Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Enseñando La Paz en Colombia

"[Peace Games] changed the way I look at my students."
- first grade teacher, Norte de Santander, Colombia

Those who attended the Second Annual Peace Games Network Conference this past June are already acquainted with Juegos de Paz.

Peace Games in Colombia has its roots in relationships, happy accidents, and the uncompromising commitment of some brave and thoughtful individuals. In 2002, a young Colombian woman studying English in Boston walked into our offices and asked if she could be an intern. Thankfully, our Director of the Peace Games Institute, Steven Brion-Meisels, had the foresight to say yes. This young woman taught a weekly Peace Games class at the Kenny School in Dorchester and did some rudimentary translation work.

Her name is Silvia Diazgranados Ferráns.

When Silvia returned to Colombia, she began working with former guerrilla soldiers, helping them to reintegrate into society. At about this same time, the new administration in Colombia launched a drive to create national citizenship competencies and invited colleagues from around the world to present at the First National Forum on Citizenship Education in Bogotá in October 2004, including Silvia and our own Steven Brion-Meisels.

The citizenship competencies that were developed as a result of the forum were thorough, thoughtful, and a reflection of the collective wisdom and commitment of their authors. The comptencies were organized in three strands: convivencia en paz (living together in peace), participación democratica (democratic participation), and pluralidad (plurality or diversity). That peace is a central tenet of their citizenship education is surely a reflection of a culture in which more than 20,000 people still lose their lives to homicide each year, but it also reflects a deep and abiding commitment to peacemaking that perhaps only those who have lived with war can appreciate.

Putting Peace Games to the Test
Attending the forum were teachers from the rural department of Norte de Santander, an expansive province in the northeastern part of the country and a "hot zone" for paramilitary activity. The local Department of Education in Norte de Santander had received money from the World Bank to pilot programs aimed toward teaching the new citizenship standards, and they asked if they could use a portion of the funding to teach Peace Games - in Spanish, Juegos de Paz.

What made Peace Games in Colombia possible was Silvia's unassailable drive to have the curriculum translated, published, and adapted for Colombian schools. Almost single-handedly, she brought people together who could make it possible: Steven and other Peace Games staff, representatives from the Ministry of Education, and the founder and publisher of Magisterio, a non-profit publishing company based in Bogotá. When an agreement was made, Silvia and her mother immediately began translating the curriculum. She enlisted an incredibly gifted painter and family friend (Elvira Rico Grillo, who taught herself how to use new graphics design software specifically for the project) to provide the original illustrations. And she wrote new Colombia-specific material, compiled new booklists pertinent for Latin America, and personally oversaw the layout and final proofs of all eight books (one book each for kindergarten through fifth grade, one for our community service learning curriculum, and the games book).

With the books available, the Ministry of Education enlisted Silvia and a team she assembled from Universidad de Los Andes to administer a pilot program for Juegos de Paz. The pilot would be six months long and would enlist five "educative centers," including three escuelas nuevas. Escuelas nuevas are schools adapted for a rural setting. They have a central administration building and several remote classrooms that operate as one-room schoolhouses.

With the schools chosen, the pilot began in January 2006. A team of three trainers from Peace Games in the United States and the Los Andes team met in Bogotá and traveled to Bochalema, a small town in Norte de Santander, where they spent five days training 45 teachers and administrators. Following the training, teachers spent four months teaching the Peace Games curriculum, including Peacemaker Projects - mostly in 90-minute blocks. At the conclusion of the pilot, the entire group reconvened in Bochalema in June 2006 to evaluate and celebrate their work.

Drawing on pre- and post-surveys as well as interviews with teachers, students, and administrators, the Los Andes team wrote an exhaustive 80-page report on the pilot and submitted it to the Ministry of Education, which determined that "Juegos de Paz" was a viable and compelling program for Colombia. But perhaps more compelling than the report were the words of one of the teachers who took aside one of the U.S. trainers at the conclusion of the second training and said, "You're helping to bring peace to my country."

Continuing to Grow
At the June 2006 training in Bochalema, teachers and administrators at each school agreed enthusiastically that they wanted to continue using Peace Games - and in fact that they wanted to expand the reach of Peace Games in their communities. In the summer of 2007, the teachers' cooperative in Norte de Santander, in partnership with the Los Andes team from the pilot, applied for and received funding from the European Union Laboratorio de Paz to bring Peace Games to additional schools and to build a local network of Peace Games schools. Thanks to this support, Peace Games is now being taught in six additional schools in Norte de Santander, bringing the total of sites to 23.

In addition, funding from the Interamerican Development Bank is going to be used to implement and evaluate seven programs for teaching citzenship in medium-sized cities in Colombia. Peace Games is one of only two international programs chosen and will most likely be taught in schools in Barrancabermeja, a city in central Colombia, beginning in January 2009. This project will be led by Freddy Velandia, a former social studies teacher working on the competencias ciudadanas program at the Ministry and who attended the Peace Games National Conference in June 2007.

Another important way that Peace Games continues to reach committed educators is through Magisterio, which has to date sold more than 5,000 copies of its Colección Juegos de Paz books throughout Colombia, including 300 sets to the Department of Education in Bogotá (as well as Peru, Argentina, Venezuela, and who knows where else).

Beyond these projects, the future of "Juegos de Paz" is still being forged. In many ways, it continues in much the same way that it began: it remains rooted in relationships. Silvia, Lina, Berta, and Marcela - the Los Andes team that has managed the pilot and the Peace Lab work - continues to respond to requests for Peace Games on our behalf. Alfredo and his family at Magisterio continues to cultivate relationships with schools buying the curriculum. And allies at the Ministry continue to be strong supporters committed to making sure that Peace Games is "more than a set of books on a shelf."

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Moose, Elephant, What?

It's hard to learn cooperative games just by reading about them. For a lot of us, especially us experiential learners, we need to see or play a game in order for us to be able to play it with others.

Two years ago, thanks to the help of two undergraduate students at Emerson College, Peace Games gathered middle school students from the Tobin School and spent an afternoon playing and debriefing games. Now the full video - in five parts - is available on YouTube.

Here's Part Three:

Monday, November 26, 2007

Standing Still and Learning to Be Astonished

I feel like I've been moving too fast - and there are too many astonishing things that happen everyday. And as a former English teacher - and on-going poetry junkie - I found some comfort and inspiration in this poem from one of Mary Oliver's most recent collections. Mary Oliver is perhaps one of this country's greatest treasures, and while she appears to write most often about the natural world I always find fodder in her words for my more cerebral self.

by Mary Oliver

My work is loving the world.
Here the sunflowers, there the hummingbird—
equal seekers of sweetness.
Here the quickening yeast; there the blue plums.
Here the clam deep in the speckled sand.

Are my boots old? Is my coat torn?
Am I no longer young, and still not half-perfect? Let me
keep my mind on what matters,
which is my work,

which is mostly standing still and learning to be
The phoebe, the delphinium.
The sheep in the pasture, and the pasture.
Which is mostly rejoicing, since all the ingredients are here,

which is gratitude, to be given a mind and a heart
and these body-clothes,
a mouth with which to give shouts of joy
to the moth and the wren, to the sleepy dug-up clam,
telling them all, over and over, how it is
that we live forever.