27 Feb Eliciting a Lifelong Commitment to Peace
Our thoughts and prayers are with the people of Ukraine as they suffer through an unprovoked and unjustified attack by Russia. We can only imagine the fear, terror, and uncertainty which so many are living though in the face of military violence.
Speaking from Brussels, Belgium, on Thursday, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg condemned the attack, saying “Peace in our continent has been shattered. We now have war in Europe, on a scale and of a type we thought belong to history”.
It is a harrowing reminder to us all that at times peace hangs by only the thinnest of threads. That despite supranational organisations and their efforts at forging international agreements, and despite living in this era of hyper-globalisation and in a world of ever-increasing connections, we cannot depend on the state of peace being the natural status quo. It brings home how important it is that we continue to actively work to promote peace and condemn aggression, and violence in all forms, as we prepare the next generation of students to carry these values forward.
One of Woodstock’s five Guiding Principles is that we value compassion. Our goal is to maintain relationships, to safeguard trust, to encourage honesty and integrity, and to advocate for compassion and hope. We avoid intimidation, fear, or the heavy-handed exercise of authority in discipline, and will not tolerate violence even within our community. Instead, we embrace forgiveness, dignity, trust, and kindness. We benchmark ourselves, as educators, against these values, and expect these same virtues to be reflected in our students. In everything we do, we seek to instil a commitment to peace at a micro level, across our community and within each student. We hope that in doing so, students can carry this with them throughout their lives, and go on to be advocates for peace at a macro level as global citizens and ethical leaders in society and at the micro level as they learn to live in peace with their neighbours and friends.
Our hope is that their learning and experiences while at Woodstock will enable them to go on to be advocates for peace and social justice in the future, as they play a role as peacebuilders in their respective nations.
A key pillar of our efforts towards this goal is Woodstock’s Scholars for Peace programme. The initiative enables gifted young people from fragile states or conflict-affected regions to join our international community. Over the last decade Woodstock has hosted Scholars for Peace from countries including Afghanistan, Syria, Yemen, Somalia, Kenya, Lebanon, and Palestine. Typically, they receive a full scholarship to study at Woodstock from Grades 9 to 12. Once here, the Scholars for Peace are treated just like any other student, and fully integrate into the community. One of many great examples of this is Mukhtar Mohamed from Somalia, who was both Student Council President and captain of the Senior Boys’ Basketball Team in the 2020-21 academic year.
There are many benefits of the Scholars for Peace programme, with its most immediate impact being to provide these exceptional young people with educational and development opportunities they would not otherwise be able to access, in an environment where they are safe from conflict. Our hope is that their learning and experiences while at Woodstock will enable them to go on to be advocates for peace and social justice in the future, as they play a role as peacebuilders in their respective nations.
No less important is the halo effect our Scholars for Peace have on our wider student body. The programme ensures that a Woodstock education includes living and learning alongside peers who, because of their personal experience, have a commitment to end conflict at all levels of society. As they study and grow together, all our students gain an insight into the harsh realities of living in conflict, in a way which is more powerful than any textbook could ever hope to deliver.
Individually we may be powerless to help the people of Ukraine in their hour of need. We will, however, continue to equip our students with the skills and insight to graduate from Woodstock with a lifelong commitment to peace. Perhaps, one day they can help play a role in confining war and conflict to the history books.
Dr Craig Cook, Principal
Main photo: Our students, including some Scholars for Peace, celebrating Indian Independence Day.
Top photo: Art installation ‘Words are possibilities’ in the medium of ‘pencils & AK-47 bullet shells’ by Stefan Eicher, Art Teacher at Woodstock and alumni from the Class of 1990. Click here to find out more about Stefan’s work.