The Urdd’s Message of Peace and Goodwill is 96 years old this year. This is why the 2018 message is expected to be particularly important. Throughout nearly a century, thousands of young people all over the world contributed to sharing the messages in every possible way. Since the first one, sent in 1922 by pacifist Reverend Gwilym Davies in order to unite the children of the world, many things have changed. The first message did not get much response. Only the director of the Eiffel Tower Station received it, translated it into French and forwarded it. It was then broadcast for the first time on the BBC World Service in 1924. Nowadays, the internet allows messages to really spread all over the world and makes it possible for other countries to access, respond and engage with them much more quickly. UNA Exchange organised a workcamp in 2017 to investigate the history of the message and volunteers will be involved again to spread the message across the Web when it will be made public on May 18th.
Supported by the Urdd, the message is created every year by the youth of Wales and aimed at young people all over the world. They reflect on the meaning of ‘peace’ and ‘goodwill’ and how it changes over time and across different countries. For the first six years, the message was intentionally quite repetitive so as to encourage response from other countries and emphasise the importance of spreading a common message. However, as time went by, it began to be closely related to the social, political and cultural context at that specific time. For example, after the tragic losses of WW1, young people pleaded to leave nationalistic pride aside and stop “going out to kill and hate one another”. In 1947, the message addressed the issue of weapons of mass destruction following WW2:
“There are mightier things in the world than any weapons … the things of the mind and the spirit, faith and hope and love”.
The Message of Peace and Goodwill proved to be more and more effective by the year, with many countries collaborating and pointing out problems that might threaten peace. For example, the boys and girls from Zambia in 1969 responded by encouraging to stand up against war as well as all forms of racial discrimination. Most importantly, the message creates a sense of togetherness among the countries that support each other while working towards a better world. But large-scale issues such as politics and climate change are not the only ones addressed through the Peace and Goodwill message. What many responses from other countries every year have in common is the idea that the first step towards peace is cultural awareness. In 1952, a Canadian young boy wrote:
“If I were Minister of Education, I would make trips to other lands a compulsory part of every child’s education”.
In 2017, UNA Exchange organised a workcamp in Aberystwyth aiming to uncover the most interesting letters and stories from people who responded to the message. At the National Library, each country has its own folder containing a history of letters to Welsh children from young people, parents and teachers responding to the message. All those letters showed how the perception of what peace means changed enormously over the years and across different countries and, most importantly, how we can learn from the past even when some things don’t seem to be relevant to the contemporary context. Moreover, the letters revealed how the nature of responses varied with time. During the 1920s and during WW2 people answered by expressing their gratitude to the Welsh youth for the message of hope and goodwill they were spreading and declared their support of theoretical peace. Later on, from the 1950s onwards, many began to include suggestions of possible ways to achieve peace worldwide.
The project also focused on understanding how young people in contemporary society understand the concepts of peace and goodwill. The search between past and present made it clear that the issues our world is faced with change constantly, but the words to define peace remain the same. The aim of the message also remains the same, but it evolves in form and content. In recent years, messages have been presented in the form of songs, performances and pieces of poetry among others.
As part of last year’s workcamp, young people from France, Germany, Japan, Spain and Ukraine were interviewed. They joined the Welsh youth in describing peace as freedom, harmony, cooperation, happiness. A peaceful person was a good listener, calm, empathic and tolerant. Prominent figures such as Gandhi, Martin Luther King and Simone Veil were named by way of example. But what does ‘peace’ mean in 2018? The idea of peace has undoubtedly grown more complex in recent times. Peace is no longer just the opposite of being at war. Some countries may be defined as being ‘at peace’ because they are not involved in any armed conflict, but in most cases that’s not enough. In Wales and a few other Western countries, respondents mentioned issues such as far-right politics, poor education, and lack of mental health support as potentially threatening.
“We wish to receive equality: in our education opportunities, in our freedom to live according to our sexuality, when dealing with our disabilities, in our life choices and opportunities, in our rights to use our own language, when tackling racism and in our freedom of religion. Without equality and recognition of our rights, others see us in a different light. We call for our voice to be heard, we wish that our voice is respected”.
(Peace and Goodwill Message 2017)
On May 18th, the Urdd’s Peace and Goodwill Message will be shared by the young people of Wales. This year’s message was created by the young people of Mid Glamorgan. UNA Exchange is once again getting involved in sharing the message through the EVS Common Day. The main aim of this international workcamp taking place in Cardiff is to spread the 2018 message as much as possible via social media and e-mail in many creative ways so as to encourage responses back to the young people of Wales. There’s much excitement and anticipation around this year’s message. We look forward to all the young people from all around the globe who will be joining us in spreading it and standing up for a better world.
by Sofia Brizio