Addressing the Root Causes of Violence and Conflict
Peace Room at one of HTAC’s model schools
For almost 30 years, Afghan children have been the innocent victims of a never-ending cycle of violence, conflict and terror. Recent studies have shown that between 60% to 70% of Afghan children exposed to violence suffer severe emotional trauma that not only affects their learning, but also their ability to develop emotional awareness, empathy, self-esteem and basic problem solving skills. Developing such skills are essential for these children as they grow older and become productive adults. Left unchecked, many of these children, especially boys, will grow up believing that violence is the only solution to coping, and as a result, many of them become vulnerable to extremist viewpoints. HTAC believes that the best way to address the root causes of violence is to educate a new generation of Afghans who will embrace the principles of peace and work hard (as adults), to break this vicious cycle.
Our Peace Education Program has several key objectives: 1) providing tools to help children better cope with the emotional trauma many of them suffer from previous exposure to violence; 2) teaching children the basic concepts of peaceful everyday living, including non-violent conflict resolution; 3) training teachers to role model peace education concepts in the classroom; 3) involving children in activities where they can apply peace principles learned in class; and 4) working with parents to support peace education principles in the home.
Most crucial in the peace education process is for Afghan children to understand and learn about alternative ways to resolve conflict rather than resorting to fighting and other forms of aggressive behavior. Our curriculum (which features original, illustrated “Journey of Peace” storybooks – each in English, Dari, and Pashto), focuses on helping children deal with the emotions and consequences of: anger, fear, fighting, and sadness while embracing such qualities as: patience, apologizing, bravery, sympathy, mediation and satisfaction.
All participating schools have peace rooms, which are welcoming, stimulating and safe places for students to work on meaningful projects related to peace and resolve their differences in non-violent means. HTAC-trained teachers also help the parents of these children better understand how they can play a positive role by reinforcing basic peace principles within the home environment.
Since initiating this ground-breaking program in 2002, we have seen remarkable changes in students’ behaviors in embracing the principles of non-violent conflict resolution and their improved self-esteem. Our teachers not only report dramatic reductions in fighting, bullying and harassment among students, but in many cases, students from different ethnic groups (normally prone to fighting one another), are establishing meaningful friendships both in and outside of school. Peace education is one example of how HTAC is introducing Afghan children to a new way of living in the world and learning the value of striving for peaceful solutions to problems.
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HTAC believes that Afghan students need to learn about peace in a safe, nurturing and respectful learning environment where they feel comfortable expressing their opinions, and feelings. HTAC has redesigned the traditional classroom so that students now sit around a large table along with the teacher so they can see and communicate with one another as well as review lessons and work on projects together.
While the teacher remains an instructor, he or she also assumes the role of a facilitator and supporter, rather than simply an authority figure, thus changing the teacher/student relationship in a positive way.
The peace room is also a place where students participate in role playing and mini-theater presentations about the lessons of peaceful everyday living in front of their fellow students. It is a place where students who are having problems with one another work out their issues under the guidance of the teacher, using non-conflict resolution techniques.
Far too many Afghan teachers engage in counter-productive corporal punishment practices, mostly because they have never been trained in other methods. HTAC-trained peace education teachers have not only learned to abandon such practices, but they also consistently role-model key positive behaviors in the classroom, which lead to greater student-teacher communication, mutual trust and applied learning.
In each school where peace education is taught, several high-performing and respected upper-class students are selected and trained to become student peer mediators, assisting teachers in the classroom and school yard in defusing and/or resolving conflicts between students peacefully.
Students learn to respect one another (including those who may have different opinions or students from different ethnic backgrounds. Boys learn to respect and not harass girls. Students learn to ask for help if they encounter a problem they can’t solve on their own. Students learn and practice the technical skills of non-violent conflict resolution as well as opportunities to work collaboratively with other students in resolving long-standing problems. In the process, students learn to reject violence and embrace the values of peaceful, everyday living.
Parents receive an orientation about the peace education program from teachers, typically at the beginning of the new school year. In addition, parents receive a parental guide that explains what their children are learning about peace in school, and tips on how to reinforce the lessons of peace in the home.
HTAC trains and empowers local community school committees (or neighborhood Shuras) in practical ways to support peace education in their own community. This requires community leaders and other influential citizens to learn and adopt the values and principles of peace, just as their sons and daughters are doing.
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The British Council’s Afghanistan development division – Tawanmandi – awarded HTAC a grant for a peace education and peace building initiative in Baghlan Province designed to train and empower local community leaders and other members to effectively resolve conflicts while facilitating longer term principles of peaceful, everyday cooperation. The project began in April 2012 to educate and train an estimated 2,000 individuals including 800 Afghan women.
Help the Afghan Children’s successful peace education initiative in Samangan Province was recognized by the United States Institute of Peace in their Summer publication. Read this highly positive report.
HTAC has long-supported the concept of developing and implementing a national peace education curriculum in all Afghan public schools. In January, 2011 HTAC received the endorsement for this program from Afghanistan’s Ministry of Education, encouraging HTAC to work with other leading organizations in the development of this initiative. The Ministry has been impressed with the extraordinary results from HTAC’s peace education efforts in several provinces, including documented evidence that our peace education program is having a profound and lasting impact, not only with students, but family members and local communities as well.
