Peaceful Schools International

Saint Mary's and Yale partner for experiential learning in Northern Ireland

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A group of Saint Mary’s students and professors departs Halifax on Tuesday, heading overseas to share peace education workshops with children in 16 schools in Northern Ireland.

It’s the 14th annual trip to Belfast through the Northern Ireland Conflict Resolution Program, which provides unique experiential learning for students in SMU’s Faculties of Arts, Science and Commerce.

This year for the first time, an undergraduate Yale class studying political science with Dr. Bonnie Weir is collaborating with the SMU students, thanks to technology.

“They’ll have a chance to Skype into what we’re doing in real time,” says Bridget Brownlow, SMU’s Conflict Resolution Advisor and President of Peaceful Schools International.

“Our colleagues at Yale recognize Saint Mary’s as a leader in this type of experiential programming linked to civil conflict in Northern Ireland. Yale is interested in the model we use to engage with schools and communities, and has an interest in replicating our efforts in the promotion of peace education and exploring the various connections we’ve developed with schools, ex-combatants, community leaders and academics over the past 14 years. We anticipate developing a long-term, meaningful partnership.”  

The Yale students will have the chance to share questions beyond the school programming as they join in the SMU team’s discussions with ex-combatants who are now working toward peace.

Brownlow and Weir have been exploring ways to collaborate for some time. Their efforts were enhanced in November, when Brownlow and SMU President Dr. Robert Summerby-Murray took part in a symposium at Yale, co-hosted by Queen’s University Belfast. Titled “Twenty Years of Peace: Progress and Possibilities in Northern Ireland,” the conference brought together academics, community leaders, politicians and architects of the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement, which in 1998 marked a formal end to the conflict in Northern Ireland.

Another twist for this year’s trip to Belfast is the new series of storybooks launched in October by Peaceful Schools International, with support from SMU and SMUSA. Already shared locally with more than 1,000 elementary schoolchildren, the books were written and illustrated by three Halifax junior high students.

The Saint Mary’s students have created interactive workshops based on these books. To date, their efforts have been very well received by local children. One of the books, Animal School, has just been translated into Irish (by Prof. Neil Ó Briain of the Department of Irish Studies at Saint Mary’s) and will be presented to a Bunscoil An Tsleibhe Dhuibh, a long-term Irish medium school. Plans are underway to translate the other two books.

The Saint Mary’s team, including 25 students and four faculty members, will return to Canada on February 25. It’s the most diverse group of students to date, says Brownlow, adding it includes international students from as far away as Bangladesh, Yemen, Nigeria, Brazil, India and Jamaica.

The faculty members involved are conducting research while in Northern Ireland:

  • Dr. David Bourgeois, a Psychology professor, is studying the impact of the Peaceful Schools International program on our own student participants at SMU, as well as initiating research on the motivational profiles of Loyalist Youth involved in the ongoing activities associated with bonfires in Belfast and surrounding areas;

  • Criminology professor Dr. Ashley Carver is conducting research on Republican and Loyalist internees; and

  • Dr. Catherine Loughlin, Associate Dean of Research and Knowledge Mobilization for the Sobey School of Business, is collaborating with Dr. Carver on the role of women internees in Northern Ireland.  

For updates on the initiative, please follow Peaceful Schools International on Twitter at @PeaceatSchool and Facebook at @peacefulschoolsinternational.     

Saint Mary's observes the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence against Women

Close to 75 faculty, staff and students gathered to observe the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence against Women on Thursday, December 6 in the Art Gallery.

Presented by Saint Mary’s University and Peaceful Schools International, the solemn day marked the 29th anniversary of the shooting deaths of 14 female students at École Polytechnique in Montreal. Saint Mary’s has been holding the memorial annually since 1989, when the tragic shooting occurred.

In his remarks, President Robert Summerby-Murray reminded attendees that universities are to be both places of “sanctuary” and action to create a culture of respect for all, and that universities must lead in this action.

The service included a poem reading by Lindsay Vandewater, SMUSA Equity Officer as well as a moment of silence in honour of the fallen women.

Brianna Comeau and Kartik Saini of the SMU Women’s Centre presented the “Solidarity Canvas” hanging in the Art Gallery, a student-created, interactive installment that acknowledges violence suffered by women and other marginalized communities, and urged people to listen, believe, speak out, intervene and act to become allies.

Members of the SMUSA executive, the SMU football team and the Conflict Resolution Society gathered at the front of the room to quietly place 14 white roses in a vase as the names of the shooting victims were read aloud.

Danielle Day, 3rd year Engineering student at SMU, was awarded the Montreal Women’s Memorial Scholarship. Grade 8 students and creators of a trio of children’s books on peaceful conflict resolution were invited to the podium and attended and spoke of their hope and optimism that in the future, women would not longer have to face such violence.

Saint Mary's home to YMCA Peace Medal winner and champion for peace

Representatives from Saint Mary’s University recently participated in a conference on peace in Northern Ireland. The conference, “Twenty Years of Peace: Progress and Possibilities in Northern Ireland,” took place at Yale University on November 29 and 30.

The symposium brought together academics, community leaders, politicians and architects of the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement, which in 1998 marked a formal end to the conflict in Northern Ireland.

“Our Northern Ireland Peace Education Program has existed for 14 of the past 20 years since the Good Friday Agreement,” notes Bridget Brownlow, SMU’s Conflict Resolution Advisor and President of Peaceful Schools International.  

She and Dr. Robert Summerby-Murray, President and Vice-Chancellor of Saint Mary’s, attended as invited discussants at the symposium on Yale’s campus in New Haven, Connecticut. Dr. Summerby-Murray’s academic research and teaching interests include cultural and historical geography in Northern Ireland; and he has been a strong champion for SMU’s collaboration with Peaceful Schools International, as well as experiential learning and global engagement.

Brownlow, who recently received the 2018 Peace Medal from the YMCA of Greater Halifax/Dartmouth in November, was also part of a public panel session. Her session at the Yale event , “The Future(s) of Northern Ireland,” was chaired by Dr. Richard N. Hasse, an American diplomat long involved in efforts toward Northern Ireland’s peace process.

Participants included Simon Coveney, Tánaiste (deputy head) of the government of Ireland; Karen Bradley, British MP and Secretary of State for Northern Ireland; General John de Chastelain, a member of the International Advisory Board for Peaceful Schools International; and others.

“My role was to speak to the unique and progressive nature of our peace education programming, whereby we are sharing the same peace education resources locally as we are with children in Northern Ireland,” says Brownlow.

“We have 14 years of very positive relationships with educators and more than 20 primary schools in Belfast, and those relationships are as strong as ever. It’s not unusual to hear people there say ‘the world has forgotten about us’. It’s always very reassuring that they know we at Saint Mary’s University and Peaceful Schools International have not forgotten about the people living in a post-conflict Northern Ireland.”

Saint Mary’s is also keen to continue a working relationship with researchers at Yale in relation to peace education. Brownlow and Dr. Bonnie Weir, a political science professor at Yale, are looking at ways for the two universities to collaborate.

Last month, with support from SMU and SMUSA, Peaceful Schools International launched three new storybooks written and illustrated by three Halifax junior high students. The resource books will be distributed to elementary schools in Nova Scotia and during the next SMU visit to Northern Ireland in February.

The books have generated a great deal of interest – more detail can be found in these recent media reports: