MCC LACA: Peace Buttons and Education
This past February, I had the opportunity to travel to Cali, Colombia, to represent MCC Haiti at the MCC Latin America and the Caribbean regional partner encounter on the theme of education. It was a bittersweet visit as visa difficulties prevented our Haitian partners from joining the group. Despite this setback, it was a privilege to learn about the important and innovative work MCC education partners are doing throughout Latin America, and to place Haiti's challenges and opportunities in a regional context. It's always a blessing to come together as MCC staff and partners to share and learn from one another.
As we boarded the bus, José David Valencia handed us all “gestores de paz” buttons to pin to our shirts. We were on our way to the La Milagrosa school, located at the outskirts of Agua Blanca, a marginalized neighborhood in the city of Cali. As we arrived, students in uniform, pinned with the exact same button, led us into a classroom down a hallway.
Every year, MCC LACA bring together partners from around the region for an encounter around a specific theme. This year, we met in Colombia, to talk about education, and to visit an MCC partner, Edupaz, supported school. As always, the gathered practitioners are the experts. Participants work in education in a variety of ways, ranging from daily tutoring of children whose parents are imprisoned in Bolivia to advocacy for better access to education in Honduras. Whatever their specific focus, one aspect is clearly shared: a desire that the region’s children and youth can access all the tools they need for well-being. Our conversation in La Milagrosa reflects and reinforces that passion.
The desks were too small, but we crammed into them anyways as the students began to tell us about their roles as peace mediators. As the conversation progressed, the initially quiet students were soon bubbly and articulate, interrupting each other to tell us about their involvement in the peace mediation program.
“Now people approach us and ask for help with their conflicts,” one student shared. Through training provided from Edupaz, the students learn conflict resolutions skills and apply them in their classrooms. The pin identifies them as peacebuilders in the school. Not only do their classmates ask for assistance when they see the button, it also creates accountability. In the words of another student:
“I know that as soon as I put on my button, I’m responsible to my peers.”
The goal of the peace mediators program is not ultimately about individual transformation, although each of the students we met has a story of change due to their involvement in the mediation trainings. Rather, the program seeks structural change within schools and neighbourhoods, thanks to an interplay between organizations, administrators, teachers, local authorities, and student. Individual transformation reflect and lead back to larger changes in a mutually reinforcing cycle.