Nadeem Ghazi came to peace education in Pakistan as a practical necessity, an alternative to futility.
He was a school administrator in Karachi, one of the world’s biggest cities. Gang warfare, targeted killings and other crime seeped from the roughest neighborhoods to poison ordinary life everywhere. In a poor country where 63 percent of the population of 165 million is under the age of 25, youth found it hard to resist the lures of criminal groups. Schools struggled to cope with behavioral problems, from bullying to students bringing guns to school, Ghazi said.
“Peace education is quite new” in Pakistan, the 38-year-old Ghazi said in an interview in Washington during a visit earlier this year. “We have math, science, English. But we don’t have classes in how to be a human.”
Ghazi has been teaching peace in Pakistan now for more than eight years, including forming his own non-governmental organization called Peace Education Welfare Organization (PEWO). From 2010 to last year, he was a coordinator for a two-year project conducted by Canada-based Peaceful Schools International with a USIP grant. The project, called “From Peaceful Schools to Peaceful Communities in Pakistan,” worked with teachers, students and parents in 25 Karachi schools to instill the knowledge, skills, attitudes, and values required to prevent conflict and create conditions conducive to peace.
More than 400 teachers and administrators attended the trainings, and the organizers estimate they reached more than 8,000 students. Sessions focused on topics such as peer mediation, working with parents, and restorative justice, a way of addressing offenses that focuses on identifying what the victims and the perpetrators need and repairing the harm with steps such as paying back money stolen, doing community service, and simply apologizing.
The project paired a few schools in Pakistan with counterparts in Canada so that students could write to each other, with an emphasis on what they have in common rather than what divides them. One of the more tangible results of the project was a guidebook for schools called “Creating a Culture of Peace: A Practical Guide for Schools.”
The project also aimed to strengthen Ghazi’s own organization to continue similar work on its own in the future. He learned project management, financial management, and program evaluation skills, and gained training expertise that could be passed along to other trainers in Pakistan. PEWO now has more than 100 member schools in Pakistan, Ghazi said.
Ghazi has become a master trainer in Pakistan for Peaceful Schools International, coaching other organizations such as Care International and developing collaborations with Peace Direct to strengthen women’s roles in conflict resolution. Both groups are working on peace promotion in Pakistan’s Swat Valley, a traditional tourist destination for its stunning scenery that has been riven by militant violence in recent years.
This year, he’s working on a sports-based conflict-resolution project with the British Council in Pakistan called DOSTI, or Friendship, starting with 1,000 students ages 12 to 18 from eight schools. A recent soccer tournament inspired the establishment of an academy to keep the work going.
But peace can be a risky venture in Pakistan, as the world learned once again last year in the case of Malala Yousafzai. The 15-year-old Pakistani advocate for educating girls was the target of a near-fatal shooting on her way home from school in Swat in October 2012. She was flown to the UK for treatment and now lives there with her family. After multiple surgeries, she celebrated her 16th birthday with a defiant speech at the United Nations in New York, calling on world leaders to guarantee free education for every child.
Ghazi has conducted peace education training at Yousafzai’s school in Swat, and in May, he worked in remote areas of Sindh Province.
He clearly debates in his own mind the need for peace education in his country versus the risk it poses for him, his family and his co-workers. He has received threats against him, and had to rush a Canadian colleague out of the country after threats from antagonists who thought she was American.
One minute Ghazi declares, “I’m a human rights defender. I won’t stop it … I am not afraid of that.” A few minutes later, he concedes that he tries to keep a low profile at times and occasionally fears for his family.
“I love my country,” he says. “I see what’s happening, and I sometimes really cry for it.”
He’s convinced education is the most important avenue for addressing Pakistan’s many issues.
“The ultimate thing we have to do in Pakistan is work with the youth,” Ghazi said. “If we are able to save the youth, we can really save the country.”
Viola Gienger is a senior writer at USIP.