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 has informed the work of PCI and served as a guiding principle in tackling a range of globally significant issues from the Cold War to sustainable development and youth unemployment.
In 1981, PCI founders Bernard Benson, David Woollcombe, Rosey Simonds, David Gordon and Michael and Eirwen Harbottle came together to create Peace Child the Musical. Inspired by David Gordon’s oratorio Alpha Omega and Bernard Benson’s Peace Book, Michael and Eirwen Harbottle decided to join the two works together and thus form the basis for the musical. David wrote and directed the original Peace Child musical which Rosey co-produced. David and Rosey have run the PCI organisation ever since.
The 1980s was a decade dominated by the Cold War, but the Peace Child musical created a friendly communication between the United States and the USSR to allow for a landmark cultural exchange. Each instalment of the musical was tailored to reflect the ideas of the young cast, and covered a range of issues from regional conflicts and interfaith dialogues to inner-city tensions and environmental questions. The musical was performed 5,000 times in 31 countries, involving a grand total of approximately 250,000 young people.
In 1992, PCI’s first publication The Children’s State of the Planet prompted four UN agencies to ask PCI to prepare the children’s edition of the UN’s sustainable development initiative. With more than 500,000 copies in 23 languages printed, the success of this edition, entitled Rescue Mission: Planet Earth, led to more PCI publications. Towards the end of the decade, PCI launched the landmark World Youth Congress in Hawaii. Since then, further congresses have been hosted in Casablanca, Stirling, Quebec, Istanbul and Rio de Janeiro.
As education emerged as the number one priority for World Youth Congress delegates, PCI developed numerous peer-to-peer learning programmes, including the Gender Empowerment project, Human Rights programme, Co-Management techniques, Advocacy Trainings and Create the Change programme. PCI also launched its Be the Change programme, in which small grants are given to youth-led projects within their communities.
In 2012, PCI organised several projects that would share the Rio+20 conference as their focus, including the Road to Rio+20 campaign, the 6th World Youth Congress, which produced 20 solutions for a sustainable future, and GEEBIZ, a showcase for outstanding green initiatives. PCI also organised the International Youth Job Creation Summit, which provided a platform for discussion on how to overcome the youth unemployment crisis. A 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 will continue to actively support initiatives centred on maximising employability and teaching entrepreneurial skills to young people. Right now, a new generation of Be the Change Academies 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. Meanwhile, the Work the Change peer-to-peer training programme will continue to provide UK youth with employability skills.