A unique aspect of Youth & Peace in Action is the emphasis on education for peacebuilding, not just education about peace. Within YPA courses there are case studies of peace projects led by young people that inspire imagination and development of new peace projects. There is also a curated collection of well-researched factoids that can be used to strengthen peace project problem statements and ideas. The goal is to support young peacebuilders to move from areas of interest to visualizing and then implementing peace projects covering a range of themes, concerns and interests.
School efforts to alleviate hunger and food insecurity have become a common service experience. When a peace project team members used Galtung’s Triangle of Violence to analyze the food drive at their high school, they noted a number of issues. Many donations were high-weight items with no nutritional value and low appeal for immigrants who make up a large percentage of local food pantry visitors. The insight led to a new food drive goal to build bridges across different cultures in the school and local community.
Team members interviewed hunger experts and local food bank employees. Using a peace project planning process, they reimagined the school’s hunger drive and convinced the Student Congress to focus on one food item—rice—the second-most requested item in local food pantries. In the first year of the new approach, the team exceeded the goal of collecting 1,193 pounds of rice. In the second year, 4,000 pounds of rice was collected. Over time, the school added beans to the collection and instituted a school-wide food festival to share rice- and beans-based dishes inspired by different countries and cultures.
Exploitation is at the heart of human trafficking and in direct contrast to the basic human right of freedom from slavery articulated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It’s estimated that 98 percent of people trafficked around the world are women and girls. When a peace project team learned the extent of the issue, including the impact in the surrounding metro community, team members collaborated with a local nonprofit to raise awareness and funds to support women trying to transition from trafficking to new opportunities.
They met with a group of women artisans and heard stories of personal challenges from trafficking. They organized a trunk show to sell hand-crafted jewelry and accessories made by women-owned businesses, generating more than $2,500. The team also created an awareness campaign that encouraged students to wear blue, a color linked to a national campaign against human trafficking. Through the project, they engaged 300 students and community leaders in conversations about the issue.
In July 2011, South Sudan became the world’s newest country. Within six years, two major and sustained outbreaks of civil conflict occurred, involving tribal raids and fighting between government military and opposition militia. In early 2017, two UN agencies declared famine in certain parts of the country. A peace project team learned that refugees from South Sudan had attended their school. Many of them were “Lost Boys of Sudan,” a name given to almost 30,000 children and young people who fled when their villages were destroyed and family members were killed.
The peace project team set a goal to organize a “Walk for Wisdom” to educate students about the power of education to overcome a culture of conflict. They collaborated with a nonprofit organization, agreeing to purchase books and solar lights for two primary schools in South Sudan. Seven hundred students participated in the first Walk for Wisdom. In the second year, more than 2,500 students from five schools participated and raised almost $10,000 to supply textbooks to South Sudanese primary schools.
In February 2020, hopes ran high when 63 students from 20 high schools embarked, together, on a journey to become certified peacebuilders. Eight teams had just finished peace project planning when COVID-19 spread on a global scale. They considered, “How can we work on peace projects with closed schools and stay-at-home restrictions?” All of the teams adapted, persevered, and used new, virtual skills. Here are highlights from four of the eight projects.
A growing number of teenagers are expressing fears that climate change threatens the future and frustrations are not taken seriously. The Lighter Footprints team discovered that US school cafeterias serve nearly 5 billion lunches every year in ways that add to the carbon footprint. The team partnered with Footprint App and Edible Schoolyards to develop an e-Food feature that helps students advocate for sustainable food choices and make lesson plans available to high schools.
US Bureau of Labor Statistics data indicates that the majority of the 20-fastest growing occupations will require Science, Technology, Engineering and Math education. “All-in-for-STEM” researched factors leading to pursuit of STEM careers and learned that the earlier children experience engaging STEM activities, the better. Children in low-income schools often miss out. The team partnered with a local nonprofit, and designed and delivered “STEM Learning Kits” and lessons to young people who wouldn’t otherwise have access to STEM camp opportunities.
“No More Hot Spots” team members focused on Human Trafficking of minors and learned that policies in their state include a mandate for schools to provide awareness instruction on human trafficking and sexual assault. But classroom content is not easily available or useful. Guided by an educator familiar with state education standards, the team developed an extensive Human Trafficking learning unit for high schools and a plan to present it to their local county Board of Education and the state Education Legislative Committee. The longer-term goal: a multi-disciplinary unit available for use by high schools during Human Trafficking Awareness Month.
During the COVID-19 crisis, immigrants are at higher risk because many work in “essential business” service roles. A peace project team learned that most official websites on COVID-19 protection measures are in English only, and protective face masks are not widely available. The team translated government COVID-19 postings into a multiple-language website; recruited volunteers to sew protective masks and attach information about the website; collected donations to fund the effort; and partnered with local nonprofits serving refugees and immigrants to distribute the masks and information.