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Charity aims to build peace in schools

A youth charity is bidding to bring about a revolution in Bermuda’s schools by persuading every student to choose peace over violence.

The Bermuda Youth Peace Builder Network, launched by YouthNet, wants to recruit peace builders in every middle and senior school to help create a culture where violence and conflict are viewed as “aberrant, rare and not to be tolerated”.

Once the network of 25 to 30 pupils is in place, the charity hopes to persuade 500 young people to stage a public demonstration promoting peace in the heart of Hamilton.

“We are cultivating a culture of peace and unity,” YouthNet’s executive director Clare Mello told

The Royal Gazette. “It’s a preventative measure. If young people grow up learning the language of peace then you would hope that they would continue to work in unity.

“Peace Builders definitely addresses violence. Violence is not a way to resolve conflict.

“If you create a culture of peace, automatically you will have less violence.”

The message is being spread in schools by peace builders Verlicia Scott, Shondi Woods, Antonio Belvedere and Claire-Lee DeCouto: four young Bermudians committed to creating a better society. They plan to reach out to every public and private school pupil aged 13 to 17 and have already delivered presentations at Warwick and Somersfield Academies.

Ms Scott, 24, said: “We are hoping that by encouraging people to stand together they can realise how powerful they are as a force. For example, some people are afraid to go to certain places because of a force that has come together and united to make them fearful. But we want people to stand together and create a positive force.

“We are showing the community that a powerful force exists in teens and we are encouraging people to stand together and stand for what’s right. Hopefully, that kind of positivity will pass on.”

The group insists the initiative was not sparked by the Island’s escalating gang warfare but by a desire to bring public and private school students together. But they agree the recent spate of gun murders has left them itching to make a difference. Ms Woods, also 24, said: “We all want change. We all want to do something. Our platform is we believe in building a platform for peace in our schools, neighbourhoods and communities. If we have that first, then the violence and the gangs won’t escalate.”

Ms Mello said: “The biggest shock for me is that I now know five or six people that have been impacted directly from violence. It’s less than two degrees of separation. It was never that way.”

She adds: “If you can unite people at a young age, bring them together across public and private schools, across race and religion, across geography, then they have much more unity, even if they live in Somerset or St George’s. Right now, we have a lot of disconnect.”

Ms DeCouto, 19, said the fatal stabbing of 18-year-old Malcolm Outerbridge on October 28 affected her. “I have a 17-year-old brother. I cried because I thought ‘what if that is my little brother?’ It doesn’t have to be gang violence. It’s about all kinds of conflict.”

The Peace Builder Network is based on a programme devised by Education for Peace (EFP), an international organisation which, according to its website, assists “individuals, families, schools, communities and groups to prevent conflict, strengthen inter-group cooperation and apply the principles of unity-in-diversity, equality and justice”.

EFP has run successful schemes in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Canada, and the United States and YouthNet hopes to replicate that here.

Ms Scott, Ms Woods and Mr Belvedere have been to New York to receive peace builder training and learn more about how it works in schools.

Mr Belvedere, 25, said: “It was actually a real good experience to just see the different culture in schools that’s out there. We were in a training session with high schoolchildren. “It was a good experience because we got to see how they feel about their violence. It’s totally different from our violence and conflict.”Ms DeCouto, a TROIKA production company performer, delivers a monologue written by Whitney Wilkinson on gang violence as part of the presentation to schools. View her performance at www.royalgazette.com.

To find out more, call YouthNet on 297-5400 or e-mail clare.mello[AT]youthnet.bm.

Useful websites: www.efpinternational.org, www.youthnet.bm.

Shondi Woods, Verlicia Scott, Clare Mello, Antonio Belvedere, and Claire-Lee DeCouto of the Bermuda Youth Peace Builder Network. (Photo by Mark Tatem)

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Published November 14, 2011 at 1:00 am (Updated November 14, 2011 at 8:54 am)

Charity aims to build peace in schools

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