KIM FEINBERG

South Africa,

Kim Feinberg has developed interactive educational initiatives to promote tolerance and cultural sensitivity in a post-apartheid, multicultural society.

This profile below was prepared when Kim Feinberg was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2003.

INTRODUCTION

Kim Feinberg has developed interactive educational initiatives to promote tolerance and cultural sensitivity in a post-apartheid, multicultural society.




THE NEW IDEA

Kim's work is enabling young people and others to draw lessons from local apartheid and other global injustices that groups have experienced at the hands of others. She identified the lack of understanding as a major cause of racial discrimination, and she is empowering a new generation of South Africans with tools to make better decisions in shaping their society. Kim believes that, for young people without systematic and dynamic ways to engage society on the lessons of the past apartheid, there is a very real possibility of history repeating itself.

Kim addresses the often-overlooked steps required in achieving racial harmony. In post-apartheid South Africa, focus has been placed on analyzing the effects of violence and apartheid, but not much attention has been given to the area of building tolerance and giving children skills to deal with differences. Therefore, Kim created the Foundation for Tolerance Education, whose central message is that "crimes of hatred and prejudice must never be overlooked," but instead must form the basis of inculcating the values of tolerance and acceptance. The foundation offers a variety of practical life-skills modules contained in a series of workbooks, lecture series, and classroom activities to help children understand historical instances of oppression and learn the dangers of intolerance. To achieve deep and sustainable impact, the foundation is focusing on offering these tools first to youth within schools and then progressively rolling out interventions to school administrators, parents, surrounding communities, the private sector, and beyond.




THE PROBLEM

Post-apartheid South Africa is struggling to heal from the terrible wounds caused by over 100 years of racial intolerance and injustice. These attempts have ranged from the creation of memorials and museums, like the Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg, to discussions in public forums, the most noteworthy being the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). This commission was established in 1995 to help the country make a peaceful political transition to a representative democracy. The Minister of Justice at the time, Mr. Dullah Omar, noted, "a commission is a necessary exercise to enable South Africans to come to terms with their past on a morally accepted basis and to advance the cause of reconciliation."

It is undeniable that the TRC was one of the most important instruments in easing a peaceful transfer of power from the white minority to the black majority government. Moreover, the commission can be credited with providing an international model for political transitions. Its goals are for all South Africans to learn the painful truths about their past, for survivors to forgive and attain some peace by learning of the plight of loved ones, and for perpetrators to express sentiments of remorse and regret. Nevertheless, key political figures have continued to deny responsibility for past crimes, and the concept of full disclosure has not permeated all facets of society. These shortcomings suggest that the effectiveness in real racial reconciliation remains incomplete.

The absence of dynamic and sustained efforts to internalize the lessons of apartheid could be costly for South Africa. This is especially so among young people, the much-touted leaders of tomorrow, who did not fully experience the indignities of the past. There are some who, today, claim that the past is inconsequential to the present. An investigation into this issue by the International Child and Youth Care Network confirmed this trend noting that "barely eight years after apartheid was formally ended, many young South Africans see the white-rule era as a history as distant as World War II and as irrelevant to their lives." Not only are they unaware of the significant hardships faced; they also do not know of many of the political figures and change agents involved in the overthrow of the apartheid regime.

Expressions of racial intolerance are frequently displayed in all sorts of public and private forums. In early 2003, for example, the law enforcement community uncovered a plot by white extremists to violently overthrow the black-led government. This, after a series of 10 bomb blasts by white extremists in the Gauteng and Mpumulanga Provinces, claimed about a dozen lives. Therefore, the danger exists that upcoming generations in South Africa will not learn the important lessons of tolerance and diversity. This increases the possibility of future intergroup strife. The Foundation for Tolerance Education has been called upon on several occasions by the Department of Education (DOE) to intervene when demonstrably racial incidents occur in schools. Unfortunately, as schools are becoming increasingly integrated, the Ministry of Education and school systems throughout the country have yet to effectively establish inclusive environments for learners from different backgrounds or to provide widespread tolerance-building programming.




