RISE program guides young leaders to promote peace and mutual respect

Tuesday February 19, 2013

WILMINGTON -- Jeffrey H. Teitel understands the concept of attaining world peace has been elusive.

People have never stopped finding ways to kill one another, and the devastation of war and violence continues to plague much of the world. With this in mind, the Deerfield Valley Rotary Club member took the initiative to create a pilot program intended to facilitate and guide high school students as young leaders in the promotion of peace, mutual respect and understanding worldwