Peace Child International’s (PCI) name comes from a tradition in Papua New Guinea, where, to make peace, warring tribes would each exchange a child. The children would grow up with the others’ tribe and in the future, when conflict threatened again, the ‘Peace Child’ from each tribe was sent to negotiate.
Since the early 1980s, this philosophy of empowering young people to make important decisions has informed the work of PCI and served as a guiding principle in tackling a range of globally significant issues including the Cold War, sustainable development and youth unemployment.
In 1981, the founders of what was later to become PCI met for the first time. It was this meeting that led to Peace Child the Musical, which became a vehicle for change and a worldwide hit. The idea for a story that looked back on past events from the future came from the landmark Peace Book written by author, entrepreneur, artist and visionary Bernard Benson. On hearing David Gordon’s oratorio Alpha Omega, Michael and Eirwen Harbottle, both of whom had previously read Benson’s narrative, were inspired to join the two works together and thus form the basis for the musical. The final pieces of the jigsaw were David Woollcombe and Rosey Simonds. David wrote and directed the original Peace Child musical which Rosey co-produced. Together, the two of them have run PCI ever since this meeting of minds.
The ‘80s: the Musical
The 1980s was a decade dominated by the Cold War. During this period the people and cultures of both states were considered polar opposites – the United States representing the Capitalist world and the USSR the Communist world. Against this backdrop, the Peace Child musical created enough friendly communication between the United States and the USSR to allow for a landmark US-Soviet cultural exchange. The musical:
- was performed 5,000 times in 31 countries
- involved a grand total of approximately 250,000 young people.
Since that time, the musical format has been adapted to look at a range of issues from regional conflicts and inter faith dialogue to inner city tensions and environmental questions. Each production was tailored to reflect the ideas of the young cast.
The ‘90s: from Earth Summit to World Youth Congress
With the Cold War era slowly drawing to a close, PCI shifted its attention to another important issue: sustainable development. This resulted in PCI’s first publication The Children’s State of the Planet. Promoting the publication at the first Rio Earth Summit in 1992, PCI was asked by four UN agencies, UNESCO, UNEP, UNICEF and UNDP, to prepare the Children’s edition of the UN’s sustainable development initiative, Agenda 21.
The result was Rescue Mission: Planet Earth, which received contributions from thousands of children from more than 100 nations worldwide. With more than 500,000 copies in 23 languages printed, the success of the book led to the publication of further volumes on the subject, including:
- Rescue Mission 2002
- Our Island: Your Island
- the Rescue Mission Indicators Action Pack
- the Rescue Mission Local Agenda 21 project.
- Stand up for your Rights
It was during this period that Peace Child was granted ECOSOC status.
The end of the decade saw PCI launch the landmark World Youth Congress (WYC) in Hawaii. Using cultural exchange as a means for inspiring change, the WYC created a platform where young people from around the world could share their ideas and priorities for the new millennium. The series has gained in strength – further congresses have been hosted in Casablanca, Stirling, Quebec, Istanbul, and Rio de Janeiro. It also inspired a partner series, the European Youth Congress, which focuses on European issues and inspired plans for a future International Job Creation Summit.
‘00s: into a new Millennium
To mark the dawn of the new millennium, the UN introduced their Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which again highlighted the importance of sustainable development. Notably, 8 of the 10 goals listed by the UN as MDGs had formed part of the 1st WYC’s ‘Be the Change: Youth Solutions for the New Millennium’ report one year earlier.
As education emerged as the number one priority for Congress delegates, PCI followed this lead with numerous peer-to-peer learning programmes, including the Be the Change Sustainable Lifestyle programme, Gender Empowerment project, Human Rights programme, Co-Management techniques, Advocacy Trainings and Create the Change programme.
PCI also started the Be the Change programme, in which small grants are given to youth-led projects within their communities. There have been 300 such projects to date, ranging from building wells to installing solar panels in village schools to travelling toy libraries in rural villages in the Andes.
‘10s: Her Name is Still Rio
After the disappointing COP15 climate change conference, working effectively towards a sustainable future became a new goal. For PCI, the Rio+20 conference in 2012 was the best starting point for this journey, and PCI organised several projects that would share the Rio+20 conference as their focus:
- The Road to Rio+20 campaign: an attempt to focus the attention of the world’s youth upon the Rio+20 conference.
- The 6th WYC : produced 20 solutions for a sustainable future.
- Geebiz: a showcase for outstanding green initiatives.
In 2013, PCI organised the International Youth Job Creation Summit, held in the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills on 13 September 2012. The Summit was a landmark occasion and provided a platform for a diverse mix of stakeholders to discuss strategies on how to overcome the youth unemployment crisis. A two-day, Policy into Action follow-up event saw ideas for the Summit refined into a template for a future Effective Practice Guide on Youth Job Creation.
Looking to the Future: PCI’s Next Steps
Because the financial crisis has left young people suffering more than any other section of society, PCI will continue to actively support initiatives centred on maximising employability and teaching entrepreneurial skills.
Right now, a new generation of BTCAs are springing up in Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea and India to provide the poorest of the poor with an entrepreneurial route to a decent standard of living.
The Work the Change programme will continue to provide UK youth on the edges of the education system with invaluable employability skills through a peer-to-peer learning mechanism.