“Do one good thing every day that everyone else is scared to do” — Leymah Gbowee
In honor of International Day of Peace, celebrated on September 21st, it gives me great pleasure to share a couple of short videos from two of our peace heroes, Leymah Gbowee from Liberia, and Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish from Gaza, Palestine. These messages are directed towards all students of the Peace Heroes Curriculum.
For a description of our interaction with Leymah Gbowee during the women’s peace march that took place in October 2016, please read the blog post entitled “When Lives Collide.”
For a description of Dr. Abuelaish’s visit to one of our pilot schools in March 2017, please read the blog post entitled “Brave Is.”
May these messages of peace inspire each and every one of us to continue to play our part – big or small – in bringing hope to people, both near and far.
What happened during the year in this regard is significant: the students came to understand that anyone can be a peace hero, even (and especially) those within their immediate sphere of influence. They learned about famous people “out there,” but in the process they grasped the most important message embedded in these people’s stories – that “peace begins with me”
When we started the pilot program a year ago, we asked some of the schools to perform pre- and post-assessments on students so we could document the way in which their perceptions about peace and peace heroes changed throughout the year. The questions we suggested were simple ones, like what is peace and how does the word peace make you feel; is peace weak or strong; who is a hero, and so forth. Once the pre-assessments were completed, I set them aside until the end of the school year, when we would have the opportunity to compare them to the post-assessments, which would consist of the exact same questions as those given at the beginning of the year.
Needless to say, I was curious to see what this exercise might reveal, but it wasn’t until the end of the school year that I finally had the opportunity to make the comparison. Continue reading “One Year On”
“South Africa is such a special country that still has a lot of pain and hurt to work through. Many of my students spoke about things that they had not discussed openly with their peers before. It was a beautiful process, watching them respect the opinions that differed from theirs”
Dear Elie: This curriculum is important because in our society, today, people are so broken and so hurt, that they forget how to forgive and they forget about peace. This curriculum teaches us how to find the broken links and repair them . . . I found my hurt – and conquered it!
– 7th grade student, South Africa
One of the most encouraging aspects of this pilot year has been receiving feedback from teachers and students about the Curriculum. The school in South Africa has just completed its first term using Peace Heroes, and the report I received from Chay, the 7th grade teacher, was so heartening, I asked her if I could share it – word for word – on my blog. At this particular school, Chay had planned to teach four heroes during the first term, beginning with Desmond Tutu – one of South Africa’s most prominent and well-known peace heroes. However, learning about their own history through the lens of peace was such a monumental experience, that the two 7th grade classes never got beyond their first hero. Instead, they took an entire semester to delve more deeply into Tutu’s life, allowing it to impact their own lives in unforeseen ways. Here is Chay’s summary of the experience: Continue reading “A Word From South Africa”
There is something very powerful in the idea that someone else’s experience can become our own simply by reading about it
“It has long been averred” that reading stories “enlarges and improves us as human beings. Brain science shows this claim is truer than we imagined.” (Murphy Paul)
On a recent trip to Kenya I had the great privilege of meeting the directors of a school in Burundi that (I’m excited to report) will be joining our pilot program next year. The school is a unique mix of Hutu and Tutsi students – something truly amazing given the violent and terrible history between these two communities. As we sat together hashing out the details for implementing the Curriculum in their school, the directors asked me what kind of teacher they should hire to teach the peace heroes, and without a moment’s hesitation, I said: “someone who knows how to tell stories!” Of course, there are many other qualifications and characteristics a teacher needs in order to implement the Curriculum well; but since the material revolves around people’s life-stories, the ability to tell stories should, in my opinion, be chief among them. And here’s why. Continue reading “The Power of Story”
In learning about the peace heroes, students learn about what it means to be human, first. Yes, they learn history in the process; they learn some geography; they learn about key issues affecting people around the world. But the primary learning happens on a different level altogether. And that’s what makes all the difference
“History holds the potential, only partly realized, of humanizing us in ways offered by few other areas in the school curriculum” 
Someone recently asked me some very poignant questions about the way in which the Curriculum engages with today’s accepted historical method of inquiry. The conversation, though fascinating and insightful, made me realize how important it is to set down expectations about what the Curriculum is – and what it isn’t. The purpose of the Curriculum is not historical inquiry. Rather, the Curriculum aims to develop students’ ability to take historical and current narratives and find ways to connect these to their own life-circumstances in a way that inspires them to step out and take responsibility for the realities around them. In other words, it’s not about gathering and analyzing information, but about transformation – on a personal, communal, and even global level. More important than the historical details are the values that will hopefully be remembered and applied. Continue reading “The Heart of the Matter”
Let us not underestimate the transformative power of right seeing. While we do not have the power to take from people their intrinsic worth, we do have the capacity to make it visible
South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu tells how, when he was a child of nine, he was completely taken aback when he watched a white priest, Father Trevor Huddleston, tip his hat at Tutu’s mother, who was a domestic worker in a hospital for the blind. Tutu could hardly wrap his mind around the gesture – in 1940s South Africa, for a white man to show a black woman such a sign of respect was a thing rarely seen. In a single act, Father Huddleston acknowledged that this woman was valuable – that there was a loveliness in her that most white South Africans could not see. And it blew little Desmond away.
