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Transforming attitudes and values towards peace in schools in Uganda, our Conflict Resolution Education program is celebrated by students and teachers alike

Peace starts in the minds of men and women and more so in the minds of children and youth. This is the rationale behind our Conflict Resolution Education program in schools, which is currently gaining momentum in the Gulu and Kiryandongo areas of northern Uganda where we are active in 8 schools.

With 396 students already certified and 311 to complete their training this year, our CRE program in schools is disseminating knowledge, skills and attitudes that will help them become a new generation of youth role models in peace building and conflict resolution by championing nonviolence in their schools and communities.

As remarked by Evelyn Laruni, an expert in peace-building and conflict resolution who joined WPDI in January 2017, the CRE program is “instrumental in shaping the lives of the youth, children and the community that suffered greatly during the Lord Resistance War and the War back in South Sudan. For such a community to engage in productive ventures, their mind-set and attitudes need to change for them to begin to look at things more positively. This program in both secondary and primary schools has greatly improved how students and pupils relate and communicate with another.”

Indeed, a fundamental aspect of the CRE program is its practical dimension. It is our assumption at WPDI that peace is more than the absence of war; it is a positive state that builds on gestures of solidarity and attitudes of openness. Okumu Regan Obina from, Sir Samuel Baker School and chairperson of its scripture union, proved sensitive to this approach of peace: “After these classes, I realized that being a respected leader was not enough to resolve conflict but rather having the ability to resolve conflict the right way was the key and I got just that from CRE.”

The course sensitizes the students on the values of peace and tolerance, but, most importantly, it invites them to learn them as attitudes and behavior that they must practice in their daily lives. In effect, this training has a transformative dimension that changes the outlook of students not just on peace, but also on the others and even on themselves.

Judith, chair of the peace club of the Gulu Sacred Heart School, described to us how the program changed her: “Initially I never imagined I would take interest in this position of chair of the peace club until I realized I had more potential than I thought. This realization happened after I attended CRE classes and learned how to resolve conflict easily through mediation, I could also tell when one is in a conflict but yet cannot express their feelings. I started helping out with small misunderstandings in the dormitory and now even in my class. It was always beautiful to help other with conflict resolution and this lifted my self-esteem that I actually got the confidence to contest. I don’t expect to meet challenges in my new position given the skills and knowledge that I have and I believe it will be the best moments of my school life making a difference in the lives of students through conflict resolution.”

That students prove willing to replicate their knowledge and skills is a measure of success that is matched by the observation of the teachers and headmasters that the CRE program has helped the students and pupils create a peaceful environment in school. Petty fights and quarrels has greatly reduced within the schools because the students better manage their emotions and communicate to one another more appropriately.

Suzan Awor, Deputy Head teacher Gulu Central High School, became a vibrant advocate of our program: “After CRE classes had started, I took a look at the manual and interacted with some of the students who were attending and was amazed at what they shared. I actually took enough interest in it that I shared with the board of the school the need for teachers to be trained in CRE because we needed it like yesterday. Members of the staff including myself have been able to notice a change in the lives of students especially how they approach situation if in a conflict. The head teacher himself confessed that occasionally he has noticed a student help other resolve conflict peacefully so if we can be able to notice and tell the difference than this subject is making tremendous impact. So am proud to say that CRE is making a lot of impact in the lives of students who benefit from it and now more students are interested in these classes. I would like to encourage WPDI to continue working with the school because they have the administration’s full support.”

Convincing both the teachers and the student bodies of 8 schools is, to us, a reward in itself. The CRE program is an activity that we have been developing for the past 3 years, based on an initiative of WPDI youth peacemakers from Mexico who had decided to go into school to replicate our training with high school students. When we introduced the program in Uganda, we met very positive responses from education authorities as well as these 8 schools that proved willing to pilot this unheard-of program. Today, with its success, more and more schools are realizing how important it is to teach CRE to their students and are now asking us to implement the program with them. Mainstreaming our CRE program is clearly one of the most exciting challenges that WPDI will have to address in the coming months to strengthen the dissemination of a culture of peace in Uganda and beyond.