Youth & children dancing for their right to learn without fear and violence
Nothing has the power to provoke change than an optimistic group of youth and children working together. In the central square in the northeastern city of Kumanovo, a small group of young people has just arrived. One of them starts unrolling a banner he and his friends hand painted the night before on, what looks like, a king size bed sheet. The others start taping message boards on the pavement. No time passes and three others arrive with a sound system and huge speakers. Inspired by the essence of the global social movement - promoting random and selfless acts of kindness simply to make others feel better - another ten or so children show up with the words “free hugs” written on cardboard signs.
More and more children arrive in pairs, groups of five and even ten. A group of girls with a basket full of rolled up fortune cookie style pieces of paper with messages of peace, tolerance and respect. Another group arrives. Traceurs - or as urbanites would know - practitioners of movement around obstacles with speed and efficiency.
The group is so diverse that bystanders can’t quite make out what’s going on, but because the positive vibe is so strong, they decide to stay put to see what it’s all about.
Then, in an unexpected moment, the mob of children stands frozen. Music - guitars sounds - starts spreading through the city square. One by one the children break into dance. By the time the chorus starts, all the children in unison dance to the lyrics “Start with yourself, be the change you want to see”. These young activities are one of the sixteen groups of youth and children who over the past month have been organising flash mobs to raise their voice and dancing for their right to learn without fear and violence.
Provoking change with those making the change…
UNICEF, with the financial support from IKEA and the UN Trust Fund to End Violence against Women, developed a package of system wide interventions to make schools safe and protective environments where children thrive.
There was however one challenge that no policy, training, or curricular could address on its own – a an acceptance of using “violent” ways of communication as a normal and a tendency for teachers, parents and students to pass on the responsibility of addressing the growing occurrence of violence in schools to one another.
Recognising the need for the whole school community - schools staff, teachers, parents and children - to make a personal change and work together to create schools free of violence, UNICEF initiated a communication for development initiative. Under the slogan “Together for Schools Free of Violence” the initiative was developed for and with schools, teachers and students children themselves.
The strategy for the initiative was developed together with policy makers, school leaders, teachers, pedagogues and local communication exerts. A one-stop-stop online web resource was developed by teachers with tips and resources to help schools develop a plan of action to eliminate violence among and against children. The website includes tips for teachers on effective class room management, activities and advice on how to intervene when conflict and problems arise as well as tips on using teaching styles that promote behavior for learning.
Recognizing the influence of the home environment, the online resource also includes tips for parents on how to set boundaries and discipline children using positive methods as well as strategies for managing disruptive behaviour
“This is an important moment because youth are the initiators, youth have been implementing the campaign and have been involved in the whole process,” said Kathy Doncevska-Ilic, one of the flash mob organizers in Kumanovo.
The communication initiative included a series of creative activities designed to promote child participation and engage children in the process of behaviour change.
The first was a competition where over four hundred students from primary and secondary schools took to the pen to write lyrics for a song which became the campaign theme “Start with yourself.” Hundreds of children worked together to develop one minute videos documenting action taking place in the schools as well as to develop films giving advice on how to create schools free of violence. Like the children in Kumanovo, some two thousand children were involved in taking their message to the streets and performed flash mobs in fifteen other cities throughout the country.
…. and calling on all to work together and be the change they want to see.
This principal has also been the foundation of the communication for development initiative. While it is too early to measure all of the results, positive changes are happening.
“This type of campaign contributes to opening up dialogue on what is happening in schools,” says Angela, one of the participants in the Kumanovo flash mob. “We started a revolution of positive energy,” says Gabriela Aleksova, UNICEF implementing partner.
The UNICEF “Schools free of Violence” communication initiative is one part of a comprehensive programme being conducted with governmental and civil society partners. UNICEF is also supporting the development of a national policy, strategy and guidance to help schools assess the problem and address violence in their school communities. School staff and teachers are also being trained to implement a “whole school approach” to prevent and reduce violence and on who to apply “behaviour for learning” techniques in classroom settings. These interventions build on, and complement the Life-Skills Education curriculum developed earlier to enhance communication and conflict resolution. These efforts have been jointly funded by IKEA as a contribution the national Child-Friendly Initiative and the UN Trust Fund to End Violence against Women as a contribution to the UN Joint Project “Strengthening National Capacities to Prevent Domestic Violence.”