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PeaceTimes Edition 97. Peace Education Breaks Out All Over

30 September 2009 3 Comments

- by Mary Liston Liepold

“The best option for development in Africa is peace education,” Professor Karega Mutahi, Permanent Secretary in Kenya’s Ministry of Education, told colleagues from seven African nations in Mombasa on September 14 of this year. On September 16, the last day of a three-day peace education conference sponsored by the Kenyan Education Ministry and the Association for Development Education in Africa (ADEA), ministers from Kenya, Angola, Ivory Coast, South Africa, Uganda, Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo issued a joint communiqué agreeing to add “a dimension specifically aimed at eradicating violence and promoting love among people” to their school curricula.

“Love among people?” That’s not the way government ministers usually talk, but this group was clear on the practical ramifications. Said Zingai Mtumbuka, ADEA Chair, “Without peace there cannot be development, without peace there cannot be human development, and without peace social, economic or political gains become a mirage.” Education experts told the ministers that the use of military force in Africa had promoted a culture of violence among the youth, sabotaging economic, social, and political progress. In the new strategy these leaders envision, peace educators, curriculum developers, trainers, and learners will all become “agents of peace.” They will be guided by “African traditional values and will appreciate ethnic, cultural and religious diversity.”

Kenya: Blending Tradition with New Ideas

Kenya was ideally positioned to host this gathering because its government reacted to the chaos that erupted after the election at the end of 2007 by declaring a bold intention: to make Peace Education a compulsory subject in all its schools. Governments move slowly, though.


Esther and Joshua Mbaabu

“We were inspired by the International Peace Initiative Conference in 2005 to start our own organization, Balm Touch International. After that last violent outbreak, I wrote a proposal to the UNDP and was funded to establish peace clubs at 10 schools in Meru. Our goal is to establish a peace movement in every school. If peace study goes academic that may be good, but students could just work to pass the exam. We want change in action.

So far we have developed the curriculum and trained the teachers, picking those who have influence and can mobilize others. Next we will train the student leaders. We share different ways of resolving conflict and preventing conflict―early warning systems. We teach about peace heroes like Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr., Nelson Mandela, and Kenya’s own Wangari Maathai. Each school is different, so we brainstorm with the teachers and they will brainstorm with the students to tap their creativity.

A lot has changed in Kenyan families and communities. The traditional family, the traditional set-up, is beginning to melt down. The main thing we have to work with, what we can use currently, is the youth culture. Students are interested in the traditional music and dances, so they are a part of that. They even compete with students in other schools to outdo each other. Beyond that, though, there is a youth culture in each place that is unique to that place and time―their talk, their dancing and singing and art. So we’ll borrow a little from tradition, a little from the modern youth culture, and blend it together with the students’ own creativity to build a culture of peace through music, drama, debate, and all the arts.”

I don’t know in how many other countries that’s the case, but we’re hearing about progress on various scales and at various levels in a great many places. Peace X Peace community members who nurture friendships across cultures are all practicing one element of peace education: overcoming stereotypes and opening their hearts to take in “the other.” According to Martha Llanos                    , international advocate for children’s rights and first UNICEF Regional Advisor for Latin America and the Caribbean, “The heart of peace education is understanding people’s lives, dreams, cultures, and practices and appreciating them in whatever contributions they make to society.” Martha, Esther, and other peace educators teach the specific skills in communication, cooperation, and conflict resolution that contribute to disarming human hearts. Equally important, they transmit new stories, new images, and new role models through storytelling and all the other arts.

Timor-Leste: Changing the Culture to Change the Future

Like Kenya’s leaders in 2008, Sierra James saw a post-conflict opportunity. She arrived in the country formerly called East Timor in 2004 as a Columbia graduate student. As she explained in an earlier PeaceTimes interview, “East Timor experienced four centuries of Portuguese colonization, then Japanese occupation during World War II (when more than 40,000 people―an eighth of the population―died in just three years), followed by 24 years of brutal Indonesian annexation.” The nation declared its independence as Timor-Leste in 2002 and slipped back into conflict a few years later.


