Text: Solveig Hansen, 2018
Give children a theme for a poem, or a set of crayons, and wonderful things will happen. IFLAC Children’s Peace Train Poetry Festival is a good example of that.
In this post:
I used to work as a web editor for IFLAC (The International Forum for the Literature and Culture of Peace), and the Poetry Festival was by far the project I enjoyed the most. In 2014, IFLAC joined forces with Children’s Peace Train and invited children to submit their poems, and a drawing if they liked, about “Peace in My Own Life.” The award was to have their poems published in an e-book.
The children responded and generously shared their thoughts in words and artwork with us. The resulting e-book A Child for Peace below contains 84 entries from children and teens between the age of 4 and 19 from all continents. Personally, I was taken aback by the children’s ability to poetically articulate their reflections on what peace meant in their lives. Just to give you a taste:
Yael Peleg (age 9, Israel) writes in “My Peace”:
Big peace, small peace,
Good peace, Strong peace,
Peace is amazing
Peach is good
World peace is perfect!!!
This is a snippet from “Pursuit of Peace” by Michelle Musomba, an F4 student from Kenya:
I travelled the world
And the seven seas
Only to realize the peace l desired
Was hidden within me
It lay in the purity of my heart
And the energy of this soul
All along l had a storm
Brewing within me
And with its calming
Came the peace
I’d always wanted
IFLAC is an NGO founded by Egyptian-born Israeli writer, poet, lecturer and peace researcher Ada Aharoni in 1999, with the goal of building bridges of understanding and peace through culture, literature and communication. Prof. Aharoni has taught conflict resolution and written 20+ books, including peace poetry.
Children’s Peace Train, created by Fred Jeremy Seligson (South Korea), invites children to create drawings based on the theme “Peace in my own life” and then download a certificate making them a Conductor of the Children’s Peace Train. Since its establishment in 2002, the Peace Train has expanded to more than a dozen countries. Photos from Prof. Seligson’s Peace Train workshops are published on his site, showing children carefully holding their drawings for the world to see. We used several of them in the e-book.
Statue of Liberty:
We hope your torch
is feeling fine.
Still in love with it! 🙂
The beautiful cover illustration is made by Isabella Wallace (age 9) from Australia, one of the participants. It shows war trapped in a jar after peace has been let out, described in her poem, called “Peace on Earth”:
When there is war, peace is trapped in a jar.
It only gets let out once fighting has stopped.
When peace is let out,
War then becomes trapped in the jar.
The article continues below the e-book. (The anthology is from 2014 and some external links in it might no longer work.)
Poetry and artwork as bridge builders
In an interview included in the e-book, I asked Ada Aharoni how children’s poetry and artwork can help create bridges between peoples and cultures. She said that poetry and artwork are deep mirrors of our lives, values and beliefs, and if the children share them with other children from other countries and cultures and read and appreciate their poems and artwork in return, then a strong bridge of understanding is created between them. “This is the most important ingredient for preventing misunderstandings, conflicts and wars between people and nations — as the Creation of Cultural Bridges leads to the respect and knowledge, and even love of the other.” A wise answer from a peace poet who has been writing for almost eight decades.
The significance of creative expression
What if children are not encouraged to express themselves creatively? On one of his Peace Train workshop tours, Fred Jeremy Seligson visited a kindergarten class where the children had art teachers and knew how to draw, and a village of Government compounds surrounded by high fences where the children seemingly were not capable of creating shapes or forms. They just filled sheet after sheet with colored lines as fast as they could. “I left with a feeling that these children were suffering a great deprivation, and desperately needed an art program for their creative self-expression,” he wrote in an article titled Coloring Peace with Ethiopian Children in Israel. As a contrast, in the kindergarten where the children knew how to make objects and shapes and express emotions in their work, the drawings showed happy families, often with a sun shining over a hilltop.
This is a prayer for the world to awaken, for the freedom to love, imagine and express oneself:
A WORLD WHERE
By Anjali Sinha (age 15), India
Where the vision feels no fear,
The breath is no more nervous,
The hands are no more bound,
And stretch high to touch the sky.
Where the heart is free to love,
Where the mind is free to imagine,
Where the feet are no more bound,
And can walk on the right path.
Where the ears need not strain anymore
To hear a caring word from a friend,
Where the lips are no more quiet,
And are free to express the thoughts of the soul.
Where people feel no fear,
To lend a helping hand,
To a neighbour in distress.
Where every laughter comes from heart
And every tear, of happiness.
Where trust prevails in every heart
And every reason of gratitude be justified.
Where feelings know no boundaries,
Where billions of hearts beat together,
In the dawn of peace and joy,
Oh lord, let this world awake.
Students from Kenyan Riara Group of Schools are well represented, many of them depicting the ugliness of war in their poems:
IN THE NAME OF PEACE
By Akpovo Bamidele, F4 student, Kenya
What is the victory in war?
Tell this soul what it is
When your waters and fields are tarnished
By phantoms of blood and gone.
Of what consequence is it?
When the trophies we reap
Are of broken bones
And countless headstones
Of orphans’ tears
Newly formed fears.
What beauty is held
When dust and ashes
Blot out the skies
And block the stars from our eyes.
There is no meaning in war
So why do we shun peace?
And the prosperity it could bring
We should fight for a new dawn
And let go of this demon of war.
Peace starts with us. Children get it:
By Alejandro Bustamante (age 11), Argentina
For there to be peace in the world
There must be peace in the nations
For there to be peace in the nations
There must be peace in the cities
For there to be peace in the cities
There must be peace in the neighborhoods
For there to be peace in the neighborhoods
There must be peace at homes
For there to be peace at homes
There must be peace in the hearts
Peace is sweet, love is
Tranquility and more.
When two people race at the same speed, they both win:
By Molly Wallace (age 5), Australia
One day, two people met on a savannah.
They both said they could win a race.
They went the same speed,
They didn’t want to.
And they didn’t know it,
But they both won.
They were then friends.
I wonder how all these young poets are doing today…
The illustration picturing children holding hands around the globe is from Children’s Peace Train and was used as the signature drawing for IFLAC Children’s Peace Train Poetry Festival.