Peace Child International’s (PCI) name comes from a tradition in Papua New Guinea, where, to make peace, warring tribes would 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 the current malaise of youth unemployment.
PCI’s Origins. Where it all began
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, they have run PCI ever since this happy meeting of minds.
The ‘80s: Singing from the same…Musical!
The 1980s was a decade dominated by the Cold War, a nuclear standoff between the United States and the USSR. 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, it seemed impossible that the two nations could cooperate on spreading a message of peace. However, due to the extraordinary imagination of PCI’s founders, this is exactly what came to pass, thanks to Peace Child the Musical.
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 success of the musical is shown by the following facts.
- It was performed 5,000 times in 31 countries
- Altogether, it involved 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. On September 3rd, the latest production of the musical entitled “2050 – The Future We Want” was staged in the UN’s Palais des Nations in Geneva to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Mikhail Gorbachev’s Green Cross International.
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. Just as cast members were challenged to write the Peace Child musical scripts, so PCI was challenged to write a book answering all the questions they had about the environment. 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 called for youth involvement in carrying out Agenda 21. It 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, and in 1995 led to the launch of the Rescue Mission Local Agenda 21 project.
The success of the Agenda 21 publications and their youth-friendly design provided PCI with a model for later publications such as Stand up for your Rights and Pachamama. 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. The Congress was a response to the 17% drop in overseas development aid post-Rio 1992. 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 most recently, Rio de Janeiro. The WYC series has 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. Did you know? 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.
In that report, education emerged as the number one priority for Congress delegates. PCI followed this lead with numerous peer-to-peer learning programmes, the Be the Change Sustainable Lifestyle programme, Gender Empowerment project, Human Rights programme, Co-Management techniques, Advocacy Trainings and Create the Change programme on communication skills.
The Hawaii Congress also revealed young people’s aspirations to run and manage their own projects to make a difference in their community. With this discovery in mind, PCI 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 September 13th. 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 youth on the edges of the education system with invaluable employability skills through a peer-to-peer learning mechanism.
PCI also aims to expand both the Global Coalition for Job Creation and the EU Job Creation scheme in the hopes of creating a model of best practice in training management. Similarly, GEEBIZ, PCI’s green economy promotion programme, will be expanded upon to encourage yet more young green entrepreneurs.