Children as ‘zones of peace’
One of the enduring joys of being a grandfather is the opportunity that comes every so often to accompany one’s grandchild to school. In one of these excursions to take my 6-year-old granddaughter Leila Sonia to her Grade One classroom, I chanced upon a large tarpaulin displayed prominently by the school’s gate and declaring: “This school is a ‘Zone of Peace!’”
It was a throwback to experiences in the late 1980s when communities confronted by violent armed conflict, such as Sagada in the Mountain Province or cities with forward-looking leaders such as Naga, declared their areas off-limits to armed groups and took a strong stand against the violence that led to senseless deaths in their backyards.
Month of peace
September is traditionally celebrated as the international month of peace. Perhaps it may be timely and worthwhile to consider how we can strengthen our efforts to put a stop, once and for all, to the merciless killings that have taken place in our land. We can pause and ask: Is it not about time to put a stop to the loss of precious lives? And confront the fear and hate that threaten to overwhelm young and old alike?
Is it not about time that we make sense of it all, and make a compelling resolve to show who we truly are as a people?
In my more than 70 years of life, I cannot remember any other time in our country when the systematic, relentless and brutal killing of our children and youth took place, when the very ones we are duty-bound to nurture, guide and protect were gunned down and slain instead.
During martial law—the 45th anniversary of the declaration of which we are observing in painful memory this month of September—the obvious targets were the so-called “enemies of the state” and the political dissidents who protested human rights violations and pushed back against the destruction of democratic space. Now, the war is being waged against the purveyors and pushers of illegal drugs with the “spillover” called “collateral damage”—a vast majority of whom are the poor who are hunted down in the narrow alleys of the shantytowns that have mushroomed across our land.
Is there anything we can do, citizens who refuse to be cowed and silenced, citizens armed with courage who would strive to create some “safe spaces,” sanctuaries of life in an otherwise bleak landscape? As a start, can areas where children study (such as schools or libraries), play (such as parks and playgrounds), pray (such as chapels, churches or mosques), or are cared for (such as hospitals or orphanages) be declared “zones of life,” better protecting them from insidious forms of violence?
The idea of children as “zones of peace” is not new. It has been with us for decades; we have been there before. It has been practiced in places as far apart as Colombia, Burundi and Nepal, thanks in part to the Filipino experience. And now, even if only a few more lives are saved, it may well be worth further supporting this initiative and strengthening the joined-up efforts of educators and parents to propagate values of respect for others, reverence for life, nonviolence, the capacity for dialogue, and the ability to work well with others.
The Department of Education’s initiative to reaffirm and propagate the idea of schools as “zones of peace” is an important step, particularly because it starts where the young are, where young minds are formed, habits are learned, and resolve made early in life. Here are a few guidelines to remember:
1. Own the process. If people trust the process, then they will trust the outcome and make sure it is lasting. Students and teachers must understand and “buy in” to the idea of the “zones of peace.”
2. Organize the school community. It might be helpful to organize conversations around the idea and ask for suggestions how to make the “zones” real and meaningful.
3. Draft a pledge to show resolve. Each school community must attempt to draft a pledge it believes in and which it can implement to show its common resolve, engaging in concrete projects and encouraging “deeds of peace.”
As a way of demonstrating resolve, I share an outline of a draft pledge which could serve as some kind of template or an example for others to amend or improve upon:
1. We, students and teachers, school staff and officials, commit ourselves to the building of a “zone of peace.”
2. We will show respect for each other in words and deeds.
3. We will begin with small steps, starting with little acts of kindness shown to classmates and schoolmates, done daily.
4. We will learn to work well with others, and ask forgiveness whenever we hurt anyone.
5. We will put aside all forms of violence on campus, and put an end to all kinds of bullying.
6. We will protect the plants and trees, and will try to create a cleaner and healthier campus.
7. We will work and study hard so that we can become better students and, later, concerned citizens of this country.
8. We will play and enjoy sports, develop sportsmanship
at all times.
9. We will encourage friends in other schools to get involved in “zones of peace” so that we can build a network of peacemakers.
10. We believe that peace begins with us, and will always keep trying to be better students and better persons in a school that is ever more peaceful.
Declaring children as “zones of peace” may be a small step, but countless single steps taken together in the right direction can become both irreversible and unstoppable. It can turn the tide, and turn things around. Remember, it took one pebble for David to bring down Goliath!
Ed Garcia, a framer of the 1987 Constitution, taught at Ateneo and UP, worked at both Amnesty International and International Alert in London, and now serves as consultant on the formation of scholar-athletes at FEU Diliman.
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