A 12-year-old Haifa boy who initiated a series of projects promoting individual human rights in his school was rewarded with the European Human Rights Hero Award earlier this month in a special ceremony in Brussels.
Having worked under the auspices of the Israel branch of the Center of Scientology in partnership with the Youth for Human Rights organization, Don Shaul told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday how he organized a wide variety of activities at the Ehud School in Haifa, including a screening of the human rights-focused film United starring celebrities such as Isaac Hayes, Erika Christensen and Jenna Elfman, and the distribution of pamphlets highlighting the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
"It is important to raise awareness of these issues because there is a lot of violence in society and we have to stop it," explained Shaul, in a voice that sounded far wiser than his 12 years. "It feels good to know that what we did was recognized and I believe that I have seen a change in my immediate environment from the work we did."
"Representatives from the Education Ministry saw what we did too, and now we have their support and that of the mayor of Haifa to continue raising awareness of human rights among youth," continued Shaul. "Our movement has succeeded in making a difference," he added, "and I hope this model will be followed in other areas around Israel, too."
Shaul is one of a handful of youth in Israel involved in Youth for Human Rights, an international organization aimed at teaching youth around the globe about Human Rights and helping them become valuable advocates for the promotion of tolerance and peace. The movement recently joined forces with the Church of Scientology, a system of beliefs and practices created by L. Ron Hubbard in 1952 as a self-help philosophy, which also advocates human rights issues.
Dalit Vilhelmsen, officer of special affairs in the human rights department of the local branch of the Center of Scientology that provided Shaul with the tools for his project and nominated him for the award, said there were currently more than 200 people studying Scientology in Israel and a further thousand involved with the center's social awareness projects.
"We run many programs in the community to raise awareness of human rights issues such as trafficking in people and drug abuse," said Vilhelmsen, adding that Scientology can be followed concurrently with Judaism.
She added that Shaul traveled alone to Brussels to receive the award, which is given to young people who have made an impact in their area through stellar human rights activities and for putting into practice one or more of the rights laid out in the UN declaration. Shaul described to the conference, which included several European parliamentarians such as Spanish MEP Maria Badia and Claude Moraes from Britain, the work he had done in Israel.
The three other recipients of the award were film director and film festival organizer Concha Pinos, former colonel of the Ugandan army Samson Mande and 17-year-old Angelo Kreuzburger from Austria.
The ceremony was organized by Youth for Human Rights International and the European Foundation for Human Rights and Tolerance, with support from such organizations as United Sikhs International, the Church of Scientology and Help the Needy Foundation of Bulgaria.