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December 2020-January 2021 | Features

How peace can prosper in a pandemic

How peace can prosper in a pandemic

The Peace Advocate Project is a charity set up by Scottish Rotarians Jean and Keith Best, from Newton Stewart Rotary, enabling young people to become peace advocates in schools and community groups. Here they tell the story behind what they have achieved in reaching out to youngsters across Great Britain and Ireland.

It was seven years ago when the Peace Advocate Project was formed after young people told us they were well equipped with academic skills, but lacking in life skills.

Statistics showed that self-harming leading to suicide was the biggest killer of young people across the world.

Young people were lacking the skills to make informed choices when facing every day conflicts; what to wear, what to eat, how to react to bullying, joining gangs, picking up knives, using guns, and becoming radicalised.

The internet was their only coping mechanism, offering advice which often resulted in death.

The Peace Advocate Project curriculum was developed to train young people in skills to make informed choices, both for themselves and others.

It was seven years ago when the Peace Advocate Project was formed after young people told us they were well equipped with academic skills, but lacking in life skills.”

Across the world, Rotary clubs are using Rotary’s strategic priorities of increasing our impact, expanding our reach and enhancing participant engagement supported by a home-grown peace project with young people.

‘Peace Advocate’ status is achieved through interactive training sessions, as well as providing skills and strategies to empower young people to take control of their lives.

They investigate why conflict occurs in themselves, homes, schools, communities and globally.

Peace advocates create community service projects, organise conferences and facilitate those who follow. They create a sustainable programme for young people, which is led by young people.

During the first five years of its existence, the project offered face-to -face, skills-based training through a collaboration with the Rotary International Peace Fellows, Rotarians, plus school groups at home and abroad, who travelled to Mexico, Australia, Germany and the US.

‘Peace Advocate’ status is achieved through interactive training sessions, as well as providing skills and strategies to empower young people to take control of their lives.

Rotary in Great Britain & Ireland celebrated the difference which this project makes to young peoples’ lives when they awarded the first Young Citizen Peacemaker Award to the peace advocates at Coláiste Muire, a post-primary,                       co-educational Catholic school which is based in Cobh, County Cork.

There, they are supported by Mallow Rotary and became the first school to be awarded the International Blue Peace School Flag.

Up until March this year, Rotary GB&I clubs and districts were supporting 30 schools in the project. This all changed with COVID-19, or so we thought.

The face-to-face training had halted, but peace advocates at the Douglas Ewart High School in Newton Stewart, Dumfries & Galloway, made us see that the peace advocate skills were so important that we had to look for another way.

The students recognised how their project to create an interactive peace garden had to be put on hold.

Rotary in Great Britain & Ireland celebrated the difference which this project makes to young peoples’ lives when they awarded the first Young Citizen Peacemaker Award to the peace advocates at Coláiste Muire, a post-primary, co-educational Catholic school which is based in Cobh, County Cork.”

But their peace advocate skills not only empowered them to resolve any kind of conflict in their lives, these resources could also be used during the pandemic.

As a result, the High School students turned their attention to supporting the mental health of their school community during lockdown.

Monthly Zoom meetings were held to set up an action plan prior to launching Facebook pages raising awareness of their project.

Open to everyone, the platform focuses on mental health and well-being, while also educating about peace and helping everyone to deal with conflict.

Cara Sloan, an advanced peace advocate at Douglas Ewart High School said: “As school captain, I am sad that my final year of school was cut short.

“It has been bizarre, submitting my leaver’s form via email instead of signing out of school, surrounded by my peers.

“However, the Peace Project has helped me to see the positives. It is a time to reach out to people in need.

“With all this uncertainty, it’s a time to call the people you love, learn to have a kinder, more empathetic heart, because everyone is fighting a battle.”

But their peace advocate skills not only empowered them to resolve any kind of conflict in their lives, these resources could also be used during the pandemic.”

The peace advocates shared more than 70 daily tips on social media which are being brought into the school curriculum, trained others to become peace advocates, and shared skills online to other students.

They will deliver the programme to other students in their school.

This is an example of young people training other young people and, in turn, sharing their work.

For this outstanding service project and completion of training, the next cohort has been awarded the first International Blue Flag standard for Peace Schools in the United Kingdom.

Archbishop Sancroft High School in Harleston, Norfolk, received the first Blue Flag in England in October, supported by District Peace Officer, Pat Webb.

Working with young people, the Peace Advocate Project has developed online virtual training: ‘Zooming for Peace’.

Successful interactive online training has been piloted in Japan and Spain.

This is an example of young people training other young people and, in turn, sharing their work.”

In England, this has been organised in collaboration with Bewdley Rotary in Worcestershire and its Interact Group at Bewdley School.

The Peace Advocate Project supports a network of 30 Rotarians across Rotary GB&I, who will soon be assessing the progress of their schools in reaching the Blue Flag standard.

Although COVID-19 has tried to control the world, our peace advocates have changed the way they work to carry on developing peace in our lives.

They make us realise that the peace advocacy skills helped them to get through a difficult time and empowered them to help others.

The peace advocates tell us how they feel this will not be the last pandemic they will have to deal with.

Hamish Sutherland, an advanced peace advocate at Douglas Ewart High School, left us with the words: “At least with the Peace Advocate skills, we feel we have a chance to take control”.

For more information visit: www.peaceadvocateproject.org

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