In 2018, the Year of Zayed prompted the UAE community to reflect on the vision of the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, Founding Father of our Nation, as well as its legacy through the UAE’s incredible achievements since the country’s birth in 1971. It was only natural that His Highness Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, President of the UAE and Ruler of Abu Dhabi, declared 2019 as the Year of Tolerance, as it upholds tolerance as the most important ingredient that empowers cultures and helps communities thrive and economies prosper.
In this very spirit instilled by our forefathers, I am proud to say that the UAE community is a true melting pot of tolerance, cohesion, respect and acceptance of the other. Its model has stood the test of time and made the UAE a global model for cultural understanding and cooperation. Tolerance isn’t just synonymous with respect, it also means acceptance and appreciation of the diversity of our world's cultures. It is the catalyst that opens people’s minds to understanding others and embracing our differences so we can complement each other and contribute towards a common greater good.
As we get ready to welcome the world at Dubai’s Expo 2020 in less than 450 days, the Year of Tolerance serves as a reminder that nations built on values of tolerance, love and respect are those that can achieve lasting peace, security and stability in their development journeys. The fact that 192 countries have confirmed their participation to the global event already makes it the most inclusive and international Expo ever organized, and is a true reflection of the UAE’s role in bringing nations together under one umbrella to nurture peace through cultural and commercial exchanges. The UAE government has also demonstrated its determination to use education as a means to teach the merits and spread the values of tolerance among the youth and future generations, with the ultimate goal of creating tolerant communities and enabling global peace.
Society is getting unequivocally more diverse, as it has never been easier to travel around the world, work abroad and even live in a foreign country for long periods of time. Small immigrant populations settle down and slowly create a support system for their community to grow into large diasporas that thrive across generations. Some would adopt their host country to the point of not even wanting to return to their homeland.
The UAE is such a host country. In the Emirate of Dubai last year, it was estimated that expatriates from all over the world accounted for around 92% of the 3.2 million population. As a result of hosting more than 200 nationalities, we live in an extremely diverse society, wherein one single school classroom could include children from over ten different nationalities. The education system had to adapt adequately to ensure that children from very different cultural backgrounds can co-exist together in a classroom and benefit from learning material that is relevant to all, while staying true to the local specificities of the UAE.
In teaching respect in schools, educationalists believe education was simply about instilling certain values. But teaching respect does not necessarily pave the way for tolerance. By definition, respect is a high regard for someone or something that we believe is of a higher standard, but it does not provide for the other side of the spectrum. In stark contrast, tolerance is the ability to endure and accept something different that we might not agree with. The difference is striking because respect requires knowledge and opinion, although the essential skill of tolerance is, in fact, making the distinction between fact and opinion. Tolerance requires critical thinking, complex problem solving, sometimes creativity and most often some emotional intelligence. It is much more complicated to assimilate than respect, but it is essential because it makes students think differently, and because this is a much more inclusive approach to society, especially towards members of the community who face difficulties that prevent them from being competitive and earning respect from others.
Education spreads tolerance and strengthens the bonds that hold peaceful communities together. The UAE government has been even more pro-actively promoting tolerance since the appointment of a Minister of State for Tolerance in 2016, and a Minister of Tolerance in 2017, both of which propose policies and initiatives that encourage cultural understanding and provide opportunities equally and without prejudice. Earlier this year, Abu Dhabi witnessed the first visit of a Pope in the Middle East with a warm welcome from non-Muslims and Muslims alike, during which Pope Francis headed a historic open-air Papal Mass. Coinciding with the International Day of Tolerance on 16th November and representing a cornerstone of the Tolerance Week, Dubai will be hosting the 2nd edition of the World Tolerance Summit in November, an event which brings together government leaders, key figures from the public and private sectors, peacekeeping ambassadors and change-makers from across the world to discuss the importance of tolerance, peace and equality, and celebrate diversity.
Tolerance is an intrinsic value and a key trait of our social fabric.In the field of education, it means ensuring that no gender is favored or that people of determination enjoy the same opportunities as other children, whether in academic studies or sporting activities. Our country’s schools are an amazing reflection of what our society is; all children discover each other’s cultures and traditions in an educational and recreative context and in the process, they learn that we are all not so different and that we all wish have similar aspirations. It is essential that society accepts this reality from an early age and within a carefully nurturing environment.
Dubai Cares shares the same determination in all its initiatives, whether through its support of unprivileged children and youth in developing countries, or people of determination in the UAE and abroad. Our education programs contribute to global stability, prosperity and peace. Our community engagement initiatives such as the Walk for Education, Volunteer Emirates or Volunteer Globally engage thousands of UAE volunteers and constitute a vibrant demonstration of inclusion and cooperation. Such domestic dedication to humanitarian causes shows a genuine positive image of the UAE globally, and demonstrates our nation’s commitment towards peace and stability in the world, which are important conduits for sustainable development.
The UAE has become a global leading force in openly promoting tolerance through all layers of its incredibly diverse and multi-cultural society, and spares no effort in multiplying and diversifying initiatives to spread awareness and keep its population engaged and committed to this cause. Dubai Cares is proud to play its part and contribute to this societal progress that will ultimately benefit all people of the UAE and the rest of the world. Tolerance can become a genuinely global value, embraced by all, but the world as we know it today needs to change. Let's educate all children and make sure they have what it takes to be that change.