In the Philippines, the months of March and April are full of celebration. It's graduation season for students across the country. And like their American counterparts, there are matching caps and gowns, certificate, speeches, and parents toting cameras around on commencement day.
However, graduation day hasn’t always been a day full of smiles and joy for all the schools in the communities where Nonviolent Peaceforce (NP) works. Two years ago, armed members of two parties in conflict started shooting at one another in the midst of an ongoing graduation ceremony, causing widespread fear among students, parents and teachers and abruptly ending the ceremony.
Upon learning about the violent disruption, NP engaged the school and other local stakeholders in an effort to gather different perspectives, show responsive presence, and assess what could be done to prevent future violence at the school and in the community. With your support, NP continued to reach out to different local groups and engage them in conversation in the following months. Then, NP was invited by local educators to be present at the school’s graduation in 2017.
In the U.S., there have been close to 300 incidents of gun violence on school grounds since 2013.1 To prevent more school shootings, American school administrators, parents and politicians are implementing and debating ideas ranging from restricting access to guns to arming teachers to anti-bully programs to restorative justice. Some schools are already increasingly employing visible security measures such as additional cameras, metal detectors, and security personnel.2
On graduation day in 2017, NP staff strategically placed themselves at locations within and just outside the school. The hope was to play a role of violence prevention alongside parents, educators, and community leaders at the ceremony and positively influence the behavior of the two parties who were in conflict. A local, armed task force was also present, but stayed outside the school premises to respect the zone of peace. The school administration and local officials were able to encourage and maintain a firearms-free zone that prevented visitors or parents with firearms from entering the school premises.
You helped the day’s celebration proceed in peace. Towards the end of the program, one of the educators suggested that NP be invited again for next year’s graduation.
In the U.S., some groups are calling for gun reform. People are experimenting with approaches to curb gun violence in schools and gun violence across America. But there has been little to no agreement on next steps to reduce gun violence in the US. Extreme polarization exists between stakeholder groups on the issue of gun violence in America’s schools and the gap seems to only be widening. The division over the response to school gun violence is leaving some students to wonder if change will ever come.3
When invited again in 2018, NP was present for a second time alongside teachers, parents, and students as part of an effort to create a safe space for the school’s graduation. Again, the ceremony went smoothly and without any violent incidents.
When another school learned about NP’s engagement at the graduation ceremony, NP was invited to be a part of the solution for another Filipino school that was experiencing a similar situation of conflict. As with the first school, you gave NP the opportunity to foster relationships, contribute to the reduction of violence and support a local community on a significant day.
NP is exploring if some of these lessons learned from the Philippines and other areas where we work could be applied to schools in the US. We’d love to hear from you about how NP’s global approach could impact lives locally.
*Image displayed was not taken at the above events nor owned by Nonviolent Peaceforce. All credit goes towards Glendale Lapastora on Flickr.