It began with a question and a vision from HTAC's executive director and founder, Suraya Sadeed. For generations, Afghan children have grown up in a culture where they have known nothing but war, violence, and aggression. Why are we not teaching them about peace?
From those early days in 2002, when HTAC helped sponsor some of Afghanistan's first peace education workshops for teachers, the dream of implementing formal peace educaiton courses into Afghanistan's national curriculum has now taken a huge step towards becoming a reality.
In recognition of our leadership and track record in implementing results-based peace education programs in five provinces for over 53,000 students, Afghanistan's Ministry of Education endorsed HTAC's recommendation to develop a national school-based peace education progrram for all Afghan public schools.
This will be a huge undertaking and will involve strong educational partners as well as support from institutional as well as individual donors, but based on what we have seen in the field over the past 9 years, the implementation of a national peace education curriculum will have a dramatic effect, not just with children, but with teachers, parents, and entire communities
For vulnerable Afghan children, especially boys, learning about peace will be life-changing. Many of them will learn how to cope with the emotional trauma they've suffered in witnessing or even experiencing violence first hand. They'll learn how to accept and respect different ethnic groups and replace fighting and harassment with non-violent conflict resolution skills and cooperation. Most importantly, they'll learn to reject violence and extremism and embrace the principles of peaceful, everyday living.
Thousands of Afghan teachers who have never had formal training will learn to abandon counter-productive corporal punishment practices as a way to motivate students and replace those behaviors with positive role modeling. Parents will learn how to reinforce peace education in the home and establish an environment of good communication and trust with their children. Local communities will help ensure the lessons of mediation, cooperation and problem-solving (all learned in peace education) will carry far beyond the classroom and into neighborhood councils and Shuras.
HTAC is working hard to make peace education, not just a program, but a way of life for the next generation of Afghans.
Ellaha is a seventh grade student who attends school in the Paghman District of Afghanistan, about 30 miles west of Kabul. Recently, Ellaha was introduced to HTAC's peace education program. This is her story.
"My name is Ellaha, daughter of Mohammad Yousuf. I am a student of grade seven at Paghman Girls High School and I wanted to share the very positive impact of peace education in my life and the life of my family.
I have three brothers. They are all married and we all live together. The conflicts between the wives of my brothers went on almost daily, creating such tension that my mom and dad were exhausted- physically and emotionally. My younger sisters and I were often terrified over these conflicts. The shouting and abuse was almost unbearable. The wives had no way of communicating with one another in a respectful manner and my brothers unfortunately did not know how to intervene. Life was horrible at home.
Luckily, during my first week of school, one of our teachers came to our class and announced a new program. It was called 'peace education'. At first, what this class could teach me so I was cautious about it. I did not want to get my hopes up too high. However, as the weeks went by, I was surprised at the many positive things I was learning about in class. Most importantly, I learned the skills of non-violent conflict resolution, which we practiced in class. Soon, I became quite good as a mediator and in fact, I was asked by my teacher to be one of the few peer student mediators for the program where I would help my fellow students peacefully resolve their differences. This made me feel happy and accomplished.
One day, I decided to try my mediation skills at home. I found an opportunity to talk with each of my brother's wives (when they were not busy fighting) and explained to them there was a better way to resolve disagreements. At first they did not believe me. One of my brother's wives even laughed at me. You are so young, she said. What can you teach me? But eventually, I was able to change her opinion by helping her and another wife resolve a very bitter dispute. Afterwards, she came to me and gave me a hug. Thank you, she said. I'm sorry I didn't trust you. I made her promise she would use the steps of non-violent conflict resolution the next time she was having a problem.
Within a couple of weeks, all the violent arguments had stopped. Yes, there are still problems and disputes, but they are handled in a calm, respectful manner where everyone uses the same approach. My brothers' wives now treat me like their sister and my parents look to me as the official family mediator. I express my gratitude to HTAC and its supporters for such a useful program."
HTAC is helping students like Ellaha learn the principles of peaceful everyday living and changing their lives for the better.
What will it take to stop the cycle of war and violence that has gripped Afghanistan for over 30 years? HTAC believes that giving children, their parents, and local communities the tools to address the root causes of violence while helping them embrace the principles of peaceful everyday living is the missing strategy in bringing peace and greater stability to this poor, war-torn country.
