Associate Professor, Dept. of Gender and Peace Education
University for Peace, Costa Rica
(Welcome letter: Issue #70 February 2010)
The drive to the UPEACE campus is a winding road inching along hilly contours of the Pacific side of Costa Rica. Sometimes one side of the narrow road shows the remaining part of a mountain sheared off to give way to this pathway and on the other side a ravine where water flows from some tributary farther up the other mountains. Most of the time, on both sides of the road are hillsides covered with coffee shrubs thriving through all the growth stages of a coffee bean before it is harvested by Nicaraguan migrant workers. But trees and flowers bloom randomly through the year and around each bend one can see a patch of yellow, red, pink, lavender flowers crowning some towering trees and bright lovely bougainvilleas. As I write this letter, the pink flowers of the roble de sabana dominate the skyline along the road to the one and only University for Peace in the world.
The University for Peace (UPEACE), a treaty organization written within the United Nations framework with headquarters in Costa Rica, is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year. Entrusted with a mission to “provide humanity with an international institution of higher learning for peace …” UPEACE has graduated women and men from 58 countries in various masters degrees specializing, inter alia, in peace education, peace and conflict studies, gender and peacebuilding, environmental security and peace, and international law and human rights.
Alumni of the peace education masters program are now working in various formal academic institutions, NGOs, and governmental and UN agencies all over the world. Five Ugandan peace educators, for example, are engaged in education projects for healing, reconciliation and reintegration in northern Uganda. Another alumnus is a Participatory Peace Education Trainer in the Peace Brigades International Project in Indonesia. One of the earliest graduates of the program is now Programme Director at Human Rights Education and Peace International (HUREPI TRUST) based in Tanzania. All these exemplars show that UPEACE alumni are finding creative and challenging ways to apply their learnings and insights to concrete initiatives in building a culture of peace through education and empowerment for societal transformation at all levels.
At UPEACE, besides their academic studies, students in the MA Peace Education program are also engaged in activities through which they help raise awareness among the wider UPEACE community about various dimensions in a holistic framework of peace education. For example, they are responsible for organizing a UPEACE ceremony and event to commemorate the International Day of Peace on the 21st of September. Peace education students have also conducted several workshops and brown bag sessions for other students at UPEACE, such as Developing Indicators for a Culture of Peace at UPEACE, Human Rights and Transformative Learning, Power Shuffle Exercise, and Platform for Equality.
UPEACE alumni and current students contribute to the academic field of peace education through a range of interesting research studies on issues relevant to many local, national and international contexts. Exemplars of these research projects include:
- Educating for a Culture of Peace in Belize Central Prison
- Peace Education Capacity Building for Social Cohesion in Rwanda
- Alternatives to the ROTC in US Higher Education
- Educating for Socially Responsible Consumption in North Societies
- Integration of Peace Education in South Korean Classrooms
- Child Rights Violation and the Intervention of Peace Education in Ethiopia
- Giving the Youth of Cyprus a Voice: “The Future of Cyprus”
- Disaster Preparedness Education in Schools Affected by the 2009 Earthquake in Costa Rica
- Dialogue Approach in the Context of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict 2010
- Exploring the Experiences of Students of Color in an American University
- Exploring the Culture of Peace at the University for Peace
The Way Forward for Peace Educators
Educating for a culture of peace is necessarily a slow and complex process, and its achievements and “success” may not generate as much publicity as the signing of a peace accord to end an armed conflict or other crisis. However, in the context of sustainable peacebuilding, if the dimension of critical and empowering education is neglected, significant barriers and obstacles undermining holistic resolution and transformation of the root causes of the conflict will inevitably arise. The work of peace educators in formal, non-formal and informal levels of education help to move individuals, groups, institutions and communities to surface the existing foundations of a world built on the “sands” of violence, injustice, discrimination, ecological destruction, human rights violations and narcissism. Together with all other sectors and movements committed to building a peaceful world, peace education seeks to inspire dedication and hope in transforming those “sands” into living roots and firm rich soil of peace, justice, sustainability, respect, love, compassion and inter-being. This is what peace educators and education students are trying to do wherever they are.