children from HIV/AIDS positive families often face restricted access to education. With the leadership of Isaac Lidaywa, Naiver is fighting to defend the rights of children and promote tolerance in the Bwayi community.

Our work for promoting tolerance would not be possible without your support, thank you! If you would like to support COCO’s fight against intolerance you can do so by donating to us here!

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