People sometimes ask what has been my guiding principle as I write the Curriculum, and I always answer with just two words: Human dignity. While the answer might sound straightforward (and perhaps a little idealistic), it is actually a surprisingly hard principle to follow.
Continue reading “Seeing Otherwise”
“The refusal to hate is the most powerful weapon in the arsenal of human experience”
I had been told that there is a group of fifth grade girls at the Jerusalem School that gathers most days during the lunch break to do peace-related things: they draw pictures, put on dramas, recite poems, write and perform songs, and have lively discussions about whether or not they themselves are peace heroes – like the ones they are studying. Apparently this little get-together has been going on for some time, and this week I was invited to join them during lunch to see what it is all about. Continue reading “Brave Is”
It is often said that the parallel worlds of victimization that these two people live in makes it virtually impossible for each side to comprehend, let alone accept, the other’s pain. But when attempts to cross over that divide do happen, they are deeply moving – as is illustrated in Dalia’s life-story, or in the community that is being created at Hagar
This week I had the opportunity to visit a bi-lingual (Hebrew and Arabic) elementary school in Beer Sheva (approximately an hour and a half south of Jerusalem) on account of the school’s interest in the Peace Heroes Curriculum. The school, called Hagar, is a truly amazing enterprise – I was completely blown away by how they have managed to create an environment of equality, mutual respect, and shared living for all of their 250 Jewish and Arab students. The school was started ten years ago by Jewish and Arab parents who were unhappy with the way the education system separates the two peoples. So they decided to start their own mixed school, beginning with kindergarten and gradually increasing their capacity so that today they have classes all the way to 6th grade. The school is completely bi-lingual and each class is co-taught by two teachers, one who speaks Hebrew and once who speaks Arabic. There is a strong emphasis on identity at the school, and students are encouraged to learn about their own heritage and culture as well as that of their peers. As part of this journey toward a deeper understanding of self and others, the school celebrates all the Jewish, Muslim, and Christian holidays. The environment they have created at Hagar is a remarkable manifestation of what shared life between Jews and Arabs in Israel can look like.
Continue reading “The Choices We Make”
Malala knew she was putting her life at risk, but being denied her basic human right to education was not something she was willing to accept quietly, without a fight. Silence was what the Taliban wanted of her. Silence was what she refused to give them
Several weeks ago I had the honor of visiting one of our Israeli pilot schools, where the 8th graders were giving presentations on the first peace hero they had studied. The teachers were quick to point out that this was a special event (“8th graders don’t do presentations!”), and the school even opened up its auditorium for the occasion. In total, six groups presented on Malala Yousafzai, each of them focusing on a different aspect of her life and work. Two of the teams did presentations that looked at Malala and children’s rights (the right to education) and Malala and women’s rights, and the various issues that arise from a violation of these rights and freedoms. It was fascinating watching Israeli students talk about their Muslim counterpart (Malala was a student just like them). The discussion that followed the presentations was also quite remarkable, as the teacher deliberately guided the students into an examination of these issues as they are manifested here in Israel. For many of the students, it was an exercise in awareness – suddenly they were able to transfer what they had learned about Malala into their own personal context, which, in turn, raised some very poignant questions and led to a very passionate/heated debate. I was pleased to see how interacting with this peace hero was making the students grapple with their own reality. That, I thought, is exactly the point of the Curriculum.
Inspired by this school visit and in honor of International Women’s Day, I thought I’d share an abridged version of my write-up on Malala from the Peace Heroes Curriculum. May her life story inspire each and every one of us to look at our own contexts with new awareness of and sensitivity for the rights and freedoms of those within our sphere of influence.
Continue reading “Girl Against All Odds”
For the Jewish and Arab children at Sataf, the joint experience was accidental. But I couldn’t help but wonder: what if this convergence of lives extended beyond the day’s hike down to the springs – what if they were given the opportunity to carry on through shared learning, through intentional encounters?
There is a beautiful hill on the outskirts of Jerusalem, a nature reserve that is well known and very popular among those who enjoy the outdoors. It is especially stunning in the springtime, when the almond trees, anemones, and cyclamen – which grow there in abundance – begin to bloom and blossom, dappling the landscape with a burst of bright colors, tantalizing the senses with scents of every kind. I’ve walked there often, and have, on many occasions, felt that here is a little piece of paradise – an oasis of beauty, peace, and tranquility in the midst of what can only be described as a chronically frenetic, tense, and potentially explosive city.
But Sataf is not as pristine as it might seem. Its history is as sad and tangled as any landscape in this country, with only the remnants of long-abandoned buildings left to tell stories from a long forgotten past. Scattered over the hill, mostly on the eastern and southern slopes, are the skeletal remains of what was once a thriving Arab village – agricultural in nature, as attested to by the many man-made terraces that scale the hillsides. Like so many, this village was abandoned in 1948, in the wake of the creation of the State of Israel. But the crumbling structures (built during the Ottoman era) are joined by a good number of more modern looking buildings – or shacks, rather – square, thin-walled, with asbestos cement ceilings (that have long-since caved in), broken down metal gates, crumbling asphalt roads – the remains of an old Israeli army base, also abandoned many years ago. These deserted spaces, now very much part of a much more natural and overgrown landscape, are silent reminders that even behind all the natural beauty there are hidden secrets, a jumble of histories, the unknown joys and sorrows of a multitude of people who, at some point or other, lived in this place and made it their own. Continue reading “Sites of Encounter”