Youth Lead Peace Conversations

By Scott Martin, Global Partnership Manager, Mediators Beyond Borders International with Suki Kalra, Partnership Storyteller, Mediators Beyond Borders International

The mission of Mediators Beyond Borders International (MBBI)  is to create a more peace “able” world by empowering community members, with an emphasis on  youth being central to that mission. MBBI maintains a sharp focus on working with youth through our commitment to Youth-centered peacebuilding, the Peace Conversations Facilitation (PCF) program, and as a service partner of Rotary International. We believe in building local skills for peace that can be implemented and taught in schools and communities. Young peacebuilders are just as capable than adults, and we saw this firsthand in Friendswood, Texas.

As a Rotary Peace Fellow, I am often asked to present as a keynote speaker for district conferences and events. In 2019, we introduced a hybrid form of PCF to create a more meaningful experience for conference goers. The first event was for District 5190, held in Galveston, Texas, called the “Galveston Round-Up!” Here, we trained 16 Rotarians from the district to lead a peace conversation to discuss with one another what they learned during the conference and what they committed to moving forward. The discussions were energizing and fostered an environment of mutual learning and increased fellowship.

After the event, a Rotarian asked if we could do something similar for youth. I joked that youth are actually much easier to work with than adults because there is less to unlearn. About a month later, Dave Smith reached out and told me about their event at Friendswood High School called “Adulting 101” and asked if I would be interested in returning to Texas. Over the next several weeks, we devised a plan to train a small cohort of high school students, including Interactors, to lead a mini Peace Conversation during their event.

The PCF training consists of three main parts. The first part has always been online and includes three 90-minute live sessions. These are held virtually so as to not take up valuable in-person time reviewing content and instead spend time practicing the peace conversation structure. Virtual participation was a natural fit for high schoolers, even before the pandemic.

For the second part of this training, we arrived a day early and brought the students together for a half-day to apply the skills they had learned and practice facilitating with each other. The third (and most important part) of the PCF training is doing. We are people of action after all – and the only way to get better at facilitation is to do it!

Throughout the interactive presentations, we used technology such as Mentimeter to engage students and invite them to share, learn, reflect, and discuss with one another. We then broke them into small groups for a Peace Conversation with a trained youth facilitator who led them through questions and topics about what they learned that day. The facilitators sprung into action without any additional guidance. The most memorable moment, for me, came after we held the Peace Conversation. The adults watched as the room full of high school students went silent, reflecting upon their experience and making commitments of how they would apply their new insights and reference who they would ask to hold them accountable. They seemed to value learning from one another as each of their responses scrolled on the large screen in front of them.

Through this experience, the youth demonstrated that the MBBI model for Peace Conversations is not only for Rotary clubs or district events but can be applied to a variety of Rotary-sponsored community activities as well. At its heart, Peace Conversations are about building relationships, improving listening and creating spaces for voices to share their experiences with one another. Youth can be a catalyst for this growth and development.

In reviewing the commitments of these young peacebuilders for this article, we become hopeful about the future of peacebuilding as well as leadership within and across Rotary – especially in the area of peacebuilding and conflict prevention. As more clubs and districts learn about the service partnership between Rotary and MBBI, we hope to find new and creative ways to engage ALL members of the Rotary Family and their respective communities, to continue building goodwill, friendships, and positive peace throughout the world.

There are many ways in which the Rotary family can get involved with MBBI, such as Peace Conversation Facilitation training, community assessments for peace projects, the advancement of women’s involvement in mediation, building peace through development of leadership, livelihoods, and reconciliation, and much more. Learn how you can get involved here.

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