The first full day of the Being the Change: Building a Culture of Peace conference started with a plenary session built around linking the three themes of the conference which are education, the Women’s Movement, and disarmament. The moderator of the first session was Alyn Ware (Coordinator, New Zealand Peace Education) who set things up and brought everything together for a solid start for the day filled with workshops organized around the three threads.
The first presentation on the panel was from Hetty van Gurp who founded Peaceful Schools International in 2001 after years of teaching peace in the schools in Nova Scotia following the death of her older son, Ben, following an act of aggression by another student who had been bullying him at school. In addition to her work in Nova Scotia, she has also worked with schools in Serbia (documented Teresa MacInnes’ NFB film Teaching Peace in a Time of War). Hetty passionately argued for the importance of peace education in schools and how teaching peace is as vital as all other subjects. By adding peace to the curriculum a safer world will result for our children and ourselves.
The next panelist to speak was Donna Smyth of the Nova Scotia Voice of Women for Peace (a former English and Creative Writing Professor at Acadia University in addition to being a feminist author, novelist and playwright as well as Founding Editor of Atlantis Women’s Studies Journal). She began with a story of attending the recent Royal Nova Scotia International Tattoo and her horror at the militarism on display and the glorification of war in some of the presentations. She then gave an overview of the vital role that the Nova Scotia Voice of Women for peace had in raising consciousness and advance the cause of peace in Nova Scotia. It’s important to remember the history of the struggle for a non-violent world and she gave an inspiring overview of women taking action for peace.
Sandra Ionno Butcher (Senior Program Coordinator of the International Secretariat of the Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs, and the Director of the Pugwash History Project) then made a strong argument for the importance of heroes and mentors in the peace movement. She told stories about how she was involved with Student Pugwash USA and how the mentors such as Joseph Rotblat had shaped her involvement with the movement.
It was the perfect way to start the day and fill everyone with ideas and the important work that began in the past and continues today.