Heart to Heart is a leadership program for Palestinian and Israeli youth aged 14-15, who annually visit Ontario for a three-and-a-half-week camp-based program. For the past two years, MY Voice has hosted a collaborative workshop with Heart to Heart to connect participants with local Muslim youth. This year was my first year attending, and it ended up being one of the most eye-opening days of my life. Going into this workshop, I didn’t have any expectations, but walking out, I was awestruck. Taking a seat with these kids from different walks of life and seeing their opinion on certain topics made me realize we aren’t all that different.

I connected eyes with two boys in the circle, Kareem and Mohamed, both radiating with joy and confidence. Before I could even approach them, Mohamed curiously asked me what other languages I spoke. As soon as I answered, he followed through with a series of other questions about me. I have never seen someone so genuinely interested in me and my life. Mohamed only knew me for 2 hours yet he showed more interest in me than more than half the people in my life right now. It’s refreshing to see that people with such sincerity still exist in our world.

After the icebreaker, we did a painting activity. The activity was a medium to get an idea of what kids from Israel and Palestine think of when they hear the word “neighbour”. Going into this activity, I had the preconceived notion that all these kids were refugees or kids who were struggling in life. Because of what I perceived in the media, I already had these assumptions about these kids.

When I saw the paintings that the kids made, I tended to associate them with violence and sadness, when in reality, after talking with the kids about their artwork, I was beyond wrong. All the underlying themes and ideas revolved around peace, hope and selflessness. For example, when I looked at Mohamed’s artwork, it looked like what I thought was one person throwing grenades at multiple other people, with a huge title that read “Help”. However, Mohamed made me crouch down to his level, eye to eye as he explained that it was a painting of his uncle helping those around him. I felt so stupid but I also had a complete change of perception.

Why am I conditioned to jump to the conclusion that this boy is in trouble and has a terrible life? Why am I conditioned to feel sorry for people like Mohamed? Why am I conditioned to label him and stereotype him? I may not be doing this intentionally, but it is insane how our subconscious can lead us to jump to conclusions this big.

I will treasure this moment with all my heart. That 14-year-old boy changed my perception of our world by such small actions. I truly do intend on getting more involved in these types of organizations and interacting with people that I normally would not have the chance to. There are so many stories to listen to that we can only hear once we break down those barriers and start talking to one another. Everyone should experience this once in their life. You will truly benefit from seeing the world from another light.