On 18th November 2021 over 100 participants, including primary and secondary schools from across Wales, gathered online for this year’s Peace Schools Conference.
The format of this annual event was a bit different this year. The morning’s session was more outward-facing, and the theme of ‘Climate Justice’ was selected as one which brings together concerns for Climate Change and for the creation of a more equitable and peaceful world. Particularly in the wake of COP26, the theme struck a chord, and the appetite of the children and young people in the conference to learn more and to make a change was palpable.
Our Chair for the morning, Climate activist and grassroots campaigner Clare James, steered us through the event admirably. We first of all heard from three speakers – Ize Adava (North Wales Africa Society), Tomos Owen (Refugee Integration Caseworker at Oasis, Cardiff) and John Stacey (former Country Coordinator for Amnesty International) – as to how the most vulnerable communities are affected unequally by Climate Change, and the real impact this has on their lives. Participants then had the opportunity to ask questions either in the plenary or in chat. One school wanted to know which countries in the world will be the worst hit by climate change, whilst another question was whether the speakers thought that COP26 did enough to mitigate climate change.
Following the speakers, conference participants were introduced to a padlet where they could post learning, questions and ideas for action. This was widely used during the conference, including evidence of learning and actions already underway.
Participants now went into 4 breakout rooms where they were able to explore specific issues. In interactive workshops, they looked in more depth at what climate justice means and what we can do about it; learnt about schools of sanctuary and how to join that network; and thought about how children and young people can get their voices heard and work with leaders and politicians to create change.
So many ideas and actions came out of the conference – from local and school campaigns on issues such as single-use plastic, buying Fairtrade and planting trees to writing letters and signing petitions – that they are difficult to summarise. One school commented: ‘They originally thought that we’re only one school so what difference would we make. They now understand that every small change makes a difference. The children want to look at reducing the traffic coming to school and reducing the amount of waste we produce’. Another school decided to form a Climate Committee with 4 specific actions to address in the short-term, including a school uniform recycling scheme and to promote and sign the petition asking for military pollution to be included in the calculation of greenhouse gas emissions.
The afternoon session of the conference was more of an inward-facing event, during which peace schools came together to share good practice and celebrate their achievements, including the awarding of ‘virtual’ certificates to 7 Peace Schools who had attained the next level of the scheme. It was wonderful to welcome over 30 participants to the afternoon session, suggesting an interest in and enthusiasm for the scheme and its potential to promote a positive school ethos, cross-curricular learning, and key skills such as critical thinking and creativity. A striking aspect of the scheme is the way it interweaves the local and global elements, enabling schools to develop their own community as a peaceful one, but also to look at Welsh examples of peace makers and to relate peace to other Sustainable Development Goals. The development of young people as ethical, informed citizens of Wales and the world is core to the Peace Schools Scheme. One school who attended commented: ‘Thank you for a wonderful day, we have really enjoyed learning all about what a peace school is. We thoroughly enjoyed seeing all the work the other schools have done, it has inspired us to want to get in involved.’
All the presentations, videos and evaluations from the conference have been gathered together on a conference padlet here.
We look forward to 2022 and to our Peace Schools network developing and growing!