Living in peace is not so unattainable – this is the view of the Peace Ambassadors in Hanover Park who, despite a gang war raging in their community, say they will not be deterred and will continue spreading their message.
The determination of the group of Grade 11 Mount View High pu-
pils who are part of this project has been so contagious that many of their parents also got involved in the work they do.
Keanan Weitz, 16, said he had been unsure about the project’s purpose before joining it, but was grateful he had, as it changed him for the better.
“In order for us to attain peace, we need to change ourselves first. My friend, Talia Petersen and I, decided to take on this project, as we felt it could change our lives. It has definitely helped me. My behaviour changed, and I started interacting more with my fellow pupils. I also realised that I cannot speak about peace if I don’t have inner peace,” Keanan said.
On Thursday July 12, Keanan and some of his schoolmates, supported by their parents, ran a programme for primary school pupils at Hanover Park library.
Here the younger ones enjoyed ice-breaker games, listened to inspirational speakers, were entertained by song and dance, and enjoyed a hearty meal.
They were also encouraged to spread the message of peace with their peers.
The Peace Ambassadors project is the brainchild of Professor Brian Williams, who works in war-torn countries across Africa, where he specialises in peace, mediation, reconciliation and labour relations.
“The City of Cape Town came to hear of the work that I do, and I explained what I thought can be done in communities struggling with gang wars. They did their own research and investigation, and a pilot programme for the Peace Ambassadors was started. This involves a process of transforming violent communities. A total of 13 communities in Cape Town was identified as crisis communities, and Hanover Park was listed as the community with the highest set of challenges,” Professor Williams said.
He said the project’s focus was to recognise that the solutions to the violence were in the hearts and minds of the people.
“We are enablers – to get the light that shines in each one to awaken the recognition that we are our own liberators. We are here to help the community and to provide them with the tools they need. The project is based on a conflict-preventative strategy. Many young people are seduced by the glitz of the drug culture or the glamour of illicit behaviour. Here the young people pulled their parents into activism as well. People need to stay in the community to be active role models,” Professor Williams said.
As part of the training, the ambassadors were encouraged to start small peace projects in the community.
Rasheedah Smith said that since she had started spreading the peace message in her road, she had found that the children no longer swore as much as they had done.
“I can honestly say they are treating one another better now. Before I joined, I did not know what peace is. I will continue with the work, because I don’t want the people to go back to treating each other badly,” she said.
Parent Elize Lindt said she had known about peace because of her spiritual background, but sharing it and speaking about it had been a challenge for her.
“When I got involved, I thought we would just do the one-month training. After that, however, the real work began. I’ve seen tremendous changes, and it is so inspiring to see how the young people mobilised themselves. In our road, we are doing our bit – small changes like keeping it clean, and interacting with our neighbours. We all know this can be done – we don’t have to get used to violence. Professor Williams came with a direct vision which is tangible – one can reach out and touch it. With everybody’s help we can make a positive difference,” Ms Lindt said.
Lucinda Paulse, another parent, said that when the programme had been introduced to them, she found it to be something different.
“When people spoke about peace – the focus was always on the gangs out there. We learnt here that peace starts within ourselves. I needed that inner-peace myself. There is hope for Hanover Park, and other areas. In some areas of Hanover Park I can see some change. We are prepared to continue this work, even if the pilot comes to an end. My nephew has been a child soldier (gangster) since the age of 15. He is 22 now. I feel like I failed him, but I can still make a difference in another child’s life.”
The pilot project ended on Friday July 13. According to Professor Williams, the City of Cape Town will now assess it, before making any decisions about the future of the project.
The City’s media office said it “awaits feedback on the pilot programme and will respond as soon as the necessary information has been received”.