Opening remarks at the Final Teachers’ Workshop of the Visual World Foundation’s “Your Decision..” project

Remarks by Deputy Chief of Mission David J. Kostelancik

at the Final Teachers’ Workshop of the Visual World Foundation’s “Your Decision.Training Bystanders to Become Upstanders” Project

September 23, 2016


Good afternoon, Ladies and Gentlemen!  First of all, I would like to say thank you to Ms. Kozák for the kind invitation to the Final Teachers’ Workshop of “Your Decision.Training Bystanders to Become Upstanders” – this important anti-discrimination pilot project in Hungary, born from international cooperation and the contributions of all the teachers and students who participated.  I imagine all of you must be tired on a Friday afternoon!  I know how I feel after my first few weeks in my office, so I can only guess how you might feel at the start of the school year, teaching so many energetic children returning from summer vacation.  So all the more so, thank you all for coming today.

As you may know, I just recently arrived to Hungary as Deputy Chief of Mission of the U.S. Embassy and it is really an honor for me to be here with you today to get a glimpse into what Hungarian civil society organizations and educators do together to fight discrimination and increase tolerance and multiculturalism in education.  While you were attending the guided tour of Capa Center, I had a chance to view the installation created by many of your own students and I must admit I am quite impressed!

I find the “Your Decision. Training Bystanders to Become Upstanders” project remarkable for several reasons.  First, I strongly believe that when it comes to tolerance and inclusion, it all starts with education — and education cannot start early enough.  Our first teachers are, of course, our family, especially the model of our parents.  As a father myself, I know this from my own personal experience as well.

But beyond the family and what children learn at home, it is teachers and educators who will have the most profound impact on the lives on the lives of our children.  Teachers and educators must set good examples to children of all ages – it is you who have embarked on this noble, sometimes tiresome, but always rewarding venture of sensitizing our children to the most pressing issues of society and instilling in them the value of having an open mind, of critical thinking, of tolerance, diversity, and inclusion.

And I’m sure “Your Decision. Training Bystanders to Become Upstanders” was an excellent tool to help you with that, especially the interactive approach to exploring the photographs and other content provided.  I’m certain that one aspect that led to the effectiveness of this project is the fact that students could become personally involved in the process by lending their creative voices to the installations.

The concept and goal of this project — training bystanders to be “upstanders” — is definitely applicable to all present-day societal issues and tensions as well, whether we are talking about the recent migration crisis affecting Hungary and the whole of Europe last year, or racism and discrimination in the United States.

I would like to commend all of you who have taken part in this great initiative, and encourage the rest of you – including the alumni of our Holocaust Teacher Training program here with us today – to find opportunities in the future to collaborate with each other.

Speaking of future opportunities and collaboration, I wanted to bring to your attention an exhibition the U.S. Embassy is supporting in October by one of the greatest masters of photography, David “Chim” Seymour, an American of Polish descent who immigrated to the United States in 1943 and rose to international fame afterwards.  Chim could only return to Europe after the war—“to a Europe of devastated landscapes and people.  In Europe, his emotional empathy found its chord in the children orphaned and scarred by conflict.  He shot several photos for the then-newly established UNICEF in countries hit the hardest by the war, including Germany, Austria, Greece, Italy, Hungary, and his native Poland.  His collection, entitled “Children of War,” will be exhibited at D-17 Gallery starting October 13 in Budapest.  I highly encourage all of you to organize class visits to the exhibition if you have a chance and take the exhibit as the basis for further discussion around important and sensitive issues.

But for now, I will let you begin your workshop by summarizing the main findings and conclusions of the “Your Decision. Training Bystanders to Become Upstanders” project.  I wish you a fruitful and thoughtful discussion and a lovely dinner to conclude the program and finish the week.  Köszönöm szépen.