Eight sixth-form students from St Bede’s and St Joseph’s Catholic College in Bradford travelled more than two hundred miles to the University of Winchester for the 2019 PeaceJam UK conference. Between 8 and 10 March, they joined students from all over England and Wales to take part in workshops, discussing how to create positive change in themselves, in their communities and across the world.
Now international, PeaceJam was first established in the USA in 1996 with the aim of having Nobel Peace Prize winners mentor young people to pass on their skills in conflict resolution. This year, the keynote speaker was Nobel Laureate Betty Williams, a founder of the ‘Nobel Women’s Initiative’, and a cofounder of ‘Community of Peace People’, an organisation dedicated to promoting a peaceful resolution to The Troubles in Northern Ireland.
Betty Williams described how she had witnessed the murders of three children by the IRA in 1976. The incident moved her so much that she organised a peace march to their graves which was attended by 10,000 Protestant and Catholic women. The next week she organised another peace march: this time it was attended by 35,000!
Betty Williams is one of fourteen Nobel Peace Prize Laureates leading the One Billion Acts of Peace Campaign: an international global citizens’ movement designed to tackle some of the most important problems facing our planet by inspiring one billion acts of peace by 2020.
The students from St Bede’s and St Joseph’s had the opportunity to present their own idea for a peace project at school: a Peace Garden. They hope to invite local refugees to help them to grow vegetables in the garden, creating an opportunity to improve their English skills and develop a sense of belonging. The students plan to donate the produce to the refugees and asylum seekers to help them to feed their families and sell any surplus.
The 2019 PeaceJam UK conference focused on Betty Williams’ quote: ‘There’s no use talking about the problem unless you talk about the solution’. The weekend instilled both the hope that solutions exist, and the inspiration to work towards them.
Matthew Maslen, Diocese of Leeds and CAFOD volunteer