Category Archives: Multicultural

Educational Struggles in Latin America

Educational Struggles in Latin America

By Camila Ayala, age 17, Georgia

“I spent much of my childhood in Honduras, where I was able to observe firsthand the disregard for children’s education. Children without the means to pay for tuition were not assured of a quality education. Later, I was fortunate enough to move to the United States. Nevertheless, when a family member who works as a teacher in Honduras begged my family for school supplies for the children she teaches, I was moved to revisit this harrowing subject. She mentioned the number of children who don’t even have notebooks or pencils. These children also had difficulty traveling to school, and once they were there, they were not provided with the necessary amenities, such as air conditioning in the classrooms to deal with Honduran intense heat. I was astounded at how little thought was given to obtaining the right materials for these young students, and how the teachers were forced to seek assistance because they were not receiving any. My awareness of the severity of the issue has increased as a result of these first-hand encounters, which is why I feel compelled to discuss it and perhaps help others see how serious it is.”

In America, the majority of children eagerly await their summer break. They look forward to living in June and July, when there are no obligations related to school. These children enjoy those months as they are unaware of the privileges of the months that come before June and July. These formative months are filled with possibilities for education.

In contrast, according to Latin America Resource & Training Center (2023), only about 46.8% of children in Latin America are thought to have completed their high school education, compared to 86.7% in the United States. Moreover, approximately 50% of Mexicans, Colombians and Brazilians do not have the skills necessary to solve simple math equations or to explain basic scientific phenomena. They are not granted the same benefits as the children who look forward to summer vacation, the same children who possess something so precious that appears to be a burden to them: an education. Due to their poverty and the lack of government support for these issues, these kids are unable to receive the fundamental right to an education. Additionally, for those that do, the challenges of poverty resurface, forcing them to drop out of school and find employment abruptly in an attempt to support their afflicted family.

The ability to receive a quality education creates a clear divide between the rich and the poor in Latin America. Identity, background, and ability determine educational opportunities for many of these children. According to the Global Education Monitoring Report, “In Panama, 21% of indigenous males aged 20 to 24 had completed secondary school, compared with 61% of their non-indigenous peers, in 2016. In Paraguay and Honduras, 32% of indigenous people are illiterate. Afro-descendants were 14% less likely in Peru and 24% less likely in Uruguay than non-Afro-descendants to complete secondary education in 2015. On average, 12-to 17-year-olds with disabilities were 10 percentage points less likely to attend school than those without disabilities.” These unfortunate children on the other side of the border struggle with discrimination in their education, which leads them to not qualify for prosperous jobs in the future. In a report published by the World Bank it was determined that the completion rates of lower-secondary school are lower for boys than for girls in most Latin American and Caribbean countries. All these factors contribute to children remaining in poverty, unable to access proper education, and subsequently as adults, they bring up children who also face similar struggles, thus continuing the cycle of poverty. Additionally, the World Bank in Latin America and the Caribbean (2023) states that Latin America was the area most severely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, which caused many school closures.

It is still challenging to offer these students the education they need and return to normalcy following COVID as a result of the lack of resources in most Latin American countries. Even the kids who are lucky enough to attend school frequently struggle to get enough supplies. In several countries, buying school supplies is not a yearly ritual, and many children are lucky to own a book-bag at all. For these kids, going to school is a hardship in every way, including getting the materials they need for the entire school day.

Finding qualified educators to instruct these receptive minds also becomes difficult, particularly in underprivileged areas where a large proportion of the people lack the necessary skills. Furthermore, children’s transit to the schools is often troublesome due to the rural seclusion in some areas. A report by UNESCO highlighted that “while nearly all children living in urban areas eventually enter the education system, the problem of lack of access to primary education is much greater for those living in the more impoverished rural areas.” Families often find themselves contributing to the truancy of the children, as the students oftentimes forgo attending school altogether due to the family’s inability or stagnation in their efforts. I have seen first hand that often the rural communities are less developed and therefore more impoverished. By giving more focus and resources to something that’s so important, many of these problems could possibly be mitigated over time. These children are their most valuable resource, yet they aren’t receiving the education needed to succeed in life and improve the communities in which they live.

Much of this could be improved by making efforts to fund school infrastructures and guarantee an equitable resource distribution. Everyone should be able to learn, regardless of their financial situation, so more efforts should be made to support children from low-income families and to provide them with high-quality education and whatever flexibility they may require. In order to help these children as well as themselves, the governments of Latin America should take a more serious approach to the problem of inadequate education. After all, as more people receive adequate education, more prosperity will be brought to these nations.

The education of these young people deserves international investments, and even though we reside far from them, we can still contribute by supporting educational initiatives financially and in other ways. Individuals possessing financial resources and power ought to think about investing in something truly worthwhile. Even though going to school can be stressful, knowledge and growth serve as the cornerstone for all future endeavors, and when these things are denied to you, your life’s foundation begins to splinter. We ought to remain strongly committed to education for all because it’s not always a given and those who understand its value should do their part to assist the unlucky ones around the world who lack it.

By Camila Ayala, age 17, Georgia. Having migrated from Honduras as a child, Camila is fluent in Spanish and English. She values family time and her education. Discovering a passion for writing, she dreams of becoming a lawyer to help those in need. Her future is guided by a desire to advocate for justice and compassion.

References:

The World of Table Tennis

The World of Table Tennis

By Viraj Ajgaonkar, age 10, grade 6, Mumbai, India

A strategic game with swift moves
that is played between ones or twos.
To compete in singles or doubles,
is what you need to choose.

Played atop on a mini-playground,
with net across the middle.
Holding a racquet in hand,
you simply hit the ball or fiddle.

There is no room for foul
let the game be fair,
Otherwise, you will be warned
by the referee in chair.

Quite popular by the
name ping pong,
It is every boyhood dream to play
as good as Ma Long.

A long way to learn Lebrun’s
signature style of pen-hold,
If one follows a right technique,
am sure you’ll win a gold.

It is rather difficult to play on
Bobrow’s snake serve,
Be as wise as not to hit hard, just roll
and maintain pure nerve.

Some learn forehand while
others backhand faster,
But you have to be competent
in both to be a game master.

Improved footwork and drill
enhances agility,
Rigorous practice
improves overall ability.

With more and more matches,
you learn to tackle your opponent,
And for a game of table tennis
this forms an essential component.

Advancing from an amateur to
professional level drills,
Day by day you learn
better and better skills.

The ranking of the players time to time
switches up-and-down,
You never know one fine day, you will
receive the winner’s crown.

The game demands focus, patience
and cool temperament,
To play in the event to the
spectator’s amazement.

With hours of daily practice and a stroke of luck
you may find a place in the finals
Rejoicing the moments of triumph
by winning glistening medals!

          By Viraj Ajgaonkar, age 10, grade 6, Mumbai, India. He adds:
”Being a sports-enthusiast and an intermediate level table tennis player, I have tried to pen down the nitty-gritty of this racquet game in this poem using ‘simile’ as one of the figures of speech while comparing the playing surface with a mini-playground! I also like to share the experiences that I have had while playing in different level tournaments and the essential requisites with the special mention of the ‘GOATS’ (Greatest player of all times—China’s Ma Long, France’s Alex Lebrun, and Adam Bobrow, American table tennis commentator whom I greatly adore) through this poem. As a matter of fact, I do have a strong bonding, a feeling of camaraderie with my duo (my racquet-ping pong balls) and one can’t deny the fact that a sport teaches you significant skills and life values even at a very early age!
“I like to venture into varied activities and learn associated skills, which I feel is a life-long process. I envision myself to be a world-class table tennis player and grow up to be a sports coach or may pursue sports medicine! I wish to transform my passion into an initiative that would strengthen the feeling of ‘Love Sports’ in the minds of youngsters or rather every common individual.

”I also do a lot of sketching of famous personalities and exhibit interest in playing musical instruments like tabla and keyboard. I have drawn a sketch of Neymar da Silva santos Jr, a Brazilian professional soccer player as he is a great role model for young athletes. He is humble and gives 100% on the field. He posts funny videos of himself on social media and I relate myself to him as he is hyperactive and playful.”

Neymar da Silva Santos Jr, a Brazilian professional soccer player. Sketch by Viraj Ajgaonkar, age 10, India.

Name the Past for Our Future 

Name the Past for Our Future:

On the Armenian Genocide

By Laurel Aronian, age 17, Connecticut.

In 1915, the Armenian Genocide commenced—the systematic mass murder of 1.5 million Armenians by the Ottoman government. I wrote this poem as a representation of the ongoing effects of the genocide on Armenians; even survivors found their lives uprooted as they were forced to move to other countries and begin from nothing. This poem not only serves to comment on my ancestors’ abrupt relocation from their homeland but also as a reflection on how my opportunity to visit Armenia in 2019 allowed me to return to the place my ancestors unwillingly left behind—metaphorically restoring them to their native land and simultaneously instilling in me an appreciation for a culture and history that I will carry forward. 

“The Land Ahead”

Soot swirls around our footsteps,
the dust from our lives before.
Before, when we lived in the stony 
cliffs of the Caucasus.

With my family who sent me
on my own.
To start a new life.
A life away from those who had taken 
it from us.

The land that my family had lived 
on for hundreds of years was seized.
Bitlis, Diyarbekir, Erzurum, where I had
played in the long grass of the mountains with my brothers.

Luck is what saved me from the massacres.
I do not know 
what happened to my brothers,
who I had left
behind me.

The rocky road ahead is also littered
with dust.
It obscures my vision on all sides. 
I do not know what is ahead of me
or what I have left behind.

The smell of gasoline is strong
as I board the plane. 
I have left my home for the flight,
but will return in a jet 
moving as swift as an Eagle.

The sign above is in letters
I can’t read
Թռիչք դեպի Հայաստան տերմինալ 4A
Only one word is clear to me,
Հայաստան, Hayastan, where my 
second great-grandfather is from 
and where I 
am going.

Back in his day, 
there were no planes,
when he traveled to the US
Alone.

Did he know that his 
great, great-granddaughter would be going to his homeland?
His homeland where he had to leave
his home.

He left his country in the hope
that one day 
the part of him in me 
could return.

By Laurel Aronian, age 17, Connecticut. She adds: “I love to write in all genres (poetry, prose, journalism). I also enjoy taking photos and creating art. I have a passion for music and perform as a singer-songwriter and accompany on guitar. When I’m not writing or making music, I play competitive chess. My pieces also reflect the awe of nature, earth stewardship, and our planet’s majesty and magic.”

PS: Laurel entered the poem for our 2023 Youth Honor Awards last year at the age of 16.

Art in the Time of War: The Children of Zaporizhzhia

Art in the Time of War:  The Children of Zaporizhzhia

By Svitlana Budzhak-Jones, President, Sister’s Sister, Inc.

“Zaporizhzhia” by Yuriy Martynov, age 13, Ukraine.

The unprovoked, brutal war against Ukraine sadly has entered its third year. It has brought much destruction and sorrow to the people of Ukraine. Millions were displaced internally. Millions became refugees elsewhere in the world. Countless Ukrainian children have lost their homes, have difficulties in accessing education, health care and even basic necessities such as drinking water. Bomb shelters and cellars have replaced their rooms, metro benches have become their beds, and air raid sirens on a daily basis drone instead of school bells. While many Ukrainian men and women actively fight on the battlefield for their country, culture and independence, others stay dedicated to the children who remain in Ukraine.

The Central Southern city of Zaporizhzhia is under constant artillery shelling and aerial bombing. But the Center for Children’s and Youth Creativity in the city continues to operate, and attempts to create a safe space to safeguard the children’s childhood. The Gradient creative Computer Design Circle at the Center has not closed its doors even when its teacher Ms. Nadiya Chepiga was forced to flee Ukraine to Poland in the first months of heavy enemy assaults on the city. Ms. Chepiga then continued to work with her students online for the entire year before returning back to her home city and to her students.

The Gradient Circle is now in its thirteenth year of operation. Hundreds of children between the ages of 6 and 17 have learned to create beautiful art there and connect with their inner spirit, bringing them one step closer to becoming professional graphic designers and artists. The Circle creates a comfortable environment for shaping children’s creative abilities, meeting their individual needs for intellectual, moral, aesthetic, and creative development, shaping a culture that includes a healthy lifestyle and organizing their free time. The children learn the principles of drawing art objects, creating drawings and 3D images, acquiring skills in making artwork in various media and styles, learning the basics of graphic design, creating postcards, posters, calendars, and memorabilia. The children search for their individual style of work and aesthetic preferences, develop their creative imagination and fantasy, learn to take creative initiative, and develop their independence.

The Circle’s founding director and teacher Nadiya Chepiga is a creative artist herself, who has implemented numerous creative projects with her students, has helped them realize their creative vision and brought them to life, and trained hundreds of creative individuals. Despite the ongoing war, the students and their teacher continue participating in various nationwide Ukrainian and International competitions as well as in art exhibitions.

Life goes on even in the extremely challenging circumstances created by the war. The students and their teacher continue meeting twice per week. Frequently, instruction needs to be done online because of constant air raid warnings. But on Sundays, the students try to meet with their teacher in person in the Center. And if an air raid siren goes off, they seek cover in the basement (see below) or in corridors where they continue their lessons. Since the enemy missiles and bombs focus on destroying power plants, there is usually no heat, and the students wear winter coats and jackets during their lessons. Yet they enjoy their meetings and continue creating beautiful, original works of art.

Gradient Students Continue with their Art Classes in the Institute’s Basement.

Fifteen of their art creations were exhibited by the humanitarian aid organization Sister’s Sister (www.SistersSister.org) in State College, Pennsylvania on March 23, 2024 during a benefit concert for Ukraine. Sister’s Sister provides humanitarian support to the Ukrainian people, particularly to children, hospitals, orphanages, and the disabled in Ukraine, including State College’s sister city, Nizhyn, located in the Chernihiv region. The artwork exhibited at the concert was created by the students and enhanced with computer graphics under the supervision and guidance of their teacher. Their work draws, in part, on Ukrainian art, famous for its folk traditions and exquisite embroidery, the red and black threads of which represent happiness and sorrow. Sadly, there is too much of the black threads of sorrow in these difficult times for the children of Ukraine, while Nadiya Chepiga, whose first name means “hope,” brings hope to the children of Zaporizhzhia through art. For more information, please visit the websites linked to the QR codes below:

The children’s creativity will continue to be realized despite the nearly impossible conditions and their spirit will remain indominable!

 

 

 

By Svitlana Budzhak-Jones, Ph.D., President, Sister’s Sister, Inc. (www.SistersSister.org

Hummingbird by Artem Lopatyn, age 10.


“Mystery” by Yeva Pavrianidis, age 10


“Free” by Zlata Khalayim, age 10.


“Music Inspires” by Vyacheslav Sukhanov, age 14.


“Autumn” by Oleksandra Patoka, age 9.


“Thoughts” by Danylo Yerokhin, age 16.


“I Am Ukraine” by Danylo Yerokhin, age 15. The central figure in color is represented by a traditional Ukrainian embroidery against a large city background. The Ukrainian text above says: CONVENTION ON THE RIGHTS OF THE CHILD (left corner), and in the right corner, Article 30. A child has the right to enjoy his or her own culture.”


“Zaporizhzhian Oak Tree” by Edik Boitsev, age 13.


“Lord of the Forest” by Danylo Yerokhin, age 16.


“Ukraine, the Bountiful” by Kateryna Yuhayeva, age 14.


“Ukraine Right Now” by Polina Pustovit, age 17.


“The City in Your Head” by Danylo Yerokhin, age 16.


“Unity” by Polina Zakharova, age 12. The poster says: “The Responsibility Starts with Me.”


“Lviv” by Oleksandra Chepiha, age 12.


“Ocean Dweller” by Artem Panov, age 13.


“Mars” by Danylo Yerokhin, age 16.


 

“Ukrainian Village” by Danylo Usenko, age 12.


“Hare” by Oleksandra Vasyliyeva, age 10.


“Kitty” by Diana Kardinal, age 9.


 

Perspective

perspective

by Surabhi Verma, grade 11, California

 

female leader
            impossible

peaceful change
            impossible

violence eliminated
            impossible

full equality
            impossible

impossible, impossible.

its repetition,
bewilders me.

its presence,
bothers me.

its truth,
baffles me.

Impossible,
                  i    m    p o s s i b l e
                                                      i am Possible

Surabhi Verma, grade 11, California. She writes:

“I enjoy writing poetry and non-fiction and use writing as a form of expression and reflection. I have won several awards… and am a STEM blog writer for STEMpathize. When I’m not writing, I love playing the flute and spending time with my family and friends.

“I come from an Indian background and speak both English and Hindi. Though living in America, I find myself deeply connected to my Indian roots and culture, celebrating every Indian festival, going to the temple, and enjoying a variety of Indian dishes. My favorite part of an Indian event is that it gives an excuse to wear a lehenga!

“I am passionate about the flute, writing, and mental health. In the future, I hope to make an impact in the field of biomedical research while also being able to pursue my passions through providing affordable flute lessons, continuing to write, and taking part in advocating for mental health by creating more support programs.

”My poems are influenced by my experiences and cover a variety of topics, ranging from identity struggles and personal feelings to altering perspectives and the relationship between music and peace against violence.”

Memories of a Guava Tree

Memories of a Guava Tree

By Dawson Yee, age 13, grade 7, California.

My grandmother’s hands reach for my face
Feeling to be sure I am the child she remembers
Her mind has only enough space
for past Decembers.

My mother, father, and aunt turn in surprise
Her knotted hands grip my shoulders in recognition
With a teasing crinkle in her eyes
she calls my name, an intermission

Three years ago, she gave me a white guava seedling
With hardy red stems and elliptical leaves
She explained what it was needing
Learned from years of shielding it from disease.

Afterwards, she ushered me into the guest room, where she unearthed treasure:
An embroidered Japanese trinket box, a logic puzzle, an old plush toy
Her smiling eyes watched my curiosity with pleasure
As she entered the absurdly colorful world of a little boy.

But now we sit together watching nature shows
And she is like a sailor disappearing into a storm.
I can see her boat sinking but I’m not sure she knows
she’s lost her tiller and our roles will transform.

A logger chopping a tree flashes on the screen
She worries for the animals inside, knowing they are doomed.
I reach over her frail figure and push the remote to intervene
I tell her that our guava has finally bloomed.

—Dawson Yee, age 13, grade 7, California. Dawson writes:

“I see creative writing as a puzzle of wisdom. I’m 13 years old and in 7th grade but take high school English and philosophy at a local independent school. 

“I’ve also adored challenging myself to understand the symbolism behind not only prose such as in magical realism, but also the figurative language in poetry. When I recently analyzed “Boy and Egg” by Palestinian-American poet Naomi Shihab Nye, I found that searching for evidence of Nye’s purposeful line breaks and sound devices to convince a reader she was contrasting the innocence of a childhood immersed in nature versus the chaotic world to be beyond satisfying as a puzzle to solve. 

“I use my heritage as a third-generation Asian American to inform my writing, as it is an important part of how I view the world. I also write with an eye to health, both physical and mental, as I personally have several life-threatening allergies as well as Mass Cell Activation Syndrome, which shape my view of the world. My maternal grandmother, who recently passed away from Alzheimer’s disease, provided the basis for my poem “Memories of a Guava Tree.” In addition, I am influenced by my parents’ experiences as second-generation Americans growing up in predominantly non-Asian rural and inner-city U.S. communities and by my grandparents’ stories of the immigrant experience and their childhoods wrenched by memories of war and poverty. 

“I’m also an Event Coordinator for an online, international Asian American youth writers’ collective, Asian Youth Writers Alliance (asianyouthwritersalliance.com). In the writing groups that I’ve found surrounding these events and projects, where my classmates and fellow writers are insightful and tactful, I feel I have the space to put the puzzle of wisdom together. I would love to connect with a multicultural and global community of young writers who share the same values as these online initiatives. In finding literary magazines like Skipping Stones to share my writing, I realize more and more that I’m truly searching for the exact kind of wisdom and togetherness it provides.”

Affirmative Action

Affirmative Action Was Never Enough

By Alexandra de Graeve, age 13, New York.

When affirmative action was struck down, the New York Times interviewed a bunch of high school students. Connor, from St. Peter High School in Minnesota, said, “I like the idea of having diverse campuses but not at the expense of hard work. I think that everyone is equal so everyone should be treated equally and given the same opportunities. I believe that colleges should look more at the hard work put in by the students than at race.”

I don’t completely disagree or agree with Connor. I agree that everyone should be treated the same way and given the same opportunities, and that colleges should reward hard work. But not everyone gets the same opportunities, which diminishes diversity on campuses. Black students often attend poorly-equipped elementary, middle or high schools. This causes Black students who need help to not get any, which makes it more difficult for them to get into elite colleges. The question is, what should we do to change this for the better? Affirmative action was a controversial solution, but it did help marginalized students have a better chance at getting into good colleges, and on June 29, 2023 the U.S. Supreme Court ended it.

Affirmative action tried to help historically marginalized groups have better chances at getting into good colleges. According to NPR (National Public Radio), when the Supreme Court ended affirmative action, it ended “…the ability of colleges and universities—public and private—to do what most say they needed to do: consider race as one of the many factors in deciding which of the qualified applicants should be admitted.” Unfortunately, lots of people thought that students with lower scores would get into schools over students with higher scores. But, the truth is, if two students had the same SAT scores and the same quality for their essay, affirmative action let colleges pick the student from a marginalized group.

A student named Hamid from Glenbard West High School in Illinois said, affirmative action “…is not picking a minority student over a white student simply on the basis of race. Affirmative action literally means “the practice or policy of favoring individuals belonging to groups regarded as disadvantaged or subject to discrimination, over similarly qualified non-minority individuals.” The idea wasn’t to disadvantage privileged kids, but help less privileged ones. This was important because it would start a chain reaction, allowing less wealthy students to get better jobs, which would also help their kids do better, and their kid’s kids do better because they would have more opportunities.

Ending Affirmative action was a controversial decision. NPR  said, “Indeed, the reality is that in those places where affirmative action has been eliminated, there has been a severe drop in minority, and particularly, African American, admissions.” In its job of increasing diversity at schools, it worked. Affirmative action let more minorities into colleges. But even with it, there was still a severe wealth gap in marginalized groups. Without it, the wealth gap will grow again. Speaking to the NY Times, Amalia, a student at RFHS in Colorado, said, “Increasing diversity in schools, jobs, and major positions of power starts in colleges. So we need to include race in college applications.” We need more diversity among powerful people. We can’t have a congress that only has white and/or rich people in it. While Amalia is right, we also need to consider education at every level. It helps to get into a good college if you go to a good high school; it helps to get into a good high school if you go to a good middle school; it helps to get into a good middle school if you go to a good elementary school; it helps to get into a good elementary school if you go to a good preschool. It’s important to have access to quality education at every stage. Even when you’re really young.

To help students from marginalized groups access higher education we need more than just affirmative action. Tobz, of Baker High School said, “Now, of course, ideally, we wouldn’t need affirmative action. It probably isn’t even that effective at curbing racial biases and inequalities due to how limited its application would be. But it’s not a negative for anyone, and it has a reasonable and logical justification for existing.” While affirmative action is helpful, it isn’t going to change everything. We need more than that. To do well in school, you need accessible teachers, healthcare, a supportive family, food, and a home. Snacks, living close to school, having someone at home to help you, and extra curricular activities are all also very helpful. The government should make sure everyone has what they need to have a good education.

Contrary to what Connor believes, diversity isn’t just going to happen. There are too many things working against people from marginalized groups. For a while, some members of historically marginalized groups had better chances of getting into colleges because of affirmative action. That’s why the Supreme Court’s decision to end it was highly controversial. The truth is, affirmative action was a step in the right direction, but it was not enough. Now that it’s gone, we need to share our resources much more equitably so that everyone has access to a good education.

—Alexandra de Graeve, age 13, grade 7, New York. “I live in New York City but both my parents come from Europe. I speak English and Dutch, and I am taking French and Latin at my school. I don’t know what I want to be when I’m older, but I want math to be a part of it. I was annoyed at my English teacher for talking about affirmative action in a careless way, and so I researched it to find out more.”

A Call for Action: Muslims and Jews Find Community in Nature

A Call for Action: Muslims and Jews Find Community in Nature

A Convergence of Islamic and Jewish Perspectives on the Environment

By Emily Maremont, age 17, California.

In my fifth grade gardening class, I shared a shovel with a girl who had recently immigrated to the United States from Yemen. Here we were—me a Jew, her a Muslim—passing that rusty shovel back and forth across a row of red clay pots. Little did I know at the time, the act of cultivating that rooftop garden followed what our ancestors had done for thousands of years. Ancient teachings from both Islam and Judaism stress the importance of caring for the natural world. In America, the birthplace of the modern interfaith and environmentalist movements, the fight to combat climate change has the potential to foster deeper cultural understanding between Muslims and Jews.

Environmentalist narratives are prominent throughout the Quran. According to Islamic teachings, the essential elements of nature—earth, water, fire, forests, light—belong to all living organisms, not just to the human race. Humans, the guardians of nature, are discouraged from abusing or destroying natural resources: “He is the One Who produces gardens…Eat of the fruit they bear and pay the dues at harvest, but do not waste. Surely, He does not like the wasteful.” Planting trees, purifying rivers, and digging wells are also considered charitable deeds. Preventing water pollution is particularly significant given the role of water in daily worship. In the performance of ablution before prayer, Muslims are expected to exercise moderation as they wash themselves. In Mecca and Medina, The Prophet established the first protected areas in history, known in Arabic as hima. Within the bounds of protected areas, natural resources considered sacred were off limits during certain periods, and logging and grazing were prohibited.

Similarly, the Hebrew principles of bal tashchit (“do not destroy” or “do not waste”) and tikkun olam (“repair the world”) connect to the values of moderation and the sacredness of natural resources found in Islam. Themes of guardianship over nature are also woven into Jewish holidays. During Sukkot, Jews dwell in temporary structures called sukkot (it is a plural of the word Sukkah). Jewish law commands that a sukkah must have a thatched roof made of organic material while allowing a view of the sky and for rain to penetrate. This practice allows Jews to appreciate their relationship to nature more directly. Tu BiShvat, another holiday nicknamed “the new year of the trees,” coincides with the blooming of almond trees after dormancy during winter. Sixteenth century Kabbalists began the tradition of a seder (ritual meal) for Tu BiShvat, in which symbolic nuts, fruits, juices, and wines are featured. In the Midrash Ecclesiastes Rabbah, G-d says: “Do not corrupt or desolate my world; for if you do, there will be no one to repair it after you.’” This line resembles the foreboding of many contemporary environmental activists and scientists.

Historically, the natural world has played a major role in the relationships between Muslims and Jews. The Muslim conquest of the Iberian Peninsula resulted in the introduction of new agricultural practices from the Middle East and ushered in an era of general religious tolerance. New crops such as sugarcane and rice became parts of the culture of all who lived there: Arabs, Jews, other Europeans, etc. Sustainable irrigation practices involving the noria (waterwheel) and qanat (underground water channel) increased water supply. Historians call this agricultural transformation the “Islamic Green Revolution.” Córdoba, the capital of the Islamic Umayyad Caliphate (c. 711-1031), became the center of Sephardic Jewish life. Jews from all over Europe migrated to Spain, where the land supported their growing population. There was widespread transculturation of Jewish and Arab cultures in the sciences, philology, and literature. Against the backdrop of a shared, flourishing natural environment, Muslims and Jews coexisted peacefully.

In recent years, many Muslim and Jewish grassroots organizations and individuals have moved to the forefront of environmental activism. Green Muslims uses solar water heaters to heat water for ablution that thousands of worshipers perform in Washington, DC. Other organizations, including Eco-Halal, Green Ramadan, and Green Haj, are working to make Muslim traditions more sustainable. In 2022, twenty major Jewish organizations formed the Jewish Climate Leadership Coalition, which is committed to taking action against the urgent threat of climate change.

Youth are also prominent voices in this movement. Muslim American climate activists like Saad Amer and Zahra Biabani are spreading their message through social media, leading protests at the White House, and speaking at the United Nations. The Jewish Youth Climate Movement has chapters across the United States. Young Jews for a Green New Deal incorporates Jewish music, poetry, and celebration into their activism to engage more people. In a variety of ways, American Muslims and Jews of every age are taking up their traditional mantles as stewards of the earth.

Meanwhile, when I am walking through my neighborhood, I never see Muslims and Jews interacting with each other. While there are annual interfaith events between Jews and Christians at my synagogue, I never see similar events between Muslims and Jews. As someone who from a young age has strived to learn and appreciate other faiths, I cannot sit with the prospect that tensions always have to exist between our communities—no more than I can fathom the idea that our efforts to stop climate change are futile. I believe that multicultural understanding springs from having hard conversations about the complex world we live in. What better way to have hard conversations than out in nature, which we all value and enjoy? Yet as the Earth continues to suffer from carbon emissions, pollution, and other issues created by humans, such opportunities for connection are lost before we even realize they exist.

Through climate-focused interfaith partnerships, Muslims and Jews can find common ground. By developing community projects, organizing protests, and lobbying the government, Muslims and Jews can learn about each other’s values and traditions. In the process, they can become more comfortable with being in the same place—passing shovels back and forth underneath the leaves we all pray will change color come autumn, as centipedes march past on the ground and eagles circle overhead.

By Emily Maremont, age 17, California. Emily adds: “I enjoy writing and learning about history in order to gain new perspectives on the world. In my essay, I use a memory from my childhood as a starting place to look at climate activism through an interfaith and multicultural lens.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bibliography

1. Bsoul, Labeeb, Amani Omer, Lejla Kucukalic, and Ricardo H. Archbold. “Islam’s Perspective on Environmental Sustainability: A Conceptual Analysis.” Social Sciences 11, no. 6 (May 24, 2022): 228. https://doi.org/10.3390/socsci11060228.