Sierra with a friend

They had to reach teachers, parents, administrators, and government officials at many levels to change a culture where, as Sierra says, “the use of violence against children is considered normal.” And after almost six years, they are seeing results. In a school where 75 of 75 children interviewed reported being hit by their teachers, 41 reported no hitting after intensive teacher training, and all the students said they experienced less physical punishment. The principal of the same school told the team from Ba Futuru that 98% of his teachers had stopped hitting. Though the children told another tale, his statement is powerful evidence of culture change; he had made the objective his own.

“The reason the positive discipline trainings are so effective,” says Sierra, “is that they are coming from Timorese trainers, many of them teachers who used to use physical punishment with their own students. Their firsthand cultural knowledge helps to combat the notion that child rights and positive discipline are outsider concepts.

Ba Futuru’s international staff engage with our Timorese staff in partnership to develop training materials and methods. It’s not the top down approach you see in many INGOs and UN agencies.

Just a few weeks ago we did an intensive 10-day training for Community Response Team (CRT) members who will soon begin co-facilitating with us in their respective communities. Six of the individuals chosen to be CRT members were formerly imprisoned for their use of violence. One of our facilitators, Vidal, noticed that they needed extra support, so he pulled them aside at lunch and after the training to form a support group and provide counseling. By the end of the training many of the participants said that this assistance from Ba Futuru changed their lives. All the ex-prisoners reported having not only gained the ability to assist others in learning community-based conflict prevention skills, but also gained the knowledge and commitment to stop using violence in their own lives.”

Israel and the Palestinian Territories:
An Oasis of Peace

Students at Neve Shalom/Wahat al Salam

Students at Neve Shalom/Wahat al Salam

Earlier this month the U.N. Relief and Works Agency, which runs 221 of the more than 600 primary and secondary schools in Gaza, responded to protests by changing plans to include the Holocaust in textbooks for Palestinian children. In July, Israel cut references to the Naqba, or catastrophe―the Palestinians’ term for their experience of Israel’s founding―from its textbooks. Yet there’s one place in Israel where both versions of history are honored: Neve Shalom/Wahat al Salam, the Oasis of Peace. My husband and I visited there in March of 2003, just at the time the US began its bombing of Iraq. School staff members and families in the village that surrounds the school were preparing for an influx of visitors from other parts of the country, who feared a spillover of hostilities and knew the Oasis was a safe place to be.

Neve Shalom/Wahat al Salam was featured in Soldiers of Peace, one of the documentaries we chose for the We Won’t Wait for Peace Virtual Film Festival last week. Founded by Fr. Bruno Hussar, it is, and has been for 25 years, a village where Jews and Arabs live as amicable neighbors. Its elementary school has 250 students in grades K to 6, half Jewish and half Palestinian. Teaching is done in both languages and full respect is accorded to both cultures. The child-centered, environment-friendly curriculum fosters creativity and critical thinking.

Deanna Armbruster, Executive Director of American Friends of Neve Shalom/Wahat al-Salam and a new Peace X Peace member, got involved with the Oasis 13 years ago when she was an API reporter.

“I thought it was interesting,” she says. “Then I got drawn in closer and closer, and now it’s my fulltime job. I get to let people know that there is a place like this, an example of hope. When times are most difficult, what you hold onto as a human being is that sense of hope, that there can be a different reality. And that it has gone on for a long time and is still growing: children growing up together and going out into the world, and programs reaching far and wide.

Starting out slowly about 10 years ago, a network of four other schools on the same model is now operating in other parts of Israel, and a variety of adult education programs are also helping to spread the model and spread peace. Some of the adult programs work especially with women on a spiritual level.

The best thing for me is seeing that the residents continue to stay and live their lives when other peace projects get stressed and take a break, like during January of 2009. It isn’t always easy, but it’s their home, it’s their life, it’s a living place. In all the years I’ve been involved, I’ve never seen a family move out. The school continues to grow steadily and the programs continue to draw people.

I have friends who hear about the conflict and say it’s never going to change, but I know there’s a place where people are doing something different. The next generation of kids are coming up and proving that it can be different.”

Back in the USA: What’s in Your Back Pocket?

