Monday, September 26, 2011

International Day of Peace

This is a wee bit late... but that happens, it has been a very busy week. Last year around this time the Peace Ed folks were all scrambling to get our Int'l Day of Peace stuff sorted out and ready. We created the mural and cranes, photos and quotes - so much going on!

This year, I was invited to speak at the event happening here in Edmonton. I am not great at staying on track with my notes, certainly not someone who 'reads' what I write when up there - but I thought I would share some of my notes to myself from the day.

I was asked to speak about my Upeace experience and IRP - this is something close to what I tried to say. Hee hee

Good Afternoon,

Thanks for the invitation to be here today. My name is Diana Coumantarakis. Netta invited me to speak here today about my past year, having recently returned from the United Nations Mandated University for Peace in Costa Rica where I was pursuing a MA in Peace Education.


UPEACE is a really interesting place to study. The student body is just shy of 200 hundred students and collectively last year we represented 62 countries. The diversity of the population creates many fantastic discussions and opportunities for learning, with huge variation in experience and knowledge - as well the occasional challenge. My programme had 21 students. While the classes I took were interesting and taught me so much, the amazing diversity of my classmates is what really confirmed for me – what peace education is.

In my class we had a doctor, who works in public health, a lawyer, who wants to change how law works to create a more peaceful system, classroom teachers, community educators, an actor and playwright, environmental educators, physical educators, a physicist … as an example of some of who wants to be a peace educator. It makes me believe that all of us here are indeed peace educators, in a variety of forms. People who are working to seek and build peace in our lives – as well as helping others to discover their own pathways and passions.

How we define peace is a challenge though. One of the first assignments that we did during our orientation at UPeace was to try to come up with a definition of peace. One per group. It doesn’t sound so hard, does it? Especially in a group where you assume that there are some commonalities, like here today. Glancing around, we must all believe in bringing peace… but that doesn’t quite make it the same vision. In our class we had people coming from regions that are still enmeshed in active conflict. The first step for peace, in definition is the absence of manifested violence: fewer guns, better access to medicine and clean water, freedom of voice, access to education… All very important components to building peace. I feel immensely fortunate to have grown up in a place where I feel that I can count on many of those things. I have been blessed with incredible schools, good healthcare, I can gather with you here today – having elected officials join us to mark this event, people who were elected fairly and transparently – but I don’t feel that I live in a place that has achieved peace. What is peace when we start to try and move beyond a definition that simply excludes war?

For my graduating project, I was looking at how educators in Alberta, specifically grade 6 teachers are working to build a culture of peace in their classroom as tied to their language arts programs and storytelling. There are many people who need to be involved in the process for building a culture of peace in our community, but my program was just a year… so I tried to keep my project a bit more confined. I define stories really broadly. To me they span from pieces of fiction to newspaper articles, videos to photos, non fiction factual texts, blogs, picture books and conversations that we have in our day to day interactions. Stories are the way we take our knowledge and share it.

There is a lot of theory in peace education about ensuring access to everyone; the importance of creating space for voices that are often marginalized or silenced. There is this funny dichotomy between encouraging a space for inclusion in the global south – without acknowledging how that can also be sought out here in the global north.

I had the incredible fortune to work with 4 teachers from both here in Edmonton, and in Calgary, who are doing amazing things with their students. Children make up a huge part of our society – yet we don’t often include them in the development of policy, or in discussions about how we will move out of a culture of violence and war into a new culture of peace.

For Canadian Children Grade 6 is a really exciting space of life. It’s this space where you have learned all of these incredible skills. You can communicate your ideas, you can be critical about what you see and read and hear – and yet there is still this belief of the possibility of anything. There is still an ability to dream a desired future and believe in the actions that will make it possible. The teachers I worked with have been not only acknowledging these abilities of students, but actively engaging them to create a culture of peace in their classrooms and by extension, their schools and communities. In this way, they are using their language arts program along with their other subjects to tie in peace themes.

Language Arts, in many ways is all about stories. You read them, you hear them, you learn to write them, and share them… and they provide this opening into a world that you perhaps haven’t yet seen. The teachers in my study are finding books, videos, poems and stories tells that share stories of peace from Canada and around the world to help create a vision of peace. Once this foundation is set for seeking the way that solidarity is being built – it weaves its way into everything. One class was using newspaper articles to follow their municipal election – because those students had spent time learning to read critically and question injustice – the theme that came out of those newspaper articles wasn’t about who was going to win – but why racism had become so entrenched in the discussion – and why adults weren’t actually calling on that, and seeking to stop it.

That brings me back to that definition of peace. How do you work for something you can’t quite envision, something that you don’t have words for, or haven’t yet seen? Part of what we’re doing here today, is acknowledging that we are a part of a larger community that is seeking something. That we’re a part of a collective yearning for a better world that seeks justice for everyone. Not just here in Edmonton, or Alberta, but that we’re a part of a global community of people who want to create something different for the future.

So – I hope you think about your favourite stories; the ones that shaped you, whether they were in books or came to you in a video or over tea with a friend or loved one. Share your stories, of peace, of struggle, of hope, of questions... I believe through sharing our stories of peace – we take one more step forward into helping it form around us.


1 comment:

  1. Brava!!! Well said. I can picture you in my head, giving these remarks, your lovely smiling face and symmetrical gestures.