More than 500 students from around the world came together in Buenos Aires from October 29 to November 1, 2018 to participate in “The 3rd World Youth Encounter,” organized by World ORT and the Pontifical Scholas Occurrentes Foundation. ORT Argentina was event host and the ORT delegation of 57 representatives hailed from Mexico, Brazil, Colombia, Spain, Israel and South Africa. These students not only shared their ideas and passions with young people from all over the world, but also had the unique chance to build relationships with peers from other ORT countries.
Students from the United States, Haiti, Italy, Mozambique, Paraguay, Peru, Portugal and the Dominican Republic also took part in this unique event.
Scholas Occurrentes, or Scholas, was founded in Buenos Aires in 2001 when Jorge Bergoglio, now Pope Francis, was Archbishop. Originally called “Escuela de Vecinos” or “Neighbor” or “Sister Schools,” it brought together young people of all backgrounds: Public and private school students, Jews, Catholics, Protestants and Muslims. Today it is an international organization endorsed by the Pope. ORT students in Argentina have long been involved in Scholas’ “Escuela de Vecinos” in which they identify common concerns with peers and work together to develop solutions.
Pope Francis saluted the gathering in a video message to the students, thanking all who made the event possible. “I would like to celebrate, together with you, this meeting; a meeting of people, a meeting of different religions, countries, languages and realities; a meeting from different identities,” he said. “We are not something which is fully defined or established. We are on the way and we are growing. And on the way, we encounter diverse identities to enrich each other.”
Dario Werthein, chair of World ORT’s Board of Trustees, signed an agreement at the Vatican with World Director of Scholas Occurrentes José María del Corral to stage this conference. He said the experience of the conference has been “a pleasure for all of us to share with all these kids from around the world.”
Arianna Lozada, a student at ORT Colegio Estrella Toledano in Madrid, commented, “What impacted me the most was the amount of talented and amazing people around the world. I came back with great ideas and projects, such as working on my identity and working for the future of our generation and others.”
Also from ORT Madrid, David Keslassy explained how the trip made him think about life for teenagers in other countries. “I’ve learned we aren’t very different and one of the things most people like is music; this connects us a lot. We were all like a big family, learning from each other.”
As part of the event, conference participants visited a campus of ORT Argentina, regarded as one of the finest schools in the country.
Amelie Esquenazi, ORT Education Network coordinator for Latin America, said students had been especially moved by hearing Holocaust survivors’ testimonies. “Many students have never had the opportunity to know first-hand what really happened,” she explained. “They talked about human rights, dignity, horror… and especially about losing their loved ones.”
In Argentina, the ORT schools in Buenos Aires have more than 8,000 students. More than 80% of all Jewish students attending a Jewish high school there are enrolled at ORT.