Children, Education and Peace: A Story from Lebanon
By Hiba Ishaq
The conflict of Lebanon goes back to April 1975. But the conflict only turned violent and intense in the 1990s. Over time, the conflict encompassed layers of complexities. Each group involved in the conflict established militias that were largely based on ethnicities and religion. The peak of the conflict was seen in March 1989, when the city of Beirut was subjected to artillery fire and onslaught rockets. This affected the normalcy in the country creating panic, fear and trauma in the lives of people. The current scenario in the country is grave, with people hoping to survive this catastrophe. All social activities are suspended in the country, including schools and offices.
It was during the peak of civil war when UNICEF played a crucial role. It had given complete attention to emergency medical assistance and focussed on health, child care, vaccination etc. This was the time when attention was given more to adults while children were neglected. It was this time when UNICEF took an active initiative to address the issue of the education of children. Due to the shutdown of schools, children were suffering while many youths were taking up arms and joining militias. The UNICEF agenda was to fill the void in children’s lives created by the shutdown of schools. They came up with an innovative idea to create a magazine for children. It was called SAWA – meaning ‘together’ in Arabic. It was used not only as a tool to connect with children but also as a chance to help them learn and play in an interactive and playful manner. The SAWA magazine, here, can be seen as a ‘bottom-up approach’ to peacebuilding and a potential player for the promotion of peace. However, reaching those affected in times of war was not easy. The task of distribution of magazines was carried out through dispensaries. Adults and children were informed about the distribution through radio and television. The central theme of the magazine was ‘learning through playing and building a generation in a society at peace’. The creators and editors were careful of the war environment. But regardless of harsh realities, the magazine wanted to stimulate imaginative thinking and create lessons in an interactive and approachable manner. The magazine had several segments like ‘Know Your Country’, that focused on Lebanon and the Lebanese identity, rather than religion. Another segment was ‘From Your Culture’ which included folktales and stories of history and culture with a moral message at the end. The most important segment was ‘Living Sawa’, which focused on an explicit message for peace.
The SAWA magazine received a great response from the children and was successful in combining education and entertainment. The success of the magazine led to the establishment of summer camps (or Peace camps) as a means of bringing children and youth from across religion and region together. The main aim of these camps was to develop togetherness among children of different backgrounds. They were engaged in various activities to know each other and also about their country. This provided a platform to help children from across religions, ethnicities and regions to come together and work through shared living experience and teach them human relational values in an interactive and recreational manner. In this way, summer camps played a vital role in inculcating values of peace, harmony and tolerance among children and youth.
The magazine and summer camps fostered the living standards of children through storytelling, folks, tales, songs, and poems. This way, UNICEF adopted a peace-oriented approach. The peace story, here, makes it clear that education is in its most effective form when it is playful, non-threatening and unforceful. Both the magazine and the summer camp were used as educational tools to help children understand the reality along with finding means through which children can look beyond war. These initiatives not only helped children look at things in the world from various perspectives and make them aware of their surroundings, but also filled the void in their lives due to the closure of schools.
This peacebuilding story of Lebanon helps us to understand and analyse various positive measures that can be taken to assist people, while promoting peace and tolerance simultaneously, during wars. It helps us to understand that children are the drivers of peace. It is therefore imperative to focus on the health and education of the children in conflict-prone areas. It is also essential to keep them busy, entertained and help them differentiate between right and wrong. The right form of education is very important because it builds hope and confidence, which in return, breeds peace. To conclude, children are the future of this world, and if they are provided with a safe and sound education, they can help promote peace and harmony. Children are our hope for a better future.
Edited by B.S Ashish