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Heart of Los Angeles Builds Acceptance and Understanding During World Interfaith Harmony Week

"It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences." —Audre Lorde

At the Heart of Los Angeles (HOLA), celebrating diversity is what they’re all about. The HOLA Play for Peace club took World Interfaith Harmony Week as an opportunity to build upon this theme and develop a greater understanding and appreciation of their differences.

The games were facilitated by Loren Rubin, Senior Program Director at HOLA, and featured three of HOLA’s after school programs: First was the Youth Facilitators program, which trains students who will lead their own play sessions soon enough. According to Loren, this group is exploring how to create a more inclusive world through their interactions with others. They broke the ice with ‘Infinite Loop.’ To play, students get into pairs. One person fastens a length of rope around their wrists, like handcuffs. The second person follows suit, but only after looping their cord through the first one. The object is not to remove the handcuffs, but to untangle oneself from one’s partner without untying any knots. It is just as difficult as it sounds.

Looking back on the activity, students raised doubts that a solution is even possible but, nonetheless, they committed to working with their partners and were able to enjoy the experience. The Youth Facilitators also played ‘Koosh Ball Toss:’ A pair tosses a ball between themselves, stepping further and further away from each other with every turn. They continue on in this manner for several rounds, but with each successful round comes a challenge: first they are tasked with finding traits they share in common, but later they must find things on which they differ. Thus, as they step further apart they grow closer to each other. It was interesting to see the different levels on which the children connected; responses ranged from “we both like Anime,” to “my family is from Bangladesh, and your family is from Mexico.”

Next up was the Leadership 101 group. In this team, they are exploring how to strengthen group dynamics by appreciating different perspectives, celebrating diversity, and empowering each other. The main focus of their session was practicing effective communication. The 8th graders achieved this by playing ‘Helium Hoop,’ a game that encourages students find constructive ways to interact with each other while working towards a common goal. Furthermore, they expressed their gratitudes and hopes in a game called ‘Earth Ball.’ The ball, representing our world, is passed around as a talking piece. Upon catching it, each participant shares one thing they are grateful for, and one hope they have for the world:

“I am thankful for my family.” “I am grateful for HOLA.” “I appreciate the support I get from my friends.” “I am grateful for getting to know people better.”

and then:

“I wish that we could all get along better.” “I hope for less pollution and global warming.” “I hope for less fighting in the world.” “I wish that our government would respect us all.” “I am hopeful for more fun and friendships.”

The last and youngest group, SmartStart, consisted of 2nd and 3rd graders. HOLA’s SmartStart program aims to provide elementary school students with a fun environment in which to achieve academic and personal advancement. As such, the group has been exploring two concepts: “what makes a good friend?" and “what does it mean to be a peacemaker?” The SmartStart participants opened their activities with games that honed their creative thinking and active listening skills before moving on to a ‘Moonballathon.’ In this game, students are tasked with keeping the ‘moonball’ afloat and constantly on the move. Because no one is allowed to hog the ball, and everyone must make contact with it at least once, the game compels participants to cooperate with and support each other. In reflecting on the activity, the children identified key lessons, namely that:

"Sometimes you have to take risks for the group." "You shouldn’t be afraid to ask for what you need." "Sharing." and, most importantly, "Never give up."

The SmartStart kids rounded out their week with a conversation about Interfaith Harmony. After discussing how this theme applies to their core objectives and learning concepts, students shared insights such as:

“No matter who you are or what you believe you should feel welcome.” “I like to learn about people’s religions. It’s interesting to me.” “People should get along no matter if they have different religions.”

The rest of the world could stand to learn a thing or two from them.