“I was bullied, I was small, I was….”
The voice on the other end of the line went quiet, which is a rare occasion when you are talking to Jeremy Gilley. But it was just our trans-Atlantic connection, and Gilley’s voice crackled right back in:
“Whenever I visit a classroom, it’s the child who’s quiet, who might be in the corner: That’s the one I hone in on. Because I know what that’s like.”
When Gilley and I recently found time on the phone to discuss the Peace One Day Education Resource, he started and ended with his emphasis on children. In between, of course, we talked about the generous sponsors who have made this Resource possible and the countless individuals whose efforts have shaped the programme over the years. But Gilley kept returning to the importance of future generations.
Gilley told me that, after he launched POD at the Globe Theatre in London, he immediately went on a tour of schools around the UK. As he traveled, he realised that the children were giving him a consistent message – no matter who they were or where they lived, “they felt disempowered, like they couldn’t make a difference.”
Having just founded an international peace organisation, Gilley now saw his mission clearly – “I wanted to make sure they knew they could change the world. So we made something to show them that they could do something with their art, their poetry, their sport, and with it, they could make a real difference.”
The idea crystallised when Gilley spoke with Lynne Kosky, who was at the time the Minister of Education for Victoria, Australia. Kosky could not have been more clear when she told Gilley that an Education Resource was a necessity, both for students and Peace One Day. The challenge, then, was what exactly to create, for as Gilley says, “It’s difficult to teach Peace. Where do you begin?”
Beyond the difficulty of a starting point, Gilley was insistent that the POD Resource should work for, and with, teachers and their existing curricula. So in 2004 he put a team together to create a framework. Before finalising the lesson plans, POD took the materials to 35 schools in the UK and tested them. With the feedback the team received, and the backing of Ecover, they finished the first ever POD Education Resource and distributed it throughout the UK.
When the time came to expand the programme to the US, Gilley maintained his stance that the Resource should meet teachers’ needs – so POD began another pilot project that worked with a small number of schools to identify methods that would work best in America. Once again, teachers provided invaluable advice as to how they could best implement these ideas into their classrooms, and generous sponsors Ben & Jerry’s stepped in to provide the financial support that such ambition demands. This allowed POD to use the reach and reputation of education publishers Scholastic to engage thousands of schools all across America.
Peace One Day’s goals, however, extend far beyond the English speaking nations, so it was vital to find a way to make this a truly global set of tools. In the past year, thanks to the funding and vision of Skype, the Resource, along with the accompanying 32-minute version of The Day After Peace film, has been translated into all six of the UN’s official languages: Arabic, Chinese (Mandarin), English, French, Russian and Spanish. Furthermore, a Skype Lesson Plan has been developed to facilitate classroom-to-classroom communication: students with oceans between them are now learning lessons of Peace together.
This new, Global Education Resource has just been launched, in time for Peace Day, and Jeremy’s vision is for it to be used in every country in the United Nations. It is impossible to summarise the contents of the Resource in a paragraph, but the image of a Skype conversation is as accurate as one could be – as Gilley put it, “intercultural cooperation is at the center of our educational materials.” The lessons vary widely in content and method, but the thread that binds them all together, no matter the age group of the students, is that individual actions have an impact on the whole world.
As such, there is a strong emphasis on conflict resolution, sustainability, and the links between them. Consequently, POD (with the help of digital publishers YUDU) has made the Resource available online, at no cost, to anyone who wants it, in order to save as much paper and energy as possible. Gilley recognizes that some schools do not enjoy the same high-tech privileges as others, so the Resource is still available in printed form as well.
No matter what level of technology a school possesses, Gilley still finds that young people everywhere face similar challenges, and he is quick to point out that those challenges are the reason for doing this in the first place. “There’s no difference,” he told me, “between bullying in the playground and bullying between nations.”
Gilley feels it is POD’s job, above all else, to provide tools for these students to cooperate and understand each other, to learn how to resolve conflicts before they become adults. He is as encouraged by his continued face-to-face interactions with children around the world as he is by the statistics and anecdotes that prove that the Education Resource works. “Detention, vandalism, and bullying” all decline on Peace Day in schools where the Resource is taught.
And now, looking back on more than a decade, Gilley says that he has talked to more than 40,000 young people in 65 countries and filmed more than 700 hours of interviews with them. In doing so, Gilley has himself learned a striking lesson – no matter how outlandish his ideas may seem to some adults, children have always believed in him and what he was doing. “From the very beginning,” he told me, “young people wanted this idea to succeed, and they wanted to play a part.”
The POD Education Resource makes that possible. As POD continues to make these materials available in classrooms around the world, Gilley’s vision of a non-violent and sustainable world will continue to take root and blossom – whether it is on the school stage, in a student film, on an athletic field, or in the mind of a child in the corner.
Access the Resource now, for free, on the POD Education site.