Learning the Art of Making Peace

Article excerpt

Imagine a trip to the mall could transform your life, forever. Movie matinees or trendy boutiques provide alluring temptations for ordinary teenagers, but those teenagers who gathered around a conference table are not your typical mall-goers. Instead, they have assembled at their local shopping mall to learn restraint, good judgement and important life skills. This select group is joining the chorus of others around the world, amplifying their message of peace and tolerance through the Peacemaker Corps Association (PCA).

At a time when conflict has overtaken conversation, and destruction has decimated public dialogue, PCA is intensifying its efforts to engineer "peace-building". The programme empowers teenagers in the United States and globally, from diverse racial, ethnic, religious, socio-economic and gender backgrounds, to learn the art of making peace. As an antidote to universal scourges, the Peacemaker Corps is designed to equip young people with tools to foster tolerance, engage in non-violent communication, learn anger management, and practise mediation techniques and community-building strategies. More than just an instructional programme, PCA provides the ingredients for a life-long regimen that fuels the dreams and ambitions of young people and enables them to take an active role in seeking solutions for societal change.

In 1997, Secretary-General Kofi Annan asked the UN General Assembly to designate 16 November the International Day of Tolerance as part of a long-term plan for world peace. Carole Krechman, who from 1995 to 2001 served as Chair of the Friends of the United Nations (FOTUN), a well-established non-governmental organization (NGO), saw the creation of a peacemaking movement as critical to Mr. Annan's vision. She designed and implemented a four-step programme to bring peacemaking skills to teenagers, and important alliances were created to implement it.

A public-private partnership was established in 1999 between the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the Simon Youth Foundation, a non-profit arm of the Simon Property Company, the largest owner and operator of shopping malls in the United States. By inviting the industry to participate as a founding partner and a host of the trainings, the programme could find a venue anywhere in the world virtually free of charge.

Established in 2002 as an independent non-profit organization, PCA gained NGO status with the United Nations Department of Public Information in January 2003. The inspiration for the organization, however, germinated for over twenty years through Carole and Sheldon Krechman's professional experience in the family retail entertainment business. The couple owned and operated roller-skating, ice-skating and bowling centres in several shopping malls across the United States. Quickly, they recognized that their business interests created opportunities to interact with countless teenagers from all walks of life who enjoyed their facilities. They visualized the mall, considered by conflict resolution professionals as a "safe space", as a place where at-risk children could hang out and leave their gang affiliations and community biases at the door.

"We knew, even then", explains Carole, "that we wanted to create a teaching programme that could bring kids together in a safe, pleasant environment like a shopping mall and help show this group another way to live their lives." Through their tireless efforts and personal dedication, the Krechmans advocated for and were awarded a $1-million grant from HUD in 1999. According to Nancy Kirshner Rodriguez, former Deputy Assistant Secretary at HUD: "When the Peacemaker Corps concept was presented, we immediately recognized the programme's potential. We were proud to be one of the venture capitalists for an initiative that helps to create strong, independent and tolerant individuals."

In bold fashion, PCA attracted talented educators and experts in conflict resolution to develop an empowering and inspiring curriculum to teach local 12- to 17-year-old youth leaders ethics, anger management, conflict resolution, mediation, youth violence prevention and tolerance skills. …