Carrying knives and poles, parents advanced on Mancilla Open Community School in Lusaka, Zambia’s capital city, prepared to take vengeance on the school leader and to damage the school if they didn’t get answers.
They were angry because none of the school’s ninth-grade students had gotten results from the national exams they were required to pass to go on to 10th grade.
The parents had done their part. Despite living in one of the poorest and most dangerous areas of Lusaka, they had managed to pay the fees for their children’s exams on top of the monthly school fees.
By this time, several months later, they concluded the fees had been misused. As the school supervisor continued to stall in providing answers, parents decided to take up arms.
When they got to the school, though, they were met by Moffat Mutebele, a leader of the school’s MCC-supported peace club, and he asked them to leave their weapons outside.
“Your metals, poles and knives you have come with will not give us a solution to the problem,” parent Kitete Kuza remembers Mutebele telling them. “Select a few people who can come in and talk. What is important is dialogue, communication.”
The words calmed the parents and immediately resonated with Kuza, whose ninth-grade son, Amani Kuza, previously had questioned the long-term consequences and effectiveness of using violence to resolve the situation.
What Kuza didn’t realize was that when he did not act on his son’s concerns, Amani told peace club leader Mutebele the details of the parents’ plans, hoping that Mutebele could formulate a peaceful plan to thwart the violence. As members of peace club, Amani and other students had learned that violence is never a good resolution to conflict.
That concept is central to the curriculum used in MCC-sponsored peace clubs in 16 Zambian schools. Through the clubs, students learn to resolve conflicts without violence. As they use their skills, they and the teachers who train them influence families, schools and entire communities for peace.
Peace clubs, which MCC has supported since 2006, grew out of work that Issa Ebombolo, a refugee from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and colleagues at an MCC partner organization in Lusaka, Peace Center, were doing to address issues between a refugee camp and the local community.
In the process, they polled families and children in nearby schools and discovered it was not just the refugee children who were struggling. Young people needed an avenue to deal with conflicts as well as abuses by adults, including the threat of sexual abuse.
Ebombolo’s answer was peace clubs. He began training teachers, including Mutebele, in skills of conflict resolution and informal counseling.
The teachers in turn taught the skills to students in upper primary grades through grade 12. Ebombolo now is executive director of a new organization, called Peace Club, and MCC helps fund its work to form and support peace clubs. (Read more about Ebombolo , who received peace training and a college scholarship from MCC.)
During the past two years, MCC workers, under Ebombolo’s guidance, have written curriculum to help students resolve conflicts without violence and to stand up for themselves in case of abuse or sexual abuse, common problems that students report.
The curriculum is designed so that students will recognize conflicts in their own lives and relationships and learn how to address them.
When Maria Buchinke, 17, learned about demands on children to do chores they are not physically capable of doing or work that infringes on their education, she recognized her own situation.
Because her parents required her to clean, cook, bathe her younger brothers and take them to school before she could go to school, she was always late. At school, administrators would beat her or punish her with more chores. As a result, Maria’s grades were slipping and she sometimes didn’t go to school.
Her peace club leader advised her to explain the problem respectfully to her parents, even though it is not culturally acceptable for an unmarried child to question her parents.
“When she brought the news, we felt very bad because we thought this girl wants to bring revolution in this home,” says Esperance Musau, Buchinke’s mother. However, Buchinke’s parents realized, after thinking about it, that their expectations of her were negatively affecting her performance in school, which they were paying for.
The parents agreed to get up at 5 a.m., instead of 6 a.m., so they could do more of the work in the morning before they went to work. Buchinke’s job, they told her, was to get to school on time and complete her homework and evening chores.
Her grades improved, and her final exam qualified her to attend the university. Her brother’s behavior improved when he began attending peace club because he saw the positive effect on his sister, and Musau began to talk to other mothers about the problems of work demands on children.
“If someone is telling us something important to him, we parents need to listen,” says Buchinke’s father, Leonard Tshishiku Muntenemuine. “I know in the traditional pattern it was not like this. It’s always top down, top down, but this time, we are getting something new now from the bottom up.”
Not everyone has as much courage to speak up as Buchinke did, says Ebombolo. That is why the coordinating committee of Peace Club will arrange meetings for all parents to address a problem that students identify during peace club. Parent meetings about children’s work and sexual mistreatment of orphan children have led to marked changes in families and the community.
“If you just go and see a peace club meeting,” says Kitete Kuza, the Mancilla parent involved in planning violence at the school, “you can’t believe the bigger things that are coming out of it.”
The involvement of his son and other students in peace club and the work of their peace club teacher brought a potentially deadly, destructive situation to a peaceful solution. Parents, Kuza says, learned “that dialogue is the strongest tool to resolve violence.”
They saw it happen. Through the dialogue that Mutebele facilitated that night at the school, parents and administrators came to an agreement. Students would be allowed to repeat ninth grade free of charge and would retake the exam for no cost.
Kuza was so impressed by the peaceful process that he asked Amani to teach him more about what he was learning in peace club. “I learned how young people can be empowered to bring peace and prevent violence which can affect adults,” he says.
Before the conflict began, Amani remembers he did not think peace club was that important — just another club. Now he understands its far-reaching value.
“If we can all be able to join,” he says, “it can change the whole family, the whole society and even the whole world.”
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