Among the different events that St Catharine’s hosted this summer was the return of the EXCEL (Exploring Conflict, Education, and Leadership) Institute residential workshop that brought together Jewish and Arab educators from Israel and Palestine with their British counterparts.
Organised by Jerusalem Peacebuilders in partnership with Retorika for Multiculturalism, the EXCEL Institute’s intensive programme aims to increase educators’ capacities to integrate the practices of peacebuilding and youth leadership in their classrooms and curricula through a combination of experiential and hands-on sessions suitable to adaptation for high school classrooms.
All three components of the programme are conducted in English for reasons of neutrality and also to advance the participants’ language skills. While Level I and Level II take place in Jerusalem and Nazareth respectively, the EXCEL Institute prefers to bring educators to the UK for the Level III residential workshop to enable them to connect with educators from diverse backgrounds from Israel and the UK and benefit from sessions led by Amnesty International, Solutions Not Sides and English language experts. The participants' schools will be partnering during the forthcoming academic year to provide an opportunity for meaningful encounters between their students.
Back in 2019, St Catharine’s hosted and sponsored the original EXCEL Institute Level III workshop for the first ever cohort of educators to participate, thanks to connections nurtured by Dr Peter Wothers (1988, Natural Sciences; Fellow 1997).
Dr Elias Farah, CEO of Retorika for Multiculturalism, commented:
“It is a truly amazing experience to be able to bring the EXCEL Institute back to St Catharine’s. Our participants love the location, from the accommodation at St Chad’s to dinner in the Ramsden Room. The College provides an inspiring, neutral backdrop for everyone to open up and establish deeper connections, as was evident at the end of the week when participants were planning exactly how they would introduce their students to each other once they get back home.
“On behalf of everyone involved, I want to express my heartfelt thanks to the St Catharine’s community, particularly Dr Wothers. Thanks to your help and support, we are creating meaningful change – I can personally vouch for the change we have already witnessed in the interactions between participants.”
During 17–24 July 2022, EXCEL Institute Level III workshop combined peacebuilding, critical reflection, networking, curriculum design and language studies to empower participants with an array of professional skills, relationships and recognition.
A Palestinian participant explained how much they had appreciated the experience:
“I would like to take this opportunity to express my thanks and appreciation for a job well done. We are taking the new learned skills, beliefs and effort that we put in the programme back to our families, schools and students in the hope of creating a much better society, community and future. Thank you!”
A Jewish Israeli participant added:
“This was an incomparable experience for Muslim, Christian, Druze and Jewish educators from Israel and Palestine. The level of scholarship in addition to the level of creativity made this week an unforgettable learning experience that we will all take back to our classrooms which will, in turn, enrich our students and expose them to perspectives on the Arab Israeli conflict they had never thought possible before. Hopefully this will then encourage them to be responsible, thoughtful informed and inspiring leaders of the next generations.”
The third cohort of educators is expected to begin the EXCEL Institute programme in Jerusalem on 21 August 2022 and will come to St Catharine’s in July 2023. There will also be a reunion of all three cohorts in January 2023.