The Power of International Education in Peacebuilding

“After recent attacks in Beirut and Paris, people may feel the world is a dangerous and messy place and wish to withdraw from it, but we must resist this reaction in order to avoid nations becoming xenophobic,” said Donald Steinberg, President of World Learning at an event held at the U.S. Institute of Peace in Washington DC this past Monday, November 16, 2016. “More important than the bombs that were used was the work of civil society in building peacebuilding capacity dealing with trauma, and holding peace and conflict mediation trainings.”

Mr. Steinberg joined several other panelists from civil society organizations in a discussion about the role of international education in peacebuilding, a field in which Peace Boat US is actively involved. The panel noted that in this increasingly globalized world, international education is more important than ever; it helps to build cross cultural skills, learn new perspectives, raise empathy and curiosity, and realize ways in which others can be very similar to ourselves yet at the same time very different.

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Five panelists from different organizations shared their perspectives on the role of international education in peacebuilding to a packed audience.

The panelists continued by explaining what remains to be done to fully realize the potential of international education that contributes to peacebuilding. Fanta Aw, Assistant Vice President of Campus Life at American University, pointed out that concepts of race and gender are oftentimes absent from conversations about international education and peacebuilding, and that the issue of human security needs to be addressed more often. Mr. Steinberg noted that people of color, people with disabilities, and members of the LGBT community need to be included more in international education and exchange programs. Shamil Idriss, President of Search for Common Ground, said that young people need more safe venues where they can be respectfully heard—even if their opinions are strong and others do not agree with them. He also spoke of the challenge of creating international exchange programs on a massive and affordable level, and highlighted virtual exchange programs as one solution that allows large numbers of young people to connect via virtual platforms without incurring great program costs. The U.S., he informed the audience, aims to give one million American youth the opportunity to connect with youth in Muslims countries through virtual platforms over the next five years.

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The event was held at the United States Institute of Peace in Washington DC, an independent, nonpartisan institution that was established to increase the nation’s capacity to manage international conflict without violence.

In all peacebuilding and international education initiatives, listening to others is extremely important, and though it may sound simple and easy, it’s oftentimes not–but it holds great power to awaken people and bridge divides, concluded Melanie Greenberg, President of Alliance for Peacebuilding. Being globally tuned in while acting locally is also key, she stated, given that global and local realities are directly connected. Fortunately, she added individuals and civil society organizations have far more power today than in the past to shape peacebuilding efforts in our world today, and many cases exist around the globe of where their work has been highly successful.

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Peace Boat US works with local communities and other NGOs to create international education and peacebuilding programs that bring people together across borders.

As a civil society organization engaged in international education and peacebuilding, Peace Boat US will continue to help build a culture of peace around the world by bringing people together across borders for study, exchange, dialogue, and cooperation on land and on board the Peace Boat ship. Echoing a quote cited by Mr. Steinberg: “The way to learn to live together is by living together.”

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