Peace Education in the Early Years
Children can be powerful agents of change when given the chance to succeed. However, protracted crises and natural disasters have denied an estimated 50 million children their childhood and the opportunity to reach their full potential. Children’s vulnerabilities are amplified in emergency settings, where children are often exposed to repeated traumatic events. They are at a higher risk of being exploited, sexually abused, trafficked, and recruited into extremist groups. Adverse experiences during early childhood development can have repercussions on physical, cognitive, and emotional development, negatively impacting future well-being and functioning.
Increasing evidence shows that the manner in which children are raised affects their propensity for conflict and nonviolence. The early years are critical in establishing children’s psychosocial and cognitive development, emotional intelligence, and understanding of cultural norms and identity. The environment, along with the initial bond formed with the caregiver, strongly influence long-term development across multiple domains. Therefore, stability in the home, community, and learning environments is among the most important factors in early childhood development. But what happens to those children who are not afforded the luxury of a home or family? Are they not also capable of becoming powerful agents of change to foster peace in their societies?
While peace is a difficult concept to define, there exists a general consensus that peace is rooted in the notions of individual flourishing, cooperation, human dignity, and mutual respect. It is clear, however, that peace can only be sustained when our capacities for empathy, tolerance, and respect for others are nurtured and cultivated. These social and emotional competencies help us manage emotions, express and communicate constructively, and help establish and maintain positive healthy relationships. Yet, the toxic stress often associated with trauma can have pronounced long term effects on emotional wellbeing. That is why our mission at Amal Alliance is to improve the overall physical, cognitive, mental, and emotional health of displaced children, providing them with the tools necessary to mitigate the effects of trauma and coping strategies to regulate their emotions.
We aim to channel inner strength and positivity by creating a safe space where children can develop foundational interpersonal skills, learn at their pace and capability, and regain a sense of hope for their future. By establishing a practice of kids’ yoga and mindfulness, children can improve self-awareness and their abilities to concentrate and communicate. Joyful group activities like dance, music, art therapy, and play allow children to find expression and healing.
Early childhood development programmes, such as ours, are crucial in promoting the skills that enable children to become agents of peace within their communities. It is through the developmentally essential and appropriate act of play that children learn the foundations for peace. Play provides children with the opportunity to safely explore and interact with their environment, gaining a greater understanding of their relation to the outside world. They come to understand diversity, as they encounter children from different backgrounds. In this sense, play instills within children the social and emotional competencies necessary to build a more peaceful tomorrow.
Seeing that empowered children can offer the world so much, it is extremely important to provide them with the tools and skills necessary to overcome challenging situations in order that they may reach their full potential. Therefore, we call on all governments, funders, and members of civil society to invest more in early childhood development programming. While promoting peace is not a new endeavor, using early childhood interventions as a peace-building mechanism is a novel and transformative approach. As violence, xenophobia, and racism continues to grow around the world, holistic measures that promote harmony, equality, and tolerance should play a more central role in international relations.
Danielle De La Fuente is the Founder and Executive Director of Amal Alliance. Learn more about the Amal Alliance here.