Tuesday, March 8, 2011

On the outside looking in...

My name is Gwen Bögels and I’m an anthropology student from The Netherlands. For my masters I am required to do 12 weeks of in-depth research. Over the past few years I have grown more and more interested in peace education and I decided I wanted to research this topic. I am trying to find out what the perceptions of children are on war and peace and what their strategies are to resolve conflicts between each other, but additionally between themselves and their parents or teachers. This is why, over the past few weeks, I have chosen to talk to the oldest children of the two schools where the Insight Peace Education Project is implementing their peace education curriculum.

My interest in peace education started when I was taking a course called Education and Development, and the professor introduced me to the topic of education in conflict areas. Education is, according to me, an important feature of a child’s development. In school, children not only learn how to read, write and add numbers, but also how to interact with other children. School is where children learn how to share, how to quarrel, and how to resolve these quarrels. Next to that, children represent the future, so we should invest in them; even when a country is at war. Or maybe it is even more important to invest in education when a country is at war? School makes life a little bit more normal and it is a place where children can be themselves within these ‘bad surroundings’[1].

Since the beginning of this century, many organizations have begun to see education as a part of humanitarian aid. Next to food, medical care and shelter, more organizations support education in conflict affected areas. Although Gulu is a post-conflict area now, there are many NGO’s here working with education, children or youth. One of the first things I noticed driving north to Gulu from Kampala was that all signs featured the name of one or even two NGOs. But now, five years after the conflict ended, many of these NGOs say their work is finished and the number of organizations is decreasing. Luckily, and hopefully, the Insight Peace Education Project will continue with their good work, at least if there is funding for the next year(s).

As I mentioned before, I have been interested in Peace Education for a while now. I have read about it, wrote about it and now I finally see it ‘in real life’. It is amazing to see how the children and the teachers respond to the Insight Peace Education Project. In January my time at the project started with a two day workshop for local teachers. After the workshop, the teachers were asked if they wanted to stay involved, and they all did. I have also observed a couple of Peace Education in-class lessons. These lessons are unique because finally, the children don’t have to sit at their desks. They can also go in front of the class to sign their class contract. The contract is simple; the children make their own class rules, and with the contract the children all sign these rules. This allows them to stay engaged. It’s amazing to see how accurate these young children can describe peace.

The first thing I noticed, when I started talking to the children at both schools, is that they are incredibly smart. Sometimes I think they know more about the world than I do. Actually, I’m sure they do. These children grew up in a world that I could never imagine growing up in. War has affected all aspects of their lives. And even now, when I ask them if they think that Uganda is a peaceful nation, some say there is no peace in Uganda. They still cannot go out in the night to the bathroom (because it is too dangerous) and people are still displaced. Uganda is officially in peace (although the LRA never signed the peace agreement), but some children and even teachers still say it’s not.

That makes you ask: What is peace and what makes a country peaceful? I don’t think I know the answer, but I think some of these children do. They say they can make peace, can be good to their friends and the people of their community. And yes, I do think that when you want to make a country peaceful, you should start with the people who make the future: the children. My hope is that the war in northern Uganda will not return. What I know for sure is that the people in Gulu do want peace, and they try to be peaceful. But is that possible after seeing all the misery of a 20-year war? Let’s hope so!

Apwoyo matek,


[1] The title of the book about the war in Northern Uganda: ‘Living in Bad Surroundings: War, History and Everyday Moments in Northern Uganda’ by Sverker Finnström.

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