Individual articles from the Summer 2020 issue of Intersections will be posted on this blog twice per week. The full issue can be found on MCC’s website.
Zambia has always taken great pride in being a peaceful country, not having faced either external or civil war. In recent decades, the relative peace of Zambia has drawn thousands of refugees from many African countries. Given this relative peace, I have often been asked: “Why is there a need for peace clubs in a country like Zambia?”
While to some the need for peacebuilding in a context like Zambia has not always been evident, others have recognized that the absence of war does not mean that there is no violence in the country. For example, gender-based violence in Zambia is widespread and pervasive. According to a study done by USAID in 2010, almost half (47%) of Zambian women over the age of 15 have experienced physical violence. One in five women has experienced sexual violence in her lifetime (Wyble, 2004). Gender-based violence in Zambia includes everything from spousal abuse to sexual violence to psychological abuse to child neglect and more. Recognizing that violence can take many forms, MCC chose to support the pioneering of the peace club model in three schools in Zambia’s capital, Lusaka, in 2006.
Peace clubs operate as an extracurricular activity. Like any other school club, students are free to join the after-school peace club, with the support of a teacher, to learn about how the principles of peace can help to address the problems they see in their lives and in societies. Since the first pilot project in 2006, MCC has supported the development of the peace clubs model in a variety of ways. MCC staff assisted in drafting a peace clubs curriculum that introduces participants to different aspects of conflict analysis and resolution, examining understandings of conflict and violence, exploring gender-based violence, trauma, and the rights of persons with disabilities and charting the journey to reconciliation. The goal of peace clubs is not to teach young people the exact names of the different problem-solving techniques, or to have them able to recite the curriculum word-for-word. Instead, peace clubs are about helping a young generation develop new ways of thinking about peace, conflict and violence and equipping them with skills to peacefully address and prevent conflict in their schools, homes and communities.
Through participation in peace clubs, many young people have become peacebuilders in their schools and communities. They have learned how to be critical and creative thinkers. Peace clubs have equipped them to face unexpected situations. Furthermore, peace clubs have contributed to a change in attitude and behavior on the part of parents, teachers and students, allowing them to use peaceful means to resolve conflicts. Young members of peace clubs have influenced adult community members to change their culture of violence into one of peace. Peace clubs have contributed to a reduction in corporal punishment and increased the use of non-violent disciplinary methods in schools, homes and communities.
From its humble start in three schools in Lusaka, peace clubs in Zambia have expanded to 32 Lusaka schools as well as to 12 Brethren in Christ schools in Zambia’s southern province. The idea of what a peace club can be has even expanded beyond school settings, with peace clubs established in churches, prisons and refugee camps. The introduction of peace clubs into Zambian prisons has proved successful, leading the Zambia Correctional Service to seek to establish a Restorative Justice and Peace Building Unit and expand peace clubs to all 65 prisons in the country. Meanwhile, the peace clubs model has expanded beyond Zambia. Mennonite Brethren and Brethren in Christ churches in Malawi look to introduce peace clubs in their contexts to address and prevent gender-based violence. Churches, schools and prisons in fourteen African countries have adapted the peace clubs model, while groups in Latin America and Canada also look to introduce the peace clubs model in contextually appropriate ways.
Over the course of only 13 years, the peace clubs model has grown from three after-school activities to a fully developed curriculum implemented in churches, schools, prisons and refugee camps on three continents. Looking ahead, peace clubs certainly face challenges, including how to diversify funding support for long-term sustainability and how to better measure the impact of peace clubs. One can envision this model being expanded all over the world and adapted to many other contexts and refined to successfully introduce alternatives to violence for a more just and peaceful tomorrow.
Issa Ebombolo is MCC Zambia peace coordinator.
Wyble, Brent. “Making Schools Safe for Girls: Combating Gender-Based Violence in Benin.” Academy for Education Development, 2004. Available at https://eric.ed.gov/?id=ED486321.
Peace Clubs Curriculum material can be found here: https://pcc.mcc.org/.