Editor’s note: this guest blog post was written by Patricia Shafer, Chief Catalyst (Executive Director), Mothering Across Continents.
Nobel Laureate Dr. Oscar Arias said, “Peace is not a dream; it is hard work, and there is nothing naïve, glamorous or simplistic about it.” So, it’s inspiring when young people use their time, energy, and voices to advocate for peace in a faraway country. That’s the focus of a group of students in the Any1Can Club at Myers Park, the largest high school Charlotte, North Carolina. On July 9, the third anniversary of South Sudan’s Independence Day, they launched the “Memes for Peace” project following a year of learning about South Sudan and universal principles of conflict resolution.
The Memes for Peace project began simply, without a name. In Fall of 2013, the Any1Can Club hosted two assemblies about South Sudan for 900 students in Myers Park’s ninth grade English classes. Over several months, English teachers incorporated books, films, and articles into classroom discussions. In April 2014, the Club organized a three-mile Walk for Wisdom, with more than 700 students raising $4,400 for adult literacy in South Sudan. The culminating learning event came in April. Facilitated by teachers with support from Mothering Across Continents and our Raising South Sudan project, the ninth grade English students wrote reflections on parallels between themes of conflict in Romeo & Juliet, The Odyssey, The Hunger Games, and Monster and what they had learned about South Sudan. Using reflections as fodder, each student completed a computer-based design exercise, choosing photos from South Sudan and marrying them with phrases from books they read to create a “meme.” A student-driven "Memes for Peace” virtual gallery physical exhibit, and educational video were born.
Timing matters. While the Memes for Peace project has evolved, South Sudan has struggled with internal conflict that began in December 2013. So, student leaders from Myers Park and two collaborating high schools are now putting their compelling images and messages to work. They mailed 600 postcards with five different Memes for Peace images and accompanying letters to Members of Congress from North Carolina, asking that leaders take note of H.Res. 503 and become proactive facilitators for sustained peace in South Sudan. With support from Mothering Across Continents, a Raising South Sudan and Memes for Peace curriculum, inspired by the students, is now available to high schools and middle schools across the U.S. The curriculum includes the opportunity to participate in the physical postcard signing project. In conjunction with International Peace Day, September 21, 2014, the original Myers Park student project is currently featured in an “Art, Advocacy and Academic Achievement” exhibit at the Mint Museum in Charlotte. The exhibit is open through October 26th.
Conflict resolution is a complex undertaking, but the student-driven Memes for Peace message is straightforward: Peace is essential to development and well-being, and development and well-being are essential to peace. In the past year that the Myers Park students have spent learning about South Sudan, they discovered that hundreds of U.S. schools, civic groups, and churches have actively supported and funded schools, clinics, and boreholes in South Sudan, some of which have been severely damaged in the recent conflict. Many projects that were underway have stalled while the focus turned to emergency relief for the more than 1.5 million people displaced. The students are using their voices for peace in an effort to protect the hard work already completed and create a peaceful environment where more can be done to support peace and development in South Sudan.
Visit the Memes for Peace website to sign a virtual postcard or order a 2014-15 Raising South Sudan curriculum. For more information, contact Elizabeth Peacock, Mothering Across Continents; [email protected].