UNESCO chief Irina Bokova praises Israeli educational initiative in favor of hospitalized children


PARIS – The World Jewish Congress (WJC) and Israel’s Permanent Mission to UNESCO on Thursday launched the second leg of a photo exhibition showcasing the Israeli Education Without Borders initiative – a project aimed at providing education to hospitalized children – at the headquarters of the United Nations Educational, Social and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in Paris. 

UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova with WJC CEO and Executive Vice President Robert Singer. (c) Shahar Azran
CaptionUNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova with WJC CEO and Executive Vice President Robert Singer. (c) Shahar Azran

 In the presence of 150 people, including more than 20 ambassadors and senior diplomats, UNESCO Director General Irina Bokova inaugurated the exhibition. She said: “We at UNESCO stand for education as a basic human right. To implement this right there can be no borders, no boundaries, no limits. […] The exclusion of hospitalised children is simply not acceptable. This is about rights and dignity. This is about giving every girl and boy every chance to grow their minds while strengthening their resilience. This is what we mean by education without borders, to provide every girl and boy with opportunities for quality learning.”


The UNESCO chief went on to declare: “UNESCO had the chance to work with the World Jewish Congress earlier this year in the context of the International Day of Commemoration in Memory of the Victims of the Holocaust, and I am grateful for this renewed opportunity to strengthen our ties. This reflects also the strong foundation of cooperation that exists between Israel and UNESCO, covering the full range of UNESCO’s mandate – especially in education for peace, for inclusion, for human rights.”


WJC CEO Robert Singer told the guests: “Did you know that Israel is the only country in the world where education is mandatory for children hospitalized over three days? The World Jewish Congress and the partners running this program believe that education is the right of every child.


“There are some people who believe that Arabs and Jews can never coexist. There are people who believe that Arabs and Jews should be segregated – and others who believe that Israel already actively segregates. This initiative shows us that people of all races, backgrounds and religions can and do coexist in Israel. That integration of this sort, in hospitals and in schools, is the cornerstone for healthy coexistence.”


Israeli Ambassador to UNESCO Carmel Shama Hacohen, the founders of the SASA Setton Kav Or initiative Philippe and Hilda Setton, the CEO of Hadassah Hospital on Mount Scopus Osnat Levzion-Korach, and director of the Medical Center of the Galilee Masad Barhoum


The SASA Setton Kav Or initiative and World ORT run the Education Without Borders program in 35 hospitals across Israel in partnership with Israel’s Ministry of Education, providing education and extracurricular activities to children who are hospitalized for more than three days, as mandated by Israeli law. Through computer-based applications and other interactive activities, children can pursue the studies despite their prolonged absence from school. The program is open to all children in Israel, irrespective of their background and including refugees from Syria and other places.


Israel’s Ambassador Carmel Shama-Hacohen highlighted the fact that the Education Without Borders program proves that Israel does not distinguish between children of different religious backgrounds. “A picture is worth a thousand words. You will see today in this wonderful exhibition more than one picture which shows a small wonderful part of our wonderful state,” he said.


Hilda and Philip Setton, benefactors of the initiative, told the guests: “Through this enterprise it has been demonstrated that keeping a child’s mind focused on their life outside the hospital not only improves the patient’s mental well-being, but also contributes to their recovery.” 

 World Jewish Congress CEO and Executive Vice President Robert Singer, UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova, Israeli Ambassador to UNESCO Carmel Shama Hacohen, Philip and Hilda Setton. (c) Michael Thaidigsmann

Hadassah Director Dr. Osnat Levtzion Korach said: ”I believe that medicine is a bridge to peace. As staff we prove daily that co- existence works, we leave the politics outside the hospitals’ gate. But it is not only the staff, it also the patients and families.”


Dr. Masoud Barhoum said: “As the first Arab Christian director of any major government organization of its size, I am a representative of the true diversity of Israel and the Israeli people. […] The Galilee Medical Center, which I am proud to call my home institution, has had the unique privilege to care for not just these young Israeli citizens. Over the past three years, we have been a place of treatment and healing for over 1,000 injured Syrians, men, women and children who have fallen victim to the national violence which has raged for the past five years. This heavy burden has been one we have accepted as a professional privilege and a humanitarian responsibility.”


The exhibition, which features photographs taken by photographer Shahar Azran at hospitals across Israel, is open to the public and will run until April 22. The exhibit was first featured at the United Nations headquarters in Geneva in September 2015.


Azran said: “It was my honor to take part in this wonderful showcase of the realities of Israeli society, but I hope that one day there won’t be a need, as Israelis, to continually prove that we live in this type of pluralistic existence.”

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