Today we celebrate International Day of Peace, and honour those who teach peace in their classrooms and build community. From the stories of three teachers around the world, we take inspiration.
“Women and girls who didn’t know, now they have education. It’s a way to defeat the war.”
A student of Azizullah Royesh in Afghanistan
Teacher of civic education and 2015 Teacher Prize top 10 finalist Azizullah Royesh has suffered from the effects of war since an early age. He fled his home country at 10 years old, when the Soviet army entered Afghanistan. Then he had to leave the country again when Taliban took over in 1994.
As a victim of war himself, he teaches his students about human rights and democracy. He helps them to empower themselves with knowledge. As Aziz says, “Part of our civic education program concentrated on helping people to come out of this negative era after the war.”
"I realized if you can change a classroom, you can change a community, and if you change enough communities you can change the world."
The American teacher Erin Gruwell in her book The Freedom Writers Diaries told her magnificent story about helping students in Long Beach, California to look beyond ethnicity. Her students were surrounded by violence in their houses and neighborhoods. But through knowledge and classroom conversation, she empowered them to became ambassadors of peace in their communities.
Now, Erin Gruwell is on the Board of the Freedom Writers Foundation which empowers teachers and students so that they can contribute positively to their societies. The powerful film Freedom Writersis based on her story as a teacher confronting challenges.
"Education is a basic need and a fundamental right for every human being. I want to change the way my community looks at education, and I will continue to do this until my last breath."
In Karachi, Pakistan, teacher Humaira Bachal faced challenges as well, as violent clashes are common between different ethnic groups in the poor neighborhood where Humaira’s school is located.
Her students belong to several of the fighting groups. She helps her students understand that each of them is affected by violence, that they can connect with each other’s pain, that they do not need to take sides on this conflict, and that they can make a difference.
In 2001, the UN General Assembly chose 21 September as International Day of Peace. “All nations and people are invited to honor a cessation of hostilities during the Day, and to otherwise commemorate the Day through education and public awareness on issues related to peace.” (UN website)
Today, we honour teachers everywhere who are working to knit strong ties of community and peace into the social fabric, helping their students experience different cultures and access knowledge about the world.