There's optimism in the air I'm breathing, and I think that there could be no better year than this one to focus on peace. There could be no better time than now to create a space for children — new to Canada or not — to learn about how Canadians have aspired to build a country based on “peace, order and good government.” We welcomed slaves from the U.S. traveling the Underground Railway. A century later, we welcomed American draft dodgers fleeing conscription during the Vietnam War. When we got it wrong with First Nations, Metis and Inuit peoples, we began the work that led to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Now, as we welcome Syrians fleeing violence, we can strengthen our commitment to peace, not only with acts of charity, but with peace education.
Learning about peace — or lack of it — from friends abroad and in Canada has shaped my life. The Duong family was the first to help me learn.
Bac Ai Duong, his wife Huong and toddlers Kim and Tino fled war in Vietnam in the 1970s. Like others, they boarded a rickety little boat and set sail on the South China Sea. But their craft capsized — a terror I cannot imagine. Sailors on a passing ESSO ship then flung a cargo net over to them and, miraculously, the family arrived at a Malaysian refugee camp. From there, sponsored by the Anglican Church, they flew to Yellowknife, N.W.T., where they learned English, a new culture and how to survive temperatures 40 below zero. I met Bac Ai at Yellowknife’s Mildred Hall Elementary School in 1982. At the time, I was the school secretary, and he, a former teacher, was the custodian. We became friends, participating in Christmas parties, summer celebrations and conversation in the school hallways. Over time, though, I moved away. And over years, we vaguely kept track of each other. He went on to have another son and become chief operating engineer for the N.W.T. government. Two years ago, we reconnected by joyful accident in an airport.
Two weeks ago, another joyous reconnection took place with Morris Batali, Veronique Gakwandi and their sons. We met them at Calgary’s Scarboro United Church, where my husband Bill ministered until retirement. Morris, who’s from Sudan, worked as a custodian at our church. Veronique, who survived the unspeakable genocide in Rwanda, began life in Calgary stacking grocery shelves. Both Veronique and Morris met in a Ugandan refugee camp, married and begun their family there. During their time in Calgary, their whole family helped educate the congregation about war and peace. And within a few years of their arrival, Bill travelled to Sudan with other church leaders to offer solidarity and see the country firsthand (He still speaks of the power of that experience.).
Sons Aligo and Eric even attended our very first Art of Peace camp
in 2006. (Since then, peace camps have started in the Maritimes, Ontario, Colorado, Uganda and India.). When CBC came to the Peace Camp to interview parents about why they felt peace education was important, Veronique spoke with an eloquence I will never forget. Today, Morris works with the Sudanese ambassador to Norway while Veronique works for the Canadian Immigration Department. The family’s story testifies to the strength and generosity of the human spirit.
Gandhi once said that if we are going to have peace, we must begin with children. Creating a space for children to speak the language, learn the stories and practice the ways of peace is not difficult, costly or daunting. With just three friends, you can do it, too. For example, you can run one on Professional Development day, when kids are off school. You can incorporate peace education
easily into Home Schools, Sunday Schools, public classrooms and regular camps. In fact, we wrote a manual to get you started. It's free to download, and experienced people will help, too.
Happy New Year. May peace prevail on Earth.