MJ Park                     and her husband Jerry made another Oasis of Peace here in the US, where kids from inner-city DC encounter nature, peacebuilding skills, and new superheroes. MJ says:

MJ leads the Peace Train

MJ leads the Peace Train

“We create a community, using compassion and affection for each other as a basis for teaching peace skills. We share stories about peace heroes as a way to imagine new kinds of power, and we offer art experiences that stir empathy. We use the Peace Train, with its different cars for different stages of the peace process, to teach communication and conflict resolution. There’s a lot more on our web site ( and in our books.

Over the years, when Jerry went into the Peace Corps, when we took the kids to demonstrations, when our home was at risk, when we founded a nonprofit and really didn’t try to make a profit, and now, when we’re launching a new venture instead of planning for retirement, we’ve taken a lot of heat from our families. My Dad is a businessman, and he kept telling us, “Stop giving it away. You’ve got to make it bigger, make some money from it.” But that’s not what Little Friends for Peace is about. The heart of it is simply peace, love, justice.

A world at peace would feel good: more love, less stress, less feeling like you haven’t made it or aren’t part of something. It would not be attached to violence; violence would not be allowed. Instead of the gun in the back pocket that’s so easy to pull out if someone hurts me or offends me, we would all have other tools. We need to eliminate that option and use the gifts of love, sharing, cooperation. We would still have differences; I may still not understand why you act the way you do, but the tools we are attached to would be different. They would be the tools that Little Friends provides, like clear communication, affirmation, and creative conflict resolution.”

The Never-Ending Story


Betty Reardon

While beginning with the children is ideal, each of us has to begin where we are. Fortunately, both degree programs and opportunities for lifelong learning are increasingly abundant.

College and postgraduate programs in peace education and related fields have mushroomed in recent years. Pioneering departments like the one at Columbia University Teachers College (see our interview with founder Betty Reardon                     here), and the Joan Kroc programs at San Diego, California and Notre Dame, Indiana have been joined by hundreds of others around the world. The University for Peace in Costa Rica continues to grow and add international affiliates, with a special burst of energy since 2001. The University of Maryland recently began a Semester on Peace, with a wide array of activities that cut across disciplines and departments.

Online education has enormous potential to increase the peace and take the movement to scale, especially as translation programs like Transclick proliferate and improve. These include well-established school to school friendship programs like the ones ePals facilitates and newer programs like Eunhee Jung O’Neill’s Center for International Virtual Schooling. The online Peace and Collaborative Development Network is the best resource I know for keeping up with adult learning opportunities in this field.

Informal peace education for adult peers goes on in Peace X Peace Circles around the world. Please use the Comment space below to tell us what yours is doing and to suggest resources for our peace education library.

My own peace education is a lifelong project. Maybe yours too? Whether we’re deepening our inner space through practices like yoga and meditation or taking part in top-level international negotiations, there’s always a step beyond. I recently joined a practice group built around Marshall Rosenberg’s Nonviolent Communication. Rosenberg’s philosophy has been taking shape since the 1960s. It is used in happy families, schools, workplaces, prisons, and international conflicts to help people communicate their needs and hear each other clearly. Practitioners, many of whom work fulltime in professions related to peace and communication, meet every week to practice and refine these highly sophisticated peacebuilding skills.

Peace education is a never-ending story. Even when we have achieved a world at peace—especially when we have achieved a world at peace—human beings will continue to educate themselves and each other, and to enjoy greater love and understanding as time goes on. The history of the last 40 years shows how that will happen: with increasing speed and strength, fueled by the power of women and the power of 21st century communications.

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About the Author

Mary Liepold is the Editor-in-Chief at Peace X Peace. To reach Dr. Liepold, email
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3 Comments to “PeaceTimes Edition 97. Peace Education Breaks Out All Over”
  1. Lauren says:

    I always love reading Peace Times. Thank you for these informing articles.

  2. Mares Hirchert says:

    Hi Mary,
    Chuck and I heard the Mayor and the Director of the Guest House at the Oasis of Peace when they came to speak in Ann Arbor, MI and were impressed with set up of the education for the children as well as the conferences and education after school/weekends with older children and adults.

    Thank you for all the information on formal peace education programs.

  3. Matthew Fernandez Konigsberg says:

    very informative article, and i want to congratulate the Oasis of Peace on their 40 year anniversary! All politics aside, their village is an inspiring story.

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