THE STRATEGY

The realization of Kim's ambitious goal of creating a culture of tolerance and understanding in a post-apartheid, racially diverse society is a multistep process. She is beginning with those whom she feels will be more readily accepting of her work–South African youths. Since the Foundation for Tolerance Education began in 1997, it has gained ground in over 70 schools across the country and reached approximately 75,000 children.

Kim observed that while young people are receiving some information regarding the value of tolerance, modes of delivery are not "hitting home" and are not designed to capture the attention of young people. Moreover, since youth in South Africa matured during apartheid's wane, they did not experience the harsh indignities of that period and consequently, cannot fully comprehend the consequences of institutionalized discrimination.

Kim's first approach in addressing the deficits is to enliven teaching and apply it to situations that young people find themselves in on a daily basis. She has engaged witnesses and survivors of various atrocities such as the Jewish Holocaust, the Rwandan Genocide, and apartheid as facilitators in oral history lessons. These survivors encourage dialogue while sharing their own experiences of hatred and intolerance with program participants.

The second strategy of her intervention involves addressing the fundamental roots of discrimination that she sees as a sense of insecurity and depressed critical thinking capacity. She tackles these causes through a combination of theoretical inputs and role playing offered by the foundation's educators and activists. The messages imparted are ones of cultural sensitivity, individual worth, and courage to hold to one's beliefs despite extraordinary peer pressure. In addition, her manuals are infused with theoretical excerpts from internationally accepted and legislated norms protecting the dignity of human beings. Her program is taught in conjunction with practices espoused by the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF).

Her third strategy of ensuring the sustainability and "buy-in" of the module from school administrators is designed to avoid a demise similar to other racially conscious interventions. The failure of other programs to achieve deep and long-lasting impact among students is due to the programs' one-time nature and school administrators' perception of them as intrusive. In each school where the foundation operates, there is a sustained effort to convert at least one teacher as the project's adult champion who then ensures that the programs are integrated into classroom situations. In conjunction with educational materials provided by the foundation, teachers receive anti-bias and anti-discrimination training from a senior facilitator from the Department of Education. To ensure complete absorption of the course materials, the modules offered are designed to be explored progressively over a four-year period. In order to have maximum impact across the country, Kim is lobbying the Department of Education for her program to be formally integrated into all school curriculums.

Kim also believes that while her intervention is most leveraged among young people in schools, there is a critical need for the tools to be offered to every member of society. She recognizes that she is working in a complex area of behavior change so her strategic approach is to intervene first among young people who are more malleable and then to reach out to adults. Children often take what they learn and "bring it home"; therefore, the program has the potential to affect the mindsets of families and entire communities. Additionally, she is offering the foundation's programs to all adults–teachers, school administrators, parents, and members of the private sector. Since Kim is convinced that tolerance is of universal value and there are other reconciliatory initiatives that the foundation could learn from, she has begun to reach outside of South Africa and partner with others who have suffered from ethnic injustice, for example, Rwandan teachers. Still, Kim is determined not to overstretch her foundation and will focus her work first among young people in schools.




THE PERSON

Kim grew up in an environment filled with trauma. Her life of privilege in apartheid was full of personal anguish as she repeatedly witnessed her black, domestic caretaker being abused and harassed. At the age of 10 and 14 she lost her stepfather and biological father respectively. Her experience instilled in her a strong belief against all forms of discrimination and a conviction that, despite the wish to simply forget past atrocities, there was in fact a lot to learn from them.

In the early 1990s, when she learned of the Shoah Foundation, which was created to document personal histories of holocaust survivors around the world, she leapt at the opportunity to pioneer the initiative in South Africa. Incurring all costs herself, she flew to the headquarters in Washington, D.C. and convinced them to appoint her as their South African representative. She and her team completed their documentation of personal struggles of apartheid in record time, and their work became regarded as one of the best collections of eyewitness testimonies around the world. However, Kim was not satisfied with simply recording personal stories of oppression. She wanted to make this information more accessible and prevent such tragedies from recurring. Her observations of the disregard that young people felt toward apartheid compelled her to create an initiative that would bring to life the lessons of global atrocities for young people. In 1997 she created the Foundation for Education Tolerance.

Kim Feinberg founded The Tomorrow Trust in 2005 to give a "hand-up" - not a hand-out - to orphans and vulnerable children in South Africa through formal education and holistic life-skills preparation.




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