The Utrecht Summerschoolis one of Europe’s biggest summer courses for students who just can’t get enough of studying. Professors are asked to think of a study course which they want to teach. And many do think and even set up a course. “They like the eagerness amongst the students”, the Summerschool director told me, “to have classes with motivated pupils.” Students for the courses come from all over the globe, and language, logically, is English.
One of the courses offered this year was the “Peace and human rights education” course. Director of the course is Marloes van Houten who seems to need no sleep as her enthusiasm for her course, and later on her students, keeps her running. Van Houten worked as a volunteer at many places in this world and is convinced arts and culture do play a role in conflict resolution. A thought this blog does agree with.
So it was an honour to be invited as a speaker at the course conference as one of the three panelists. In the building of UNOY with a view on the Peace Palace we were invited to share our thoughts on “ The role and possible impact of NGO?s in the development of Peace, Justice and Human Rights.”
And in front of us were students from Spain, Indonesia, India, Poland, Belgium – hell, name any country. Odd enough we three behind the table took completely different approaches to that cherished idea of promoting a culture of peace. The representative of Time to Turn, a faith based NGO, stated he and his organization believe in small changes in your own surroundings as a tool for ‘improving’ the world. “If we as a group of students, and consumers, do sign petitions and go out in the streets to remind everybody a certain clothing brand doesn’t pay their employees rightly, we are promptly invited by that company to talk over their possible improvements. And those improvements could take place in Bangladesh.”
Another speaker mentioned her organization’s work on campaigning against child and women trafficking in Nepal. Global Human Rights Defense wants to raise awareness on these tragedies by showing their documentary “SOLD. A child trafficked” in Dutch schools, universities and during events. The documentary is viewable via a special facebook page. Al Jazeera English also did a show on the topic.
My talk, it turned out, was all about the endurance one needs to work in promoting a culture of peace. When one starts, most of the times in sincere idealism, to act believing “we are able to change the world instantly” because we all have the best intentions, one will soon be depressed. Things do not work like that. To promote a culture of peace we need action. Global action. Not merely in areas of conflict, perhaps even more in those places where the conflicts are not even on the agenda. To promote peace one must ask oneself tough questions. Questions on your own persistence, questions on your own society, your own way of life, your own vote in elections. “You made peace political”, said one the students. I was very happy with that answer. Now what do you think?