Peace education project in Samangan Province yielding positive results
HTAC's peace education initiative at seven Samangan Province schools is having a significant impact in reducing aggressive behavior among students while promoting positive values. Read more...
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Journey of Peace Storybooks
View an Adobe® Acrobat® PDF sample of our Journey of Peace storybooks. These sixteen storybooks are also translated into Dari and Pashto and available as PDF files. See Storybook 1 (Jameela's Gift) for an example of the translated versions. Please contact HTAC at 703-848-0407 or firstname.lastname@example.org for more information about these storybooks. Adobe® Reader® is required to view these storybooks.
Story synopsis credit: Centre for Peace Studies at McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada.
In “Jameela’s Gifts”, Jameela and her younger brother Ahmed try to understand the anger and estrangement demonstrated by their older brother Abdullah. With the guidance of their grandmother, Bibi Jan, they learn how they might help him get over the loss of his Uncle Yunus, with whom he was very close.
In “The Wisdom of Bibi Jan” further demonstrates the grandmother’s role in the family as comforter and adviser. Abdullah’s concern over the change in personality of a school friend due to the trauma of the war triggers Jameela’s revelation that she is having nightmares, and Bibi Jan provides her with a special cure for her fears.
Much more of what is troubling Jameela, is presented in “Making Cookies”. Her fear of landmines is so strong that, much to Abdullah’s annoyance, she is frightened walking along a path that has already been cleared. Bibi Jan uses the opportunity of making cookies to help Jameela come to terms with her father’s injury, as well finding for Fatima a positive means of expression of grief for Yunus.
Jameela is finding it very difficult to fathom the mysteries that are locked up inside “Merza’s Heart”. She mourns the loss of the cheerful man she knew before his injury, the one who was full of stories. Her innocent questions bring him to tears, but they also remind him of the man he used to be, and create the yearning in him to be that way again.
The sadness and grief of Fatima, young widow of Yunus, is felt by Jameela and Ahmed, who attempt to cheer her. Bibi Jan notices and suggests ways for the family to come together and celebrate good memories of Yunus, especially by singing Yunus’s Song.
When their village is shelled through the night, the family faces the grim truth that they must abandon what is most dear to them in “Leaving Home”. Each of them deals with this traumatic thought in his or her own way, but ultimately they know it is for the best and put on a brave front as they face the future.
In “A New Friend”, the family is staying with an old friend of Merza’s while they are on their journey to the safety of his brother’s place in the city. While there, Abdullah learns a valuable lesson about the nature of making judgments about people who are different in either the language that they speak or their beliefs.
As the family continues its journey to the city, Abdullah discovers that Jameela has brought her kitten from home and has kept it hidden the entire journey. In anger, he takes the kitten from her and throws it in the undergrowth on the side of the road. Jameela is angry with her brother and refuses to acknowledge his existence. It is up to Bibi Jan to find a way for there to be “Reconciliation”.
In “Merza’s Anger”, Merza’s loss of control over his temper has frightened both Jameela and Ahmed. The emotional upheaval wreaks havoc on both children, and causes them to be short with each other. While hiding, Ahmed overhears his father talking to Bibi Jan about his own insecurity regarding the loss of his leg. When the child is discovered, it becomes an opportunity for bridges to be mended between father and son.
Bibi Jan’s diplomatic skills are once again put to the test in “Making Peace”. While looking for Merza’s brother Aly and his wife Aisha in the city, the family is staying at a camp for displaced persons located in an old schoolhouse. While in the cramped quarters where they must make their temporary home, Abdullah gets into a fight with a boy his own age over the intrusion of his bicycle in the others’ living space.
As “Abdullah and the Ten-foot Soldier” opens, Abdullah, now living with his family at his uncle’s house for a week, comes down with a fever. He recalls his childhood dreams about wanting to grow up to be a soldier before he falls asleep. He dreams about meeting a giant soldier in the market who teaches him a lesson about the reality of war.
In “A New Life”, Jameela expresses her joy at being able to meet Aly and Aisha as helping to offset being away from her home. However, when Haleema tells her that she will soon have a baby sister or brother, Jameela’s anxiety over the instability of their lives takes over. Her mother helps her to understand why this is a blessing for them all.
“Going Home” begins with the news that after a year, the family is finally going to make the journey back home. As the family makes their preparations for their return, it is clear that there is still some tension between Haleema and Fatima.
The relationship between the two women is the main theme in “Haleema and Fatima”. The family is journeying back to their village, accompanied by Aly and Aisha, who will stay with them for a visit there. Suddenly, Haleema’s baby is born, and Fatima helps her, using her new skills as a midwife. Though there were difficulties, Fatima is able to safeguard their health. This prompts Haleema to reconcile with her sister-in-law.
“The End of the Journey”. It opens with a dream that Bibi Jan has, which indicates the level of anxiety she has for the return trip and the condition of their home when they arrive. When they do, they find that the damages are minimal, and they begin the process of rediscovering what is truly important during the first meal they share together.
“Building the Future” presents the family coming together as a unit and working to restore their home. The final image of the story is that of a community working and singing together.
Please consider making a targeted donation to support our peace education program. Your donation will help maintain our peace rooms in our schools, pay for educational materials, and help us continue to provide our teachers with stipends to augment their meager salaries they receive from the government. Go to our DONATE page or contact our office (703) 848-0407 or email us – email@example.com to learn more
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