Day 14 - School Day of Non-violence and Peace (or DENIP)
Shouldn't every school day be a day with this in mind? Sadly, we know this not to be the case, but we work towards making this aspiration a reality for the next generations.
"Daddy, we need to wear white to school today because it's our Peace Day", our two children tell us as we prepare for school on a frosty, sunny winter's morning.
They are correct, of course, and it's nice that we are being informed by our kids and not always the other way around, so what is this day all about? I begin to enquire.
It's Jan 30, which marks DENIP Day, observed around the world on the anniversary of the death of Mahatma Gandhi, in schools.
Or School Day of Non-violence and Peace (or DENIP, an acronym from Catalan: Dia Escolar de la No-violència i la Pau) is an observance founded by the Spanish poet Llorenç Vidal Vidal in Majorca in 1964, as a starting point and support for a pacifying and non-violent education of a permanent character.
I use this day to reach out to those with whom I feel lucky to have shared a 20-year journey of exploring peace but hesitate to write 'happy international school day of non-violence & peace,' to my fellow peace movers, because (firstly, it's just too long!) I think it sounds a wee but disingenuous. Knowing many are still living and surviving, violence, me, wishing happy non-violence and peace Day is ajar for sure with my thoughts and how it could be received. Instead, a recognition that today can mark a day of reflection on what non-violence & peace are, in terms of Education and in general. It is also an opportunity to focus some attention and thoughts on all those that we know around the world, lacking peace, and suffering violence at this moment. We can also focus on those continuing to work towards whatever we see, individual or collectively, as non-violence & peace.
It was around this time of the year, I make it 19 years ago, that the seeds were being planted for 'Societies in Conflict, Borders to Peace', a peace project that influenced my life in a profound way. Over plenty of cups of tea, I imagine, and long, ambitious conversations between myself and my fellow young volunteers as well as our mentors, of course, a plan was crafted. Who needs to be involved, what's the real goal, what's the goal on paper, where will we go, and is it even possible????? And it became possible and powerful, for the many young folks from conflict regions of the world who said, yes to the call, just after the turn of the millennium.
Still today, thankfully, there are a good few of us in touch, as we approach two decades on. My school day of non-violence and & peace will be dedicated to this group while cycling, and I'll try to reach out to as many as I can.
Some, who were members of this group, are sadly no longer with us and died very much in the pursuit of peace. Many are parents, whose kids will also be asked to think about what this day means to them, one or two went to politics as a way of pursuing their vision, and others went into human rights organizations, teaching, media, science and health, to homelessness, to military, and to business. Some who were suffering violence two decades ago are being supported to deal with their trauma and out of the daily threat of violence, some, as mentioned before, are not. Being realistic, from this large group of youth, it's very possible that some have inflicted violence on others since our coming together. That first gathering took place at a peace center hidden in the Wicklow hills of Ireland, and then traveling the country together, learning from one another, being inspired and shocked, feeling connected and motivated to make a difference to our world as we saw it back then. There was thankfully a more subsequent gathering that took place and so much more relationship building, honest and hard questioning, and energy from one another to keep going. Every day of that journey was a School Day for Non-Violence and Peace for sure, but school days, like every day, end, and it's often the big question, what then, how to build, share and put the learning to use outside of school.
Just this morning, when reaching out to one such advocate for peace, within his community and wider communities across East Africa and beyond, I was asked this question...
"May we challenge sometimes the many forms of soft conversation?- it seems everyone is trying not to trigger others while we are in a world of unlimited triggers. "
And I responded immediately that I feel it is really both an interesting and relevant question, especially on a day when its so-called primary focus is on not being violent and peaceful. But how peaceful is it really to not say or challenge hard conversations just to keep the peace? What made my precious story about our peace project so powerful was the space to confront, challenge and deal with hard questions, despite the risks of triggering and then come up with collective shared understanding and responses.
In a way, I feel (avoiding hard conversation and questions) it even perpetuates and fuels oppression, the opposite of peace. Wanting to keep the peace, or not rock the boat for fear of offending or upsetting people doesn't prepare us for stormy weather or build our resilience as local or global communities.
As a grown-up now who lived through a childhood where one of my parents just wanted to keep the peace at all costs, despite recognizing and playing a role in plenty of wrongs that were committed at home. Inevitably one day down the line, it all blows up, and horrific family divisions evolve, just like in so many other families and communities, only to look back and think how peace wasn't preserved or saved but destruction just delayed, exacerbated, and put under the carpet for another day.
Embarking on challenging journeys and embracing challenging conversations, with respect, empathy, honesty, and dignity, is a way to understand what can really be done to create peace. It feels to me that it may be offensive and counterproductive not to.
And our children in education centers all over the world, today, and tomorrow deserve to be protected from violence and to live with inner and outer peace.