Justpeace Education for Children and Youth

Presented to the workshop on
“Justpeace Education for Children and Youth”

Henry Martyn Institute, Hyderabad, India
November 26-30, 2005

Max Ediger

I. Introduction

Let me begin by sharing two experiences from the past few years which have encouraged me to think seriously about justpeace education for children as a way of moving toward peaceful interfaith and interethnic communities

The first was in Burundi, Africa four years ago.  As you may remember, Burundi has experienced a long civil war between two tribal groups – the Hutus and the Tutsis.  Since 1994 hundreds of thousands of people have been killed as the two tribal groups fight to maintain power or to seek revenge. 

One woman in Gitega, the second largest city in the country, decided to begin a process of building the foundations for peace.  Ms Modeste created the Amahoro School (Peace School) to which she invited children from the two tribes.  The objectives of the school are: 1) To educate the children and 2) To train the students in peace education. The school uses the government system in the morning and in the afternoon the pupils are engaged in a peace education curriculum. Ms Modeste explains the vision of the school in this way.

"Starting with two-year-old nursery school children all the way through the primary grades, we emphasize that peace has to be lived. We work at showing love and unity, so the children can grow into it. We teach theory and then move into the practice of peace. The children are being trained to be examples/models as peaceful human beings wherever they go. We are preparing the new Burundi!"

Some of the practical ways in which the school has engaged the students in peace work has been through food and clothing distribution, visiting orphanages, refugee camps and hospitals, and traveling to other schools and performing peace programs using the arts (e.g. choirs, drama, and dance). The school has attempted to empower the students through organizing them around an association for children's rights.  (http://www.amahoro.com/)

The second experience took place several years ago during a visit to Palestine.  In the old city of Hebron the occupation forces have closed off many of the narrow streets making it difficult for children to get to school.  Ms Zalika has opened a school for small children with the aim of helping them continue their education, and at the same time help them deal with the trauma they experience every day as they pass through military check points, have insults shouted at them, try to avoid the stones which settler children throw at them and deal with loss when friends or family members are taken away or killed.  Ms Zalika fears that if assistance is not given to the children to deal with this trauma, they will grow up filled with hatred and that will ensure that the conflict continues.  She wants them to find positive and nonviolent ways of bringing about the end of the occupation.

I also had the opportunity to visit a program in Bethlehem which operates in the shadows of the Apartheid Wall being built by the occupation forces to isolate and intimidate the people of Bethlehem.  Here too the aim is to help children cope with the realities they are forced to grow up in and to develop a culture of peacemaking.

II. Justpeace

It may be helpful to spend a little time looking at the term “justpeace” as used in the concept paper of this workshop so that we have a common understanding and focus.

In the 1950s, peace was most often thought of in terms of direct or personal violence; that is violence perpetuated by one person or group against another such as assault, torture, terrorism, or war.  To many people, peace was basically the absence of war.  However, by the late 1960s and early 1970s, more attention was being paid to structural violence.  It was recognized that unjust social, political and economic systems also cause death, disfigurement and diminish human well-being and human potential.  This form of violence is expressed through, among other things, racism, sexism, hunger, denial of human rights (education, medical care childhood, etc) and gross military overspending.  With this new definition, peace was also seen to clearly involve the issues of freedom and justice.  It became increasing clear that this new perspective of peace would require drastic changes in those structures and systems that are oppressive, exclusive and non-participatory.  Peace can not exist without political, economic and social justice.  Thus the term “justpeace” has now emerged to describe this conviction that justice comes before peace.

III. Children are Dropping out of Childhood

Our world is not kind to children and youth.  In many countries they are expected to take on adult responsibilities long before they have opportunity to experience a happy childhood.  This most certainly affects the way they grow up, the values they will hold as adults and how they will respond to the complex and often conflictive world they will have to help manage.  According to UNICEF in their 1996 report entitled “Impact of Armed Conflict on Children,” about 30 armed conflicts raging around the world today are forcing young children to “drop out of childhood.”  The report provides some very disturbing information on the plight of today’s children.

1) “Millions of children are caught up in conflicts in which they are not merely bystanders, but targets.  Some fall victim to a general onslaught against civilians; others die as part of a calculated genocide.  Still other children suffer the effects of sexual violence or the multiple deprivations of armed conflict that expose them to hunger or disease.  Just as shocking, thousands of young people are cynically exploited as combatants.”

2) War violates every right of a child – the right to life, the right to be with family and community, the right to health, the right to the development of the personality, and the right to be nurtured and protected.  (From the Convention on the Rights of the Child)

3) The proportion of war victims who are civilians has leapt in recent decades from 5 percent to over 90 percent and at least half of these are children.  In the past decade, around 2 million children have been killed in armed conflict, three times as many have been seriously injured or permanently disabled, and countless others have been forced to witness or even to take part in horrifying acts of violence.  It is estimated that 500,000 under-five-year-olds died as a result of armed conflicts in 1992 alone.  More than 2 million children are estimated to have died as a direct result of armed conflicts during the 1990s.

4) At any given time over 300,000 child soldiers, some as young as eight, are exploited in armed conflicts in over 30 countries. 

5) Assault rifles are now cheap and widely available, thanks to the international arms trade of which the US is the largest dealer.  In Uganda, an AK-47 can be purchased for the cost of a chicken.  As these assault rifles are now also much lighter, it is easier to recruit and train children to use them.

