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Peace Education and the Development of Children

I am a Program Assistant at the International Center for Religion & Diplomacy (ICRD), an American NGO which addresses identity-based conflicts that exceed the reach of traditional diplomacy by incorporating religion as part of the solution, linking religious reconciliation with official and unofficial diplomacy. ICRD believes that religious leaders and religious educators are key to resolving conflict around the world, ending violence, and building a more peaceful society.

Currently one of our biggest projects is engaging leaders of Islamic religious schools in Pakistan ("madrasas") to promote peace education and the teaching of the principles of conflict resolution, human rights, and religious tolerance in their schools. After September 11th, madrasas came under international scrutiny, and some have been accused of involvement in extremism and violence. As a result, some scholars and politicians have called for isolating, confronting, or even trying to close down madrasas, seeing them as a security threat.

ICRD takes a different approach, believing that the madrasas, as educators of children and future Islamic scholars, can play an important role in encouraging adherence to the principles of peace, tolerance, and human rights which are the true foundation of Islam. To foster an education that promotes these values, ICRD believes that, rather than being ignored or attacked, madrasa teachers should be engaged in a respectful way, and that teachers who value peace will pass these values on to their students. Thus, for the past three years, ICRD, together with partnering Pakistani religious and civic organizations, has been offering teacher-training workshops to madrasa teachers, which: provide a forum for madrasa leaders to discuss together how they as educators can promote religious tolerance and human rights; provide training in pedagogical techniques that can promote critical thinking skills among the students; teach conflict resolution and dialogue facilitation skills; and equip newly-trained teachers with the skills to train other madrasa leaders in these areas.

When this project first began, there was a lot of skepticism and hostility among madrasas to the idea of working with an American organization and to the idea that any changes should be made to the educational system. However, by approaching madrasa leaders in a respectful and personal way, and by grounding our programs in religion and respect for religion, which are at the core of madrasas' values and identity, ICRD was slowly able to build up relationships of trust with madrasa leaders, who in turn were willing to give our programs a chance. The response from madrasas who have participated in ICRD's training workshops has been overwhelmingly positive. Teachers who have graduated from the workshops have demonstrated a commitment to the principles of peacemaking and have asked for further training in conflict resolution skills that will enable them to reach out in peace to other people and other cultures. In fact, certain madrasa leaders who formerly preached the need to fight America are now preaching the need for reconciliation and peaceful coexistence.

The program has been so successful that ICRD is now receiving more requests from madrasa leaders themselves to conduct workshops than we have yet been able to accommodate at our current level of resources. In addition, madrasa leaders we have worked with have begun to conduct their own workshops and programs to promote peace education and a more peaceful world. Recently I was sent to Pakistan to visit women's madrasas (we have so far conducted workshops for the men's madrasas and are trying to raise funds to start working with women's madrasas). During my trip I had the opportunity to visit an initiative being conducted by one of our madrasa partners, in which 25 madrasa leaders gathered for a 10-day workshop on the themes of interfaith harmony, religious tolerance, human rights, and peace education. Workshop activities included dialogue between men and women, Muslims and Christians, and Pakistanis and Americans. Another of our partners recently organized a workshop for Muslim and Christian religious leaders in Pakistan, in which imams and priests came together to discuss their faith and their personal experiences, their struggles and their hopes, and to reflect together on how they can build a more peaceful and Godly society in which every person is valued, cared for, and protected.

One need not travel to remote corners of the world to have global impact on peace. Wherever we are, educators and those who work with children have the power to teach principles of peacebuilding and to help them think about what they can do to build a more peaceful world. The children we are working with now will grow up to be the leaders of this world, and if they are taught to think about peace at a young age, they will build more peaceful societies as adults.

Previously I worked as an English teacher in Japan under the Japanese government's JET (Japan Exchange and Teaching) Programme. While as an assistant teacher my focus was on language teaching, there were numerous opportunities to incorporate peace education into our lessons. For example, to mark the UN International Day of Peace on September 21, I did a "peace lesson" with my students in which I showed them pictures of peace activities and events around the world, taught them about peace symbols used in different cultures, did a game which taught them peace-related words in English, and gave them questions to help them reflect on the topic of peace and what we could do to build a more peaceful world. (Many other ideas and resources can be found on the International Day of Peace website.)

