Nurturing an army of peace soldiers, one school at a time

Solapur ZP school teacher’s peace-building programme hopes to bridge differences between conflict-ridden countries

Published - April 20, 2019 12:59 am IST - Mumbai

Catching them young:  Ranjitsinh Disale helps his student interact with her ‘peace buddy’.

Catching them young: Ranjitsinh Disale helps his student interact with her ‘peace buddy’.

Coming from a family of teachers, peace is a concept Ranjitsinh Disale, a 30-year-old primary school teacher from Solapur, imbibed early on in life. So when he attended an education exchange conference in Toronto in 2014, the United Nations sustainable development goals caught his eyes and ears.

“Goal 16, which is to be achieved by 2030, focuses on creating peaceful, justiciable and strong institutions in the world. It struck me as an important goal in the context of India and Pakistan,” Mr. Disale told The Hindu .

Upon returning home, Mr. Disale spent weeks developing a course for students of the Zilla Parishad (ZP) primary school in Solapur’s Paretiwadi, where he teaches Classes III and IV. Little did he know that it would take the shape of a global peace-building programme. Earlier this month, Mr. Disale was at the Microsoft Education Exchange in Paris to present the idea before educators from across the globe, and bagged the third rank.

According to Mr. Disale, just eight countries — U.S.-North Korea, Iran-Iraq, Israel-Palestine and India-Pakistan — spend around $124 million to engage in conflict. “If the countries can afford to pay this much for conflict, peace is way cheaper,” he said.

The six-week project initially saw students from the ZP school exchange ideas with students from Roots International School in Islamabad. As word started spreading within the teaching community, schools from other cities and States also started participating. “We conduct this programme every year between August and September, where we focus on bringing students together to engage in peaceful conversations. In the first week, the students are allotted a peace buddy from the other country, with whom they interact and get to know each other,” Mr. Disale said.

Over the next two weeks, the students prepare presentations on why the two countries are fighting, and similarities and differences between the two. While the fourth week has lectures by speakers from the top 10 peaceful countries as per the UN, the fifth week involves reading a chapter from the autobiography of Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella. “In the concluding session, the students have to give a commitment as to how they will become peaceful citizens of the world.”

While the project can be tailored to suit countries and context, it aims at creating an army of peace soldiers. Students from two nations that are at loggerheads will only interact with each other. For instance, keeping in mind the relations between India and Pakistan, students from the two countries interact with each other. “So far, we have been able to form a peace army of 5,000 students from eight countries. It is heart-warming to see little students champion the cause of peace, something that seniors must do,” he said.

Early in March, Mr. Disale said, their courses were put to test when India and Pakistan were on the verge of war following the Pulwama terror attack. “We distributed a form among students to understand what they felt about the two countries. We also encouraged them to read newspapers of the neighbouring country. We realised the students were very positive about their peace buddies, though there was heated talk on the political front.”

Nurturing peaceful citizens across the globe, Mr. Disale said, has become important than ever before. “There is a lot of jingoism and excitement when situations become tense. Peace is not just important when war looms over two countries. Peace is when your fallen wallet remains on the street untouched, when you forget to lock your door, but can still rest assured. And inculcating this at a young age will prove to be beneficial for the future.”

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