Finding ways to change the world proves to be an intimidating task for many high school students. But thanks to Charlotte-based nonprofit Mothering Across Continents, 18 local high school students are learning the value of peace not just around the world, but even right here at home – and they’re finding ways to make a difference, too.
Mothering Across Continents exists to develop and grow projects in and outside the United States that focus on youth in education, nutrition, health, joy and peace, said Patricia Shafer, chief catalyst with Mothering Across Continents. The group mostly focuses on education projects where conflict and community challenges tend to get in the way. Shafer spent three months in Thailand and Cambodia in 2012 as a Rotary Peace Fellow where she focused on how to apply peace building principles to humanitarian projects around the world. As a follow-up to her time abroad, Shafer also was asked to co-design and co-develop a new youth peace education-training program called RISE of Peace, an idea originating out of Vermont by Rotarian Jeff Teitel. Students participating in the program will be named certified peace envoys by the end of the curriculum.
“I was able to develop a peace program that could be taken globally for high school students,” Shafer said, adding the academic study of peace is “a relatively new phenomenon.”
“We’ve had philosophies of peace for 2,500 years, but the study of peace and how you actually develop peace and how to be a peace-builder is relatively new.”
Shafer first launched her 12-week pilot program with high school students in Vermont. The curriculum also was recently presented to university students in La Paz, Bolivia.
Most recently, the program was launched in Charlotte, bringing together both private and public school students for the cause. Eighteen students from Independence High, South Mecklenburg High and Providence Day schools all came together at Providence Day on Feb. 7 to participate in the first session. They will come together again on March 8 at Independence for session II in their studies.
“Why not Charlotte?” Shafer said. “It’s a fast-growing city, and like any other city, has its own challenges in conflict and peace. What’s so amazing is that the program involves three different high schools, so even the act of bringing the three high schools together is a bridge building exercise.”
But collaborating and working together wasn’t a problem for the students, said Shafer, along with Syndie Fleener, the director for the Academy of International Studies at Independence. All 18 students are interested in peace and are associated with study programs and clubs at their own schools based on global issues and peace – that’s why the three schools were first chosen to participate.
“Our kids, especially being involved in international studies, are really interested in global issues. They are more aware of what is going on around the world than typical students,” Fleener said. “I think they feel, as high school students, they are aware of things that have gone on around the world and what peace might be, but I don’t think they realize the impact they could have on peace now.”
That’s what Shafer hopes to accomplish – by giving students the knowledge and tools in peace-building, students can feel empowered to start projects and create change abroad, nationally or even in their own communities. The program, which consists of three two-day workshops all together, as well as weekly conference calls and a culminating peace project for each student, is a big commitment for the 18 students, in addition to AP courses, athletics and other extra-curricular activities, Fleener said. But all of the students have the drive to succeed and better understand peace, hopefully one day finding the confidence to put their knowledge into action.
“As a spectator (during the first session) sitting and watching them, they had never met any of these other students from the other schools. What if these were three countries sitting there to total strangers? It was amazing how they interacted, collaborated – and they didn’t even know each other,” Fleener said. “They are eager to find
Participating Independence students include Elliott Abee, Bailey Canter, Rachel Casale, Jessica Flynn, Michael Flynn and Carly Souder.