Landegg's Education for Peace project seeks to break the cycle of violence in Bosnia and Herzegovina

SARAJEVO, Bosnia and Herzegovina - To understand what the faculty and administration of Landegg International University mean when they speak of "integrative studies" and "applied spirituality," there is no better example than the Education for Peace project unfolding here in this war-torn land.

For more than a year, a small group of Landegg graduate students have participated in a ground-breaking pilot project to introduce concepts of peace education to teachers, students and parents at six schools in three ethnically diverse communities in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Education for Peace (EFP) is distinctive because of the way it focuses on the training of present and future generations of children and youth to become peacemakers by overcoming age-old prejudices, with the goal of breaking down the cycle of violence that has so often consumed the people here in the past.

Key to that approach is an integrative method that seeks to introduce fundamental concepts about peace, unity and interethnic harmony in all major topics of the school curriculum - from history to science to the arts - so that peace education is not merely added on as an extra course but instead becomes an integral part of a student's experience. The process also involves parents, and the goal is to create a force for the transformation of the entire community.

"We provide training on a new understanding of human nature, which teaches that there is a latent potential within human beings to create a civilization of peace," said Sara Clarke, the project's administrator in Bosnia. "From there, we focus on the dynamics of conflict, the prerequisites of peace, and what it takes to create a culture of healing."

Funded by the Government of Luxembourg and functioning with the support of the Office of the High Representative in Bosnia and Herzegovina (OHR), the international civilian agency overseeing the implementation of the Dayton Peace Accords, the EFP project has won praise from educational administrators and specialists in Bosnia.

"This invaluable project was conceived in such a way that the soul-searching process of reflection which the participants undergo as the project unfolds - be they pupils, teachers, parents, administrators, ordinary school workers - results, largely speaking, as we have ascertained ourselves, in a heightened holistic awareness of the war period and its tragic consequences, and indeed triggers the desire amongst them to become authentic peace-makers…," wrote Claude Kieffer, senior education advisor to the OHR, in a report last April.

More importantly, perhaps, the project has evoked a powerful response from many of the students it seeks to serve.

"Through EFP our school has become a new one," said Zlatan Karakaš, a grade 11 student at the Mixed Secondary School in Travnik. "Before, everyday we just had 'school', but through this project we have been given a new way of learning through creative presentations."

The project grew out of Landegg's emphasis on applying integrated scientific and spiritual solutions to real world problems.

"The ultimate objective of EFP is to create a culture of peace based on fundamental scientific and ethical principles such as the consciousness of the oneness of humanity and the practice of unity in diversity," said Hossain Danesh, president of Landegg and director of its Education for Peace programs.

Formally launched on 28 June 2000, the project is set to run for two years, covering the academic cycles for 2000-2001 and 2001-2002. The project has received key support from the relevant Bosnian ministries of education. EFP project administrators are hopeful that project funding will be extended and expanded.

During its first two years, the project is focusing on six schools in three areas of Bosnia and Herzegovina: the Third Primary School, Ilidza, Sarajevo Canton; the Second Gymnasium, Sarajevo, Sarajevo Canton; the Ivo Andriae Primary School, Banja Luka, Republika Srpska; the Gymnasium, Banja Luka, Republika Srpska; the Nova Bila Primary School, Travnik, Central Bosnia Canton; and the Mixed Secondary School, Travnik, Central Bosnia Canton.

In its first year, the project worked directly with some 400 teachers, administrators and support staff in these six schools, serving some 6,000 children and youth. In addition, through the distribution of materials, group meetings, and the holding of regional and nation peace events, the project has presented the fundamentals of violence prevention and peace education to a significant portion of the 8,000-10,000 parents involved in the six schools.

At the heart of the EFP project is a set of core themes that transcend and unify the various subjects of the standard public-school curriculum. Training seminars seek to equip teachers of all subjects - physical sciences, sports and technical education, arts and humanities - with the knowledge and skills that they need to integrate these core themes, defined as "principles of peace," into their lesson plans throughout the year.

"For example, one of the principles we discuss is the notion that unity is the essential condition underlying all life and growth," said Ms. Clarke, who recently completed the requirements for a master's degree in conflict resolution at Landegg. "This idea can be taught across the curriculum. Even in a physics class, the teacher can demonstrate that unity is a necessary aspect of the universe by describing the basic bonds between atoms and showing how the same law applies to all phenomena. Likewise, this concept can be explored in biology, sociology, history, music and other subjects. The whole aim of this program is to have the teachers themselves begin to reflect on what it is they are teaching their students."

Zerina Ibricic, a biology teacher at the Third Primary School in Ilidza, where some 70 percent of the children have lost one or both parents through ethnic conflict, said such concepts have helped students see that "hate is not good for living and that we should continue to live together with others of different ethnicities."

"Through the subject of biology, the pupils have realized that unity in diversity is the product of various things coming together and that one thing can't function without another one," said Ms. Ibricic.

Samra Halilovic, a teacher of English at the Mixed Secondary School in Travnik, said that the project "has helped us look at our syllabus in a different way, from a different perspective, giving us a chance to enrich it with issues not dealt with so thoroughly before."

The project has other distinctive aspects, including efforts to involve the entire school community, including all teachers, administrators and support staff; a curriculum that cuts across ethnic lines, with no alterations to suit local political or ethnic concerns; and the extensive use of the arts, such as plays, concerts and the creation of drawings and paintings.

"This project is very important for us because its main issue is to change the way that people think about life, especially young people," said Meliha Sujoldzic, a teacher and a parent at the Mixed Secondary School in Travnik, a city that is fairly evenly split between Bosnian Muslims and Croat Catholics. "The very good thing about the project is that students, their parents and teachers are included in it. That is something new in Travnik, and it is very good because the culture of peace is going to continue growing part by part in all parts of the community."

Jozefina Matoševic, a parent and member of the support staff at the Nova Bila Primary School in Travnik, said the project's emphasis on artistic expression has had an important effect.

"The EFP project has brought some changes to our school, our community and our families," said Ms. Matoševic. "The walls of our school are full of students' art works, pictures, poetry, posters, essays and drawings. The collaboration between parents and the school has become better."

During the course of the school year, students were given several opportunities to present the core themes of the EFP Project to the wider community. At public events, both in the region and statewide, students sought to demonstrate their understanding of the principles of peace through music performances, plays, contests and displays.

Municipal leaders in the localities which host project schools - Banja Luka, Sarajevo, Ilidza, and Travnik - have also lent their support to the EFP Project, through both public statements and assistance with project events. For example, the mayors officially proclaimed February 2000 as "Peace Month" in their cities to mark the first set of regional and national peace events.

"Because the EFP program takes a holistic approach to peace education, involving students, teachers and parents, across all ethnic groups and lines of curriculum, it has a transformative effect, we believe," said Ms. Clarke. "This is very important for creating a culture of peace. Because unless there is real transformation in minds and hearts of people, you cannot create lasting peace. At best, you end up with short bursts of stability, in between periods of conflict."