April 5, 2016- The students’ task was daunting: a decade-long rebellion had torn apart the fictional country of Siwa, killing many and driving more from their homes into refugee camps. The United Nations had sent mediators to attempt to start a peace process that would end the violence. Taking on the roles of the mediators and parties to the conflict, could students find a peaceful way forward?
This was the challenge two student groups faced this week during their visits to the Global Peacebuilding Center at USIP. Classes from Champlain Valley Union High School in Vermont and the Atlanta International School in Georgia separately visited USIP for educational workshops as part of their spring field trips to Washington, DC.
Both schools have made USIP an important stop for years, but this year, their visits took on a special significance. Two of the teachers accompanying the groups, Amanda Terwillegar (VT) and Tim McMahon (GA), are USIP Peace Teachers. As participants in this program this year, they have sought ways to incorporate the themes and skills of international conflict management and peacebuilding into their curriculum.
“Amanda’s students and Tim’s students have been learning about conflict and peace, and discovering important peacebuilding skills like active listening, mediation, and identifying conflict styles,” explained Global Peacebuilding Center Program Officer Megan Chabalowski, who facilitated the groups’ workshops and manages the Peace Teachers program. “The students have heard about USIP, but these visits provided them with the opportunity to see what peacebuilding looks like as a professional field and how it can be an effective alternative to violence.”
For these two student groups, the experience at USIP meant putting themselves in the shoes of someone else as part of a complex peacebuilding simulation. While neither group reached a mutually agreed-upon solution, each gained firsthand a better understanding of the challenges confronting those who seek to build peace among the various stakeholders in a conflict situation. “After today, I understand how peace can be achieved, as well as how hard it is,” one student pointed out.
Following the simulation, the students had the opportunity to speak with a USIP expert about a real-world peacebuilding effort, drawing connections between their experiences in the simulation and USIP’s work in conflict zones.
The students also connected what they learned to their everyday lives. As another student concluded, “From the simulation, I realized how it is necessary for people to compromise and understand others to create change. After today, I will pay attention to this during my personal conflicts.”
Learn more about USIP’s resources for educators and students.