Posted by on February 15, 2013 in Blog

Connecting Cultures, a unique educational initiative that takes place in the deserts of Oman, is designed to promote intercultural dialogue as well as raise cultural awareness among young adults from around the world between the ages of 17 and 24. Established in 2004 and endorsed by UNESCO, Connecting Cultures is “identified as one of the world’s leading civil society initiatives.”

During five days away from civilization in Oman’s remote Sharqiya dunes, the selected young ambassadors engage in team-building through problem solving and action-planning activities in which they discuss the causes of cultural misunderstanding and attempt to dispel common stereotypes about one another’s cultures. The learning experience also includes story-telling, reciting poems, and listening to music as a means of better understanding the “other.” As the week-long excursion comes to an end, the young ambassadors reflect upon their experiences, what they have learned, and how to implement these lessons as they return to their communities. To record their experiences and address questions such as “How might people from other cultures see me?” and “What are the possible causes of cultural misunderstanding?” each member of the group keeps a “desert diary.” Jesse Lee, a Fijian participant in Oman’s first Connecting Cultures journey wrote that the “combination of placing a diverse set of youths with different backgrounds, languages, etc. in an isolated environment, giving them team-oriented challenges and enabling them simply to spend time together is important in achieving communication.” Alia Al-Lawati, a local Omani who participated in the 2008 journey, also shared wisdom from the experience: “Even the smallest voice counts. It is the duty of ourselves and the people around us to speak and to he heard. We were blessed with mouths and ears and we should not let our pride or ignorance clamp either shut.”

At a time where intercultural dialogue is very much a luxury, the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations recognizes the importance of such a program, and has offered special recognition to Connecting Cultures as well as the young ambassadors of the program who have become leaders in social change. Marc Scheuer, the director of the United Nations Alliance of Civilization, said the program “is an education with a difference; a learning experience and journey of discovery…that will lead young people into the global movement of intercultural dialogue.” Santiago Lozano, a Spanish participant of the Dialogue in the Desert, agrees with Sheuer’s statement, adding that the “journey has made me see the real face and voices of the Middle Eastern people, and I can say right now that they’re quite different to those in the news about this region that we watch in our western media.”

In a similar vein, Director General of UNESCO Irina Bukova highlighted the importance of Connecting Cultures as a program that “promotes the universal values of tolerance, peace, and mutual understanding, insisting that “we have to open more spaces and opportunities to enable youth to participate in shaping their future.” The Omani Ministry of Education has been working actively to improve the nation’s own educational system while also becoming a leader in cultural understanding between East and West by hosting several programs such as Connecting Cultures. It is precisely through such powerful initiatives that future generations, armed with greater knowledge and heightened cultural awareness, will lead to a more sustainable and peaceful future.

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