In 2011, HTAC's innovative peace education program continues to make significant strides in changing long-held attitudes and counter-productive behaviors of children (and adults) in the following ways:
1. Helping children cope with the trauma of witnessing or experiencing violence first-hand by reading and discussing Journey of Peace storybooks that have characters and stories they can relate to.
2. Using puppets and mini-theaters for children to act out their frustrations, anger, sadness, and healing.
3. Teaching children the techniques of non-violent conflict resolution as an alternative to fighting and other aggressive behavior.
4. Training teachers to role model positive (motivational) behaviors in the classroom and cease counter-productive corporal punishment practices.
5. Providing peace guides and orientations for parents to help reinforce the principles of peace in the home.
6. Working with local community leaders to reinforce peace education among adults.
As we have already seen, schools and local communities that are exposed to peace education will become breeding grounds for peace, respect, and cooperation and cease to be potential breeding grounds of terrorism.
Kandahar, Afghanistan is the birthplace of the Taliban and the currrent center of intense fighting between NATO forces and insurgents. Mandy people in the West have painted Kandahar as a harsh, brutal place with little hope for any successful resolution.
Yet, within this bleak environment, approximately 36,500 Afghan middle school children at 22 Kandahar schools are eagerly embracing the virtues and principles of peaceful, everyday living and rejecting violence. HTAC's peace education project, launched late last year in this city, is having a profund positive impact on children, their teachers, parents, and members of local communities.
Consider these facts. Before the peace program began, independent (trained) observers reported an average of 880 incidents of fighting and other aggressive behavior per month among students at these schools. Six months later, the number fell to 285, a 67% decrease. Conversely, the average number of potential aggressive conflicts resolved through non-conflict resolution (among students), rose from 0 to over 700 per month. Among the 1,129 teachers at these schools, the independent group reported that 950 (or 84%) had abandoned previously unhealthy corporal punishment practices and are now consistently using positive, nurturing motivational methods to help their students learn and gain confidence.
The program is also having a huge impact in the home. Children are sharing the lessons of peace, learned in the classroom, with their parents who become more sensitive to how they listen and communicate with their sons and daughters and as a result, learn how to become better parents and positive adult role models.
A number of communities within Kandahar, initially suspicious of 'another Western program', are now embracing peace education. As of this report, HTAC has received over 700 individual letters from Kandahar parents and community leader, expressing their strong support for the program to continue.
The future of Afghanistan lies in the hands of its children, but the road to a peaceful Afghanistan is long and difficult. Simply teaching peace education in Afghan schools is not enough. Children need the wisdom, kindness and courage of their parents to navigate this rocky road. That is why HTAC's peace education program extends beyond the classroom and actively involves the parents of children.
HTAC helps get parents involved in three special ways; 1) inviting parents to local schools (where we teach peace education) and provide them with an orientation about the program and what their children are learning about peace; 2) providing parental guides about special activities parents can do in their homes to reinforce the principles and values their children are taught in the classroom; and 3) giving parents opportunities to come to school and watch their children perform in mini peace theater mini-presentations.
Far too many Afghan children (at no fault of their own), have been emotionally traumatized due to the on-going war and conflict in their country, either by observing violence first-hand, learning about the death of a loved-one, or in some unfortunate cases, actually experiencing physical violence. HTAC's peace education program is designed to address the root causes of violence and teach children how to cope with their fears and insecurities and develop positive, empowering behaviors that help them reject violence and live peaceful, productive lives.
In our program, parents are taught the same skills of coping with trauma that their children learn so they can be replicated in the home. Parents also learn how to practice the same positive modeling skills (in front of their children) that teachers use in the classroom, especially the use of positive motivation and (conversely) avoid hitting or yelling at their children. Over time, these lessons help children and parents better communicate with one another and establish a loving, trusting, nurturing home environment.
Watching their children perform in peace-oriented mini-plays is oftentimes a magical experience for parents who not only express pride in seeing their child perform on stage, but reinforces the parents' commitment to integrate peace values into their child's everyday life- and in the process, helps fundamentally change parents' behavior for the better. Collectively over time, an entire Afghan community learns how to embrace peace and reject violence.
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