Dear Elie: This program is important because in our society, today, people are so broken and so hurt, that they forget how to forgive and they forget about peace. This program teaches us how to find the broken links and repair them . . . I found my hurt – and conquered it!

– 7th grade student, South Africa

One of the most encouraging aspects of this pilot year has been receiving feedback from teachers and students about the program. The school in South Africa has just completed its first term using Peace Heroes, and the report I received from Chay, the 7th grade teacher, was so heartening, I asked her if I could share it – word for word – on my blog. At this particular school, Chay had planned to teach four heroes during the first term, beginning with Desmond Tutu – one of South Africa’s most prominent and well-known peace heroes. However, learning about their own history through the lens of peace was such a monumental experience, that the two 7th grade classes never got beyond their first hero. Instead, they took an entire semester to delve more deeply into Tutu’s life, allowing it to impact their own lives in unforeseen ways. Here is Chay’s summary of the experience:

The Grade 7s and I have been on a journey of self-discovery this term. The program has allowed us to speak openly and honestly about the history of our country and to engage in the reality of our current political climate.

South Africa is such a special country that still has a lot of pain and hurt to work through. Many of my students spoke about things that they had not discussed openly with their peers before. It was a beautiful process, watching them respect the opinions that differed from theirs. For me, the most amazing thing was watching them own their own thoughts and ideas.

We started off by delving into peace – peace as a verb and peace as a notion. This took us into learning about our first hero, Archbishop Desmond Tutu. We had planned to move onto the Dalai Lama, but we ended up spending more time than anticipated on Mr Tutu.

My favourite lesson had to be the forgiveness one. We all sat in a circle. I spoke about forgiveness in the eyes of Mr Tutu and how holding on to anger creates a great burden to bear. We looked at a clip of Mr Tutu talking about forgiveness, read quotes, and I also read aloud the story included in the program about Mr Tutu never having had that final conversation with his dad before he passed away. I then asked every student to share one thing that they would like to forgive, to talk about it and let it go. I took part too, to show that no matter what age we are, peace is something we have to work on all the time. The stories and things that were shared were amazing. One student shared a very powerful moment of letting go of the anger he harboured for his dad. He cried in front of the whole class and everyone comforted him. Something changed in that moment – I felt the room lift with love.

This program has the potential to empower our young people with empathy, integrity and self-worth. Elie, I want to thank you for including us in this pilot as I see how much my students are gaining from this. I hope this feedback is helpful and motivating to you to keep on with this amazing project!

The students each wrote me a paragraph, detailing why they believe this program is important. I was so encouraged that I wrote them back – a letter that Chay was able to read to them on the last day of class. “I want to encourage you,” I told them, “to continue the process of learning to see the world through the lens of love and compassion rather than that of judgement and fear. I want to encourage you to learn to see yourself through the lens of love also, because – and here’s a little secret – how you feel about who you are is how you will feel about the rest of the world too! When you accept yourself, you will begin to find you can accept others as well, no matter how different or difficult they are.

“When you learn to truly love yourself, you will know a deep peace within, and this peace will bubble up, spill out, and flow into everything and everyone around you . . . Real peace begins this way – deep within each of us. It is not something ‘out there,’ something for politicians to figure out, something for other nations to work on. It is the source of our lives – and it begins within each and every one of us. Remember this always. And let your own inner peace flow out to water the earth – the world around you – with its goodness.

“Grade 7s – never give up hope! Never stop loving! And for as long as you live – seek peace and pursue it.”

May it be so in each of our lives.