Since 2003, HTAC's ground-breaking peace education program has taught over 53,000 Afghan children at 44 schools to reject violence and incorporate the lessons of peace into their everyday lives. Now a new program, built on many of the same peace-building principles taught in Afghan schools, is reaching and benefiting entire local communities where these children live.
A recently completed project in Samangan Province (north-central Afghanistan) trained and empowered local community groups (Shuras) in learning how to effectively address and resolve their conflicts while building a foundatin for peaceful cooperation. HTAC provided hands-on training for 2,028 members, 745 of whom were women. These local groups represented approximately 20,000 citizens.
Members learned such skills as non-violent conflict resolution techniques, building collaborative relationships, mediation, conducting effective meetings, and taking positive actions to resolve long-standing problems.
The 6-month effort was a resounding success. Community leaders and independent observers reported sharp decreases in conflicts, both within and between local groups. Our team observed significant improvements in how meetings were conducted as these groups were able to effectively address previously unresolved conflicts that were important to their communities. In a male-dominated society such as Afghanistan, the team also saw a greater inclusion of women as active participants and decison-makers.
While much attention (about peace education in our schools) appropriately focuses on changing the negative attitudes and aggressive behaviors of boys, HTAC has found that teaching Afghan girls about peaceful everyday living has great value as well.
Our experience at multiple school sites show that high percentages of Afghan girls (not yet exposed to our program), regularly engage in fighting, harassment, and other aggressive behaviors as well as showing disrespect for fellow students, teachers, and even their parents.
Why is it important for girls (as well as boys) to learn about peace? Deocumented studies have shown that educated Afghan women often provide a stabilizing influence in their households and are a bulwark against extremist views.
Consider the story of Fatima Haidari, in her own words, an eight-grader at one of the schools where HTAC's peace education program is being implemented.
My conflict happened almost 2 years ago between me and a girl of a family living nearby. It was over filling of water tanks from a public hand pump. I wanted to fill the water tank first, but the girl was not allowing me, telling me that she was here first. I knew I had arrived at the water pump before her and that it was my turn. We started shouting at one another and before I knew it, we were fighting. It was horrible. Both of us were bruised and hurt, but the conflict continued. Every time we saw one another, the tension returned. Although other girls (we were close to), were often present at the pump station, none of them stepped in to help us and resolve our problem. It is what it is, some of my friends would say.
Last year, a female teacher came to our class and recommended that we enroll in a new peace education program. When I saw many of my friends expressing their interest, I raised my hand and told the teacher that I would like to participate, but first needed to ask permission from my parents. I was relieved and excited to get their approval and soon I began attending peace education sessions. I learned a lot about the importance of mediation and practical skills of resolving conflicts peacefully, without resorting to fighting; not only at school, but in the home and our community.
As classes continued, I began to feel more positive about my attitudes and my behavior with other students as well as members in my own family. This led me to believe that I could finally resolve my differences with this girl I had fought with 2 years ago.
One day, our paths crossed while walking to school. I said 'hello' and greetings to her and I apologized for what had happened. She looked angry, but accepted my greetings. I then invited her to come to my home for lunch and to discuss our issues in a friendly manner. She agreed and two days later, she came to our home with her small brother. We shared some great food and talked about the benefits of peace and why it was wrong to constantly be in conflict. By the end of lunch, she smiled at me and we hugged. I felt so wonderful at that moment, as if a great burden had been lifted from my shoulders. I am happy to say that we became friends.
Fatima Haidari, 8th grade student at Abdullah Bin-Omar School
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.
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