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Teacher Newsmagazine Volume 20, Number 1, September 2007

United Nations International Day of Peace, September 21, 2007

By Sam Fillipoff

All United Nations (UN) countries have agreed that September 21, the International Day of Peace (IDP), should be observed as a global cease-fire and a day of peace and non-violence. The IDP was established by a UN resolution in 1981 to promote the ideals of peace and to give positive evidence of the UN’s commitment to peace in all viable ways. The International Day of Peace provides an opportunity for individuals, organizations, cities, and nations to create practical acts of peace.

Experience has shown us that during our lives, unique opportunities present themselves to make a fundamental difference for positive peaceful change. We only need to recognize them and then have the courage to act. Here are a few examples from the City of Vancouver:

  • Green Peace originated in Vancouver in the early 1970s with the sole intent of stopping nuclear atmospheric testing in the Pacific Ocean by the United States, France, and Britain. The Phyllis Cormack, a refitted fish boat, sailed from Vancouver on September 15, 1971, with a crew of visionaries and dreamers to confront US nuclear tests on Amchitka Island in the Alaskan panhandle. They succeeded!
  • In the 1980s, David Suzuki, a geneticist, began writing and leading the discourse for environmental protection and conservation. He went on to host the TV series The Nature of Things. Today, the David Suzuki Foundation is globally recognized as a beacon of hope for a world threatened by environmental problems, climate change, and looking for solutions for a sustainable future.
  • Also in the 1980s, Vancouver City Council encouraged citizens to Walk for Peace and voted to declare Vancouver a "Nuclear Weapons Free Zone"–earning the city the United Nations designation of Peace Messenger City in 1986.

Vancouver and British Columbia have a rich history and tradition for peace and social justice activism.

The first World Peace Forum (WPF) assembled in Vancouver from June 23 to 28, 2006, to discuss: "Cities and Communities: Working together to end war and build a peaceful, just, and sustainable world." The 5,000 participants from across the world and from all walks of life concluded that a world without war is achievable. They issued the 2006 Vancouver Appeal for Peace that outlined eight major themes that would bring an end to war. One of those themes stated: "We will educate our children and youth to cultivate cultures of peace and non-violence."

The Winter 2007 issue of Our Schools, Our Selves dedicated the volume to "Teaching for a Culture of Peace." A feature story described a peace education project titled "Acts of Transformation: from War Toys to Peace Art" and called it the media star of the show in the buildup to the World Peace Forum. Children turning in their war toys captured symbolically the whole idea of transformation that is necessary for peace. The Museum of Anthropology at the University of BC organized workshops for students, teachers, and artists, and exhibited their War Toys to Peace Art along with children’s Peace Art from Uganda and schools in BC. The War Toys to Peace Art project left a lasting physical legacy for a culture of peace for the children who participated.

The United Nations General Assembly declared 2001 to 2010 an International Decade for a Culture of Peace and Non-violence for the children of the world, 2001 to 2010. All of the Nobel Peace prize Laureates have signed a declaration of support for actions that will achieve success for this decade and its objectives. They stated: "Together we can transform the culture of war and violence into a culture of peace and non-violence. This demands the participation of everyone. It gives young people and future generations values that can inspire them to shape a world of dignity and harmony, a world of justice, solidarity, liberty, and prosperity." This decade ends in 2010, the year the Winter Olympics are in Vancouver. This presents a wonderful opportunity to graft Acts of Transformation: from War Toys to Peace Art as a participatory peace education activity for children in BC, Canada, and perhaps even the world, onto the stalk of the Olympic truce. This would be a wonderful legacy for the Olympic Games and the International Decade for Culture of Peace and Non-violence for the children of the world.

Please consider starting to organize, participate, and cultivate a culture of peace and non-violence for the children in your school, community, or city on September 21, 2007, the UN International Day of Peace. A teaching resource guide, Acts of Transformation: from War Toys to Peace Art, is available from the BC Teachers’ Federation Lesson Aids to assist you. A DVD is also available to show children’s involvement in the War Toys to Peace Art Project.

Allowing children to play with war toys suggests to them that adults approve of violent play. War toys imply that war is an exciting game and that killing is okay, even fun. Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International report that more than 500,000 children under 18 years of age have been recruited into government armed forces, para-militaries, civil militia, and a variety of non-state armed groups in more than 85 countries. At any one time, more than 300,000 of these children are actively fighting as soldiers. Whether recruited or abducted to join armies, many of these children have witnessed, or taken part in, unbelievable acts of violence, often against their own families or communities. The Canadian Army is recruiting children 16 years of age in our schools. They are offering secondary school credits and salaries for children to enlist. Let’s help put an end to child soldiers on this planet. Ask your children and students to surrender their war toys to be transformed into peace art. Consider concluding the project on November 11. That was the date that was supposed to end all wars.

Recall the words of Margaret Mead: "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever does."

Sam Fillipoff is a retired Vancouver teacher.

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