Reducing conflict is a top priority for Mohand Arezki Lahidiri, who dreams of building a school based on peace and tolerance in Algeria.
The English teacher from Tizi Ouzou took part in the Leaders for Democracy Fellowship (LDF), a program that brings emerging leaders from the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) regions to the U.S., with the goal of teaching his own community about tolerance and religion, a salient issue in Algeria following years of violence and unrest.
The early nineties marked the start of a violent rift between the Algerian government and various rebel groups, following the Islamic Salvation Front party’s electoral win. It was the beginning of the almost decade long Algeria Civil War.
This violent past prompted Arezki to follow in his father’s footsteps and become a teacher, and to advocate against violence in school and in the community.
“My work focuses first on civic education,” he says. “We try to teach people and inspire them to participate in the community. The most important thing is to teach them to be tolerant, respectful and patient, and to be able to peacefully resolve problems.”
Mr. Arezki decided to participate in the LDF program, which is run by the non-profit World Learning and funded by the U.S. Department of State, after hearing about it from a colleague.
“I thought that the program was interesting because it focuses mainly on leadership, and it teaches methods such as how to implement a new project. It helps you to be part of society and to be a leader.”
He says the program gave him a clearer understanding of different cultures and ethnicities.
Algeria is home to a mix of ethnicities, including Berbers, Arabs, and many others, and Arezki believes that it is important to work with everyone.
“One thing that ties [together] all the people is our country Algeria. We share the past and we live together in Algeria,” he says.
The first part of his fellowship focused on academics; participants studied leadership, politics, communications, and advocacy at the University of Virginia.
They then interned at various organizations suited to their interests. For Arezki, it was the School of Conflict Analysis and Resolution at George Mason University. It was an opportunity he will never forget.
“We learned about conflict based on identity, region, borders, and politics. I also learned how resolutions help mitigate and resolve conflicts.” Arezki says working with a U.S. organization offered great networking experience, and has enabled him to start planning his conflict resolution school in Algeria working with a professor he met at George Mason University.
“We agreed together to set up a very important project based on conflict identity, where she will teach people about identity and train teachers about religion-based conflict. [We will] teach how ethnicity leads to conflict, but also how ethnicity can mitigate conflict,” he adds.