6) Children are driven to join armed groups by fear or poverty, believing that this is the only way to achieve some protection from the violence around them or to be sure of regular meals, clothing or medical attention

7) In Cambodia, a survey of wounded soldiers found that 20 per cent of them were between the ages of 10 and 14 when recruited.  In Sri Lanka, of 180 Tamil guerrillas killed in one government attack, more than half were still in their teens, and 128 were girls.

8) Millions of children have been forced to flee to neighboring countries as refugees or have become internally displaced within their own countries.  Those displaced internally receive less protection than normal refugees even though they tend to be at greater risk.  The number of refugees from armed conflicts worldwide increased from 2.4 million in 1974 to more than 27.4 million today.  With another 30 million people displaced within their own countries.  Children and women make up an estimated 80 per cent of displaced populations.

9) Among the most severe problems which all children and women face during armed conflicts is a heightened risk of rape, sexual humiliation, prostitution and other forms of gender-based violence.  Women of all ages are targets, but adolescent girls are often especially vulnerable. 

10) Globally there are some 110 million land-mines lying in wait for their victims.  Added to these are millions of pieces of unexploded ordnance bombs shells and grenades that failed to detonate on impact.  Children are particularly exposed.  In Cambodia, around 20 percent of all children injured by such devices die from their injuries. 

11) During the Iran-Iraq war, child soldiers were sent out ahead of regular soldiers in waves over minefields.

12) Besides physical dangers, children also suffer lasting psychosocial damage – as a result of the loss of their families, for example or of exposure to violence.

13) In many cases religious and ethnic affiliations are being manipulated to heighten feelings of hatred or aggression – against children as well as adults. 

14) Armed conflict leads to a breakdown in the family support systems which are essential to a child’s survival and development.  It also splinters communities and breaks down trust among people – undermining the very foundation of children’s lives.

15) Approximately 246 million children work, with about 180 million engaged in the worst forms of child labour.

16 )An estimated 1.2 million children are trafficked every year.

17) 2 million children are believed to be exploited through prostitution and pornography;

18) 40 million children below the age of 15 suffer from abuse and neglect, and require health and social care.

Armed conflict is not the only kind of violence that is destroying the lives of our children and youth.  Poverty, or the state of being without basic needs, devastates the lives of millions around the world.  But human needs are not simply reflected in terms of economic requirements/desires.  Every human being also needs to be heard (taken seriously), to have fulfillment in life, to be creative and productive, to be included in decision-making, to have his or her culture, faith, language and traditions respected, etc.  Being deprived of these needs is also a form of violence and must be considered.

It is within this context that we gather in this workshop to consider justpeace education for children and youth.  This education must not only teach them how to be justpeace makers, but also help them find creative and effective ways to maintain their youth and their sense of value as a human being within this violent world we all live in.

IV. Justpeace Education for Children and Youth

Education affords children a sense of security and continuity even when they are surrounded by chaos engendered by armed conflict or other forms of violence such as poverties.  While all around may be in chaos, schooling can represent a state of normalcy.  The ability to carry on schooling in the most difficult circumstances demonstrates confidence in the future.

Education for children and young adults (ages kindergarten through highschool) is not only about giving knowledge of the sciences and arts, but also about helping children and young adults learn the skills needed to build more just societies which are particpatory, inclusive and accepting of those who are different in ethnicity, gender, religion or nationality.  Thus justpeace education for children and youth must be designed to:

1. help pupils develop lively, enquiring minds with the ability to question and argue rationally;

2. help students develop critical thinking skills so they can gain a deeper understanding of the social, political and economic systems within which they live and then envision new systems that are more just.

3. instill respect for religious and moral values, and tolerance of other races, religions, and ways of life;

4. help pupils to understand the world in which they live, and the interdependence of individuals, groups, and nations.

According to Peace Pledge Union based in London, England, children as young as 5 are beginning to acquire likes and dislikes about other groups of peoples, and about countries and cultures other than their own. By junior school quite strong prejudices may have been formed, often prior to any factual knowledge.  Children also seem to have fairly well-defined ideas about war and peace by the age of 6 or 7. While they have quite clear images of war it appears that they often have very hazy ideas about the nature of peace.  As children and youth spend much of their time in the classroom and teachers have the opportunity to influence their worldview and value system, it seems only logical that a focus on developing justpeace ideals should take place in schools.   (http://www.ppu.org.uk/learn/peaceed/pe_which.html)

The aim of this workshop is to assess the need for bringing interfaith peace and justice learning into schools in Asia and map out a process for developing curriculum and/or a resource kit for justpeace education that can be used at various levels in schools.  These materials would help teachers introduce the concepts of justpeace to their students, starting with the kindergarten classes with the goal of building up a new generation of young people who, through critical/strategic thinking and a commitment to service for justice and peace, can give creative guidance to the struggle for justpeace in Asia in the near future.  The emphasis of the materials would be on utilizing local resources, stories, songs, games etc to inspire the children rather than bringing in outside models of peacemaking.

The curriculum and/or resource kit should also be designed to help children living within a violent environment of war and poverties to:

1) deal with the trauma of being verbally and physically abused by the violence

2) maintain a sense of being a valuable human being

3) see their ability to play an active and positive role in building communities of justpeace

4) develop a culture of justpeace by drawing on local wisdom, history and culture, by learning positive messages from their religious faith and by learning of other cultures and traditions

The expected outcomes of the workshop are:
1) The workshop will identify already existing efforts to bring peace, justice and pluralism education into schools in Asia.

2) The workshop will identify what needs still exist in creatively and effectively preparing children and youth to be justpeace makers in our communities.

3) The workshop will craft a strategy for meeting these needs.

4) The workshop will come up with suggestions on how the strategy can be realized.