Disarming Youth with Tools for Nonviolent Conflict Resolution: A COVID-19 Memoir
The following blog post was contributed and written by Jamie Pratt, a Master of Arts in Peace and Justice Student at the Kroc School.
Teaching youth is hard, very hard. But imagine teaching youth during a global pandemic in which everyone is confined to their homes and only allowed communication through a computer screen. Almost unfathomable, right? Well, this is the reality for millions of teachers and youth educators all over the world- including D.C. based non-profit, Little Friends for Peace (LFFP).
Since day one, LFFP’s mission has been to give youth proper tools and resources to teach them valuable lessons about resolving conflict peacefully. One of the major programs that teaches this curriculum is LFFP’s annual (in-person) youth summer camp. But, as many other programs have seen, COVID-19 quickly through a wrench in decades worth of planning and experience for summer camp. Instead, the organization has had to quickly transition to a completely virtual platform and redesign the curriculum to fit these needs. As an intern for LFFP, I am working alongside the entire team to make it work while (hopefully) having the same impact as the in-person design.
LFFP’s founder, MJ, on a Zoom call with peace camp students — I’m in there somewhere!
In the beginning of June, with camp quickly approaching, counselors, directors, and interns alike were rushing to create and promote curriculum for the newly designed virtual summer camp. Tensions and nerves were high, but my fellow interns and I were working diligently to make sure we were prepared. We knew that there was never before a more imperative time to hold peace camp than now.
Once camp started, I realized just how important this job really was. Many campers were trying to explain complex and deep emotions regarding quarantine and its impact on them. For many, explaining in detail what was upsetting them and causing turbulence in their lives was just too difficult. As a ‘virtual’ counselor my job was to break into small groups with the campers and give them personal time to talk about why this was difficult and what we could do to help each other. On the first day, we talked about the importance of sharing (feelings, items, and thoughts) and how a seemingly simple act of sharing could help another person have a better day.
In the moment, it seemed as though my group might be a little disengaged and distracted from our conversation, but boy was I wrong! The next day almost everyone came back with a smile on their face and a story about something they shared in the last 24 hours. One camper created an art piece out of chalk on his sidewalk that educated passersby on the importance of personal peace, another made a baked good to share with their family, and almost everyone described an instance in which they shared a positive thought or compliment to someone else. I was beaming ear to ear! I had left our meeting the day before feeling tired and almost useless, but my message was heard!
The peace station created by MJ to display her thoughtfulness around peace. In camp, it was encouraged that students create a peace corner as well in order to manifest intentions surrounding their reason for wanting and needing peace.
Not only am I proud that my campers listened and acted, but I also think this experience has been a testament to humanity’s ability to prosper and foster change- even through difficult and trying times. While we might seem disengaged and struggling in the moment, we always pull through with a smile on our face and a story of sharing. Even if we might not realize it now, we are still (virtually) sharing stories, experiences, thoughts, food, art, etc. that positively impact those around us. Without this we would not be resilient enough to live through something that has never been lived through before.
While everyone may be stuck at home and only getting social interaction through a computer screen, just remember, things will get better. Messages will be heard. Conversations have an impact. Words promote positive actions. We will get through this and we will be better people because of it. If my 6-year-old campers can listen to my words through a computer screen and create a difference (albeit small, but a difference nonetheless) then you can too. Impact is still impact, no matter how small!
Interested in the MA in Peace & Justice at the Kroc School of Peace Studies? Learn more here.