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Education for Peace

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Last month, I had the pleasure and honor of attending the Third Israeli Presidential Conference in Jerusalem as a panel speaker and guest of President Shimon Peres. This conference was dedicated to "the crucial decisions that will make a better tomorrow."

The afternoon of the conference, I visited the Max Rayne Jerusalem School, an inspirational place where half of the student population is Israeli and half Palestinian. Students learn together, across all divides, speaking both Arabic and Hebrew, learning and playing together without difference. This visit reminded me, once again, that the most crucial decisions we can make for a better tomorrow concern how to raise and educate our children.

I come from Colombia, a country that, like Israel, has experienced decades of bitter violence. I started Barefoot Foundation when I was 18 in an effort to help stop the cycle of brutality that I saw there. I was convinced that increasing access to education was one of the few options a country like Colombia had to win the battle against poverty and violence. The schools that Barefoot Foundation continues to build and operate in Colombia are now educating about 6,000 students. Our projects in Haiti and South Africa serve hundreds more.

I came to Israel to share some of the lessons I've learned and the experiences I've gathered working in the field of education and by witnessing its fast and transformative power: First, children are born expecting peace, and it is our job to protect this expectation as long as possible. Second, education is an excellent investment because you do not have to wait 100 years, or even 20 years, to see tangible results; the speed of return and benefit to humanity are unparalleled. An early investment -- the earlier, the better -- lasts a lifetime, or even many lifetimes, as it brings up whole families and communities. As a child grows and begins to learn, the family's investment of time, energy and money deepens and becomes more profound. The child's value rises, the family's social value rises, and thus, the community's value rises.

There is no other investment that has the kind of social multiplier effect that early education has. It is an incredible thing to nurture and watch grow and spread. Seeing the students flourish at Max Rayne School -- as with visiting the children in my schools in Colombia who are now on their way to college instead of guerilla armies -- only reaffirms my conviction that education is the very substance of peace.

We have so many shared problems to solve. Our future is not assured. Children today have incredible challenges ahead of them. They need to be ready. Let's give them safety. Let's give them open minds. Let's give them all the love and encouragement we can. Let's give them the chance to build a world that is better than the one they entered. The future desperately needs them to succeed. They are the hope we might have to find peace.