December 16, 2020 – Last month, the Whitaker Peace & Development Initiative (WPDI) finished training 450 students at four primary and secondary schools in Cape Town in Conflict Resolution Education. Living in Cape Flats, one of the most violent areas in the country, the children and adolescents at these four schools are disproportionately exposed to the conflict that pervades their daily environment. Yet, WPDI knows that it is possible to help these schools become more peaceful and resilient places by empowering students themselves with tools to promote mediation, peace, and reconciliation.
Too often, children and adolescents from places affected by violence are perceived as either victims or perpetrators – sometimes both. WPDI sees it otherwise: with appropriate training and support, young people can become agents of peace and help curb violence that may arise in their communities. Empowering students with skills in Conflict Resolution Education is a key component of our work, based on the principle that values conducive to peace and nonviolence can be learned at an early age. This is especially important in Cape Flats, a historically marginalized community in Cape Town that has suffered from the impact of unemployment, crime, and fear since the Apartheid era. In fact, in many schools, students are recruited into organized crime organizations, further perpetuating a never-ending cycle of violence.
To help ensure that the values of peace and reconciliation become facets of their daily lives, we provide rigorous trainings to primary and secondary school students at four partner schools – Cypress Primary School, Thembani Primary School, Cedar High School, and Pandulwazi Secondary School – over more than 30 hours. Training sessions covered topics including human rights, understanding conflict, types of conflict, conflict mediation, and others. After several months of training, and despite the challenges raised by the COVID-19 pandemic, 450 students graduated from the course, far exceeding our expectations.
The students themselves were excited by what they learned with us and seemingly embraced the role they will play at their schools as future peacemakers. Razack, a student at Cedar High School, told us that “I will always remember that every human being has a right to live in peace, no matter who they are. I also know that conflict is a natural part of life and can be managed positively.” Tina, a student at Pandulwazi Secondary School, spoke to the impact of the training on her personally, mentioning that “Before my training, I had difficulty controlling my temper from time to time. Now, I know how to positively react in frustrating situations. I am thrilled to have received a certificate and I know I will have an impact at my school.”