Similarly, to mark the anniversary of the September 11th attacks, I taught the students about the looped ribbons that were worn by Americans as a memorial to the victims and a reminder to work for peace instead of violence. Such ribbons are used in some cultures like America to: (1) symbolize a problem or issue, (2) honor and remember the victims of that problem or issue, and (3) make people think about that problem or issue and what they can do to help. Different colored ribbons can symbolize different issues--for example, red-white-and-blue ribbons were used to remember the victims of the terrorist attacks in America, white ribbons are often used to symbolize peace and remember victims of war, and red ribbons are used to remember victims of AIDS and other diseases and the importance of working to find a cure. I gave ribbons to students and encouraged them to think of a problem or issue that was important to them, to choose a color to represent it, and to consider displaying the ribbon to raise awareness of the issue and to remind people to think about what they could do to solve it.

There are many other activities which teachers can use to promote peace education and peace-minded thinking--for example, role-playing games in which students need to find a way to resolve a conflict, having students find or create volunteer projects to participate in which promote peace, having students research peace organizations or peace issues, having students write letters to world leaders or newspapers on peace issues, and helping students organize a fundraiser for a charity of their choice which is promoting peace. These kinds of activities can not only help students become more aware of peace issues and start thinking in peace-minded ways, but can help them think creatively about what they can do locally and globally to build a more peaceful world. Some useful resources on peace and volunteer and service opportunities follow at the end of this article.

How might the global situation be different today if more world leaders had received peace education when they were young? At the university level, the number of conflict resolution and peace studies programs is growing around the world. If we can begin to teach peace education to children from an early age, we can make these principles a part of their development, which they will carry into adulthood when they become the new global leaders--in Japan, America, Pakistan, and everywhere in between.

Other Websites about Peace, Volunteering, and Service

Classroom Connections
This website has a database where you can search for peace education materials by grade, topic, and type to find books, videos, documents, and other resources.

Peace Education
This is a UN website on peace education.

Action Without Borders/
This site allows you to search a huge database of nonprofit and service organizations by type of work or location, and includes volunteer, internship, and job opportunities among others.

Volunteer Abroad
This site allows you to search for volunteer opportunities and other resources all over the world, in various types of activities.

Volunteers for Peace
Volunteers for Peace has many volunteer opportunities all over the world, in various types of activities.

SERVAS International
SERVAS international is a cooperative network of hosts and travelers with 13,000 open doors building world peace, goodwill, understanding and mutual tolerance. It seeks to provide opportunities and personal contacts between individuals of diverse cultures and backgrounds by linking travelers who want to stay with a native family when they travel abroad with people who want to host foreign travelers.

Japan Youth Volunteers Association
The Japan Youth Volunteers Association promotes volunteer activities throughout Japan. Founded in 1967 as an incorporated body approved by the Ministry of Education, JYVA has built up an extensive network with other Japanese volunteer groups, associations, corporations, and research organizations, as well as organizations throughout the world which promote volunteer activities.

Japan International Volunteer Center
The Japan International Volunteer Center (JVC) is an international NGO for community development, peace exchange and emergency relief in 10 countries/regions in Asia and Africa.

Peace Boat
Peace Boat is a Japan-based international non-governmental and non-profit organization that works to promote peace, human rights, equal and sustainable development and respect for the environment. Peace Boat carries out its main activities through a chartered passenger ship that travels the world on peace voyages. The ship creates a neutral, mobile space and enables people to engage across borders in dialogue and mutual cooperation at sea, and in the ports that they visit.

Peaceful Tomorrows
September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows is an organization founded by family members of those killed on September 11th who have united to turn their grief into action for peace. By developing and advocating nonviolent options and actions in the pursuit of justice, they hope to break the cycles of violence engendered by war and terrorism and create a safer and more peaceful world for everyone. Among other work, September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows has worked to end war and suffering in Iraq and Afghanistan and to help Iraqi and Afghan victims of violence.


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