Young people the world over witness terrifying incidents of violence. Recently some youth and those who work with them have begun developing an antidote to this growing epidemic by creating Zones of Peace, model sanctuaries within their homes, schools, places of worship and within themselves.
The youth – Indian, Tibetan, and American – come from vastly different cultures. Yet they have all been inspired by the vision of peace put forth by Ivanka Vana Jakic and the Seattle-based Zones of Peace International Foundation (ZOPIF).
"Real peace has a sacred character," says Vana. "When people desperately yearn for peace, their way of thinking begins to change. Only then does peace begin to re-enter their lives."
The Zones of Peace effort began in 1989 as an initiative to recognize and protect the world’s sacred sites and cultural monuments from militarization and desecration. (see IC #34). Since then, the Zones of Peace concept has grown to address the needs of diverse communities.
In India, for instance, the faculty of the Tibetan Children’s Village in Dharamsala declared their village temple as a Zone of Peace; they plan to expand the Zone to encompass the entire school and eventually surrounding villages.
Similarly, instructors and trainees at the Manava Bharati Nursery Teacher’s Training Institute in New Delhi have declared their assembly hall as a ‘room of peace’ in affirmation of India’s cultural heritage of nonviolence.
Those who want to create a zone of peace select the site(s) and define a code of conduct in accordance with ZOPIF’s general principles and requirements. The code typically prohibits all forms of violence, abusive language, and inconsiderate conduct within the zone. Through training in non-violent conflict resolution, members then assume responsibility for maintaining the code.
The idea has also taken root in North America, where violence and emotional abuse are undermining young people’s lives. In Auburn, just outside Seattle, the First United Methodist Youth Fellowship’s director, Susan Voorhies, invited Vana to introduce the Zones of Peace concept to fellowship members.
"The opportunity to find peace within themselves and to declare a room or a part of their home as a Zone of Peace was very appealing to them," says Voorhies. "It was the starting point to finding peace within their homes."
"At the beginning we were sarcastic and put each other down," says Kanndi House, age 18. "Now we are a lot more friendly."
"We are building peace inside of us, spreading it out, and sharing it with everyone else outside of the church and our families," says Julie Smith, a tenth grader. "Now others ask us why we are so huggable and caring."
Native Americans, too, are actively exploring ways of using Zones of Peace to preserve their community’s peace, dignity, and integrity. The American Indian Heritage Public School in Seattle is already a drug-free zone with an established nonviolent conflict resolution curriculum, says Director Bob Eaglestaff. The school is also exploring Zone of Peace status.
"We can all benefit from embracing the concept of peace," says Sue Voorhies, "beginning on an individual level and then rippling out to others until the whole surface of our planet will be blanketed in peace."
Contact Zones of Peace International Foundation at PO Box 24303, Federal Way, WA 98053-1303 US, tel. 206/ 874-2619.