Mother Teresa once said that she would never join an anti-war demonstration, but she would be the first to join a pro-peace rally. The idea behind this statement is that what you resist persists and in the act of opposing you are actually acknowledging and reaffirming the existence of whatever it is you are trying to stop. The key is to focus on the solution and not the problem. Unfortunately this fundamental principle is rarely applied to conflict zones and peace-building.
You can’t fight bullets and bombs with more of the same, what’s needed are schools.
The current approach to ending terrorism is to kill them before they kill us, but this approach only addresses the symptoms of terrorism and does not address the underlying causes. If anything, it adds fuel to the fire. Until governments recognize the importance of giving young people the opportunity at a better future, there will always be conflict and violence because there are no other options for these individuals. Traditional approaches to peace-building or nation-building only begin once the conflict has settled down, but some wars last for years or even decades. Wartime can be incredibly disruptive to normal life by making it difficult if not impossible to go to work, school or even the local food market.
Instead of sending more troops, artillery and machinery, we should send more engineers and building supplies. Yes, it is dangerous but if armies can secure their military bases, they should be able to secure a neutral zone where the children and youth of a specific region can attend school and get a warm meal.
Without continued education young people miss out on fundamental life skills and the ability to build a better future for themselves and their families. Once a war or acts of violence have subsided, the broken communities, towns and cities are faced with the often insurmountable task of rebuilding an infrastructure that can ensure basic necessities like water, electricity and waste management. Next comes the building of a government, court system and police force or military to maintain law and order. All of these jobs require skilled workers and educated leaders with a vision of a better tomorrow. But after years of war and violence and no school, who can realistically expect any country to recover?
We must also learn from the imperial past and not try to dictate what kind of education is offered. Ensuring an education for the youth of a conflicted area should not be confused with the spreading of one set of values over another. Local teachers should be found and then paid to continue providing the same kind of education in the native language as would be taught were there no violence. Schools need to be places that foster understanding and acceptance of differences, and not tools to spread political or social propaganda. Fortunately for the world, most children are better than adults at seeing past religion, culture or ethnic identity, and have an innate ability to relate to one another on a basic human level. Let’s help them cultivate that ability.
Here are two great videos on schools in conflict areas:
The first film is called “Bridge over the Wadi” and takes place in the Wadi Valley of Israel. The children attending this school are both Palestinian and Israeli, and participate in a bilingual curriculum. While the children seem to be enjoying themselves, it is the parents who have the greatest difficulties getting over their differences.
Here's the full 50 min. version of “Bridge over the Wadi."
The second film is called “ABC Colombia,” and documents the realities of growing up in a rural community that is controlled by paramilitary guerrilla forces. The film explores the choices and real life options these children have growing up in an area known for its coca production and involvement in the drug war.