Deconstructing Peace Day: Start with the Personal

Betsy Leimbigler

“Peace through education”

It’s easy to casually toss aside Peace Day as a broad United Nations endeavour and, for the critically minded, question the meaning behind it. However, our Culture Columnist Betsy Leimbigler’s account of what happened on Peace Day at the United Nation’s Headquarters in New York City, may change your mind. Her vantage points will help Generation Y understand how to internalize Peace Day.

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This past summer, I took part in a musical production in Geneva, Switzerland, entitled “2050: The Future We Want” It was performed at the Palais des Nations at the United Nations, and the upbeat songs we core cast members sang talked about “Celebrating peace day.”

I wouldn’t have thought that a few weeks later I would quite literally be riding the “peace bus” to New York City, celebrating Peace Day, organized by Circle of Peace and sent through the Canadian Commission to UNESCO. Thirty-nine young ambassadors for peace, myself included, rode the night bus to and back from NYC from Montreal in what was an impactful flash visit to the United Nations headquarters. I had never marked the day with celebration before, let alone an organized trip to New York City, and I was excited to network with Generation Y from Quebec and around the world at the Peace Day celebrations. The night bus part seemed like a challenge too.

Before we boarded, I explained the 8th Youth Forum in Paris  that I would be attending as a Canadian representative, and how I valued the youth ambassador’s positions on key issues for our preparation to go to Paris. A unique aspect to this New York trip were the perspectives and ideas shared in an informal setting. We boarded the bus to New York and instead of sleeping, which would have been a wise idea, I ended up discussing all sorts of ideas with people on the bus (which I still maintain was also a wise idea.) The discussions on that bus were the first time I had a truly intense discussion on the differences between formal, informal and nonformal education. This theme proved to be of core importance in my role as a Youth Advisor and delegate to the Youth Forum in Paris the following month.

Peace Day Begins

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This year on September 19th 2013, dignitaries, students, youth groups and members of various organizations committed to core values of tolerance and respect for all humans converged on the UN headquarters in NYC for the annual celebration of “Peace Day.” The theme of the celebration was “peace through education.”

Peace Day began at 9am in the rose garden of the UN headquarters, where a choir had assembled and where a parade of youth carrying all the flags of the UN member states marched into the garden. We were fresh off the peace bus and followed the parade of youth into the beautiful rose garden, the sun shining down on us and the iconic UN building looming ahead of us. A group of young violinists were serenading the camera crews and the officials near the podium where Secretary-General Ban-Ki-Moon was to make an address.

I was delighted to see the familiar face of an NGO representative I had just performed for in Geneva. Patrick from Green Cross International greeted me unexpectedly, recognizing my red blazer from the stage I had performed on in Geneva. Our discussions later on that day on notions of citizenship and thoughts on materialism as we walked around New York, exchanging ideas from one perspective to another.

“one teacher, one book, one pen can change the world”

“One teacher, one book, one pen can change the world.” – Malala Yousafzai, education activist

This focus on education was particularly interesting for me, and this recurring quotation throughout the day began to resonate with my understanding of human rights, dignity, and peace.

How do we internalize Peace Day and make it meaningful? By contextualizing it to our own experience.

Deconstructing Peace Day: start with the personal

Jane Goodall addressed us in an afternoon session. Her takeaway message in the afternoon session linked her work with research on animal behaviour to new perspectives for youth to think. She took the time to discuss materialism in our culture and how it can be destructive to our environment: how we, as youth, should re-think the way in which we interact with our peers.

Instead of competing against each other by comparing material goods acquisition, such as  the latest fashions, trends, and technologies – we should re-orient the way we think towards sustainability and the environment. Ms. Goodall showed us in her workshop one aspect to incorporate peace day into our lives, starting small and starting with ourselves.

What’s the Point?

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Slowly but surely, the message behind “Peace Day” became a bit more clear that it was about challenging ourselves to understand our own definitions of Peace.

Most importantly, taking part in Peace Day allows us to bring our diverse perspectives and abilities to the table. It’s a day with very broad objectives and that is unique to everyone’s experiences, and we celebrate it in our own way. Having discussions about citizenship, cultures, faith, preventing cruelty against animals, or presenting a project that supports an education initiative, or being part of a movement of young people dedicated to the wide interpretation of peace through education  – it’s a day where we, as youth, are committed to the dialogue that starts action.

After Peace Day

The next morning, I rolled back into Ottawa – I had left town and returned within approximately 36 hours of exciting inspiration. Marking a day a year to celebrate peace and to tie it in with iconic heroes like Malala Yousafzai serve as a reminder to youth of the links between education and building a sustainable, peaceful future.

The dialogues I began on that bus and that I had in the workshops prepared me for my next trip, representing the Canadian Commission to UNESCO at the 8th Youth Forum in Paris. Myself and thirty-nine other Canadian youth from Generation Y had experienced a trip together for the purpose of being a part of this collective moment to celebrate our own definitions of Peace.