2. Fitzwilliam-Hall, A.H. “An Introductory Survey of the Arabic Books of Filāḥa and Farming Almanacs.” The Filāha Texts. Last modified October 2010.
http://www.filaha.org/introduction.html#top.

3. Islam, Md Saidul. “Old Philosophy, New Movement: The Rise of the Islamic Ecological Paradigm in the Discourse of Environmentalism.” Nature and Culture 7, no. 1 (Spring 2012): 72-94. https://www.jstor.org/stable/43303917.

4. Jackson, Joelle. “Repairing Our World: Jewish Environmentalism through Text, Tradition, and Activism.” Folklife Magazine, January 12, 2022. https://folklife.si.edu/magazine/jewish-environmentalism-text-tradition-activism.

5. O’Brien, Becky. “Major Jewish Organizations Form Coalition to Act on Climate Crisis; Issue Open Call for Jewish Organizations Everywhere to Join.” Boulder Jewish News (Boulder, CO), September 15, 2022. https://boulderjewishnews.org/2022/major-jewish-organizations-form-coalition-to-act-on-climate-crisis-issue-open-call-for-jewish-organizations-everywhere-to-join/.

6. “Spain Virtual History Tour.” Jewish Virtual Library. https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/spain-virtual-jewish-history-tour.

7. Tirosh-Samuelson, Hava. “Nature in the Sources of Judaism.” Daedalus 130, no. 4 (Fall 2001): 99-124. https://www.jstor.org/stable/20027720.

8. Venkatraman, Sakshi. “As Eid and Earth Day coincide, young Muslims are driving the modern climate movement.” NBC News. Last modified April 23, 2023. https://www.nbcnews.com/news/asian-america/eid-earth-day-coincide-young-muslims-are-driving-modern-climate-moveme-rcna80485

How I Got My Idea

How I Got My Idea!

By Priya Elizabeth Kapur DeWinter, Grade 5, Massachusetts.

What’s your favorite food? Mine is ice cream. Have you ever wondered if ice cream could be a dress? Well, I wondered that, and it started many thoughts in my mind about designing clothes.

On the day I came up with the idea, I was sitting in Kindergarten wondering as I looked out the window. I saw a big apple tree and in that apple tree was a family of birds. “How beautiful,” I thought. I just love nature so I pulled out a piece of paper and started to draw a dress.

It had a black skirt with a red top. Across it was a green sash that reminded me of nature and the apple tree. It was a beautiful dress, it reminded me of my mom, and the beautiful things she wears. Only, she would prefer purple! The dress was beautiful and I showed it to my mom. She took a picture of it. As I got older, I looked at that picture and really started to focus on it.

Now that I’m older and going into 5th grade, I talk about my drawings. I never got to really do anything with my design after kindergarten. But, the summer before 5th grade, I finally got the opportunity to make the dress. My mom found me a sewing teacher for the summer and we started making MY dress. It was a little bit harder than I thought, but I realized nothing is impossible.

“Nothing is impossible,” I thought when I was little. Drawing is drawing but I never realized it could come to life! Drawing is easy for me but seeing the final outcome is not. You have to put thought into it and believe in yourself. I realized that no one is too young or old to start something new. And, not just for sewing, anything new, you can do! I started sewing classes and the first step was to practice. It took some learning before I could start sewing my own design. I loved learning new things and was so excited to sew the dress!

You’ve learned what I wanted to do from a young age. Now, you should go and find what you want to do. The world is full of stuff and different things to learn everyday. My dress was one dream that I never knew could become real. I really never thought this would actually happen and I loved learning how to sew and my new dress!

 

“My name is Priya Elizabeth Kapur DeWinter. I share my full name because it tells you about my family. My mother is 100% Indian—which is where the Kapur comes from—and my father is half Irish and half Belgian. DeWinter is a Belgian name. 

“My maternal grandparents are from India. I’ve never been and hope to go one day. I speak Hindi and English. I’m an older sister. I hope I can be an author or fashion designer when I’m older. I got inspired one day to ask my mom if I could sew the dress that I designed when I was 5 so I did and made it happen, which is what my story is about along with pictures of my original design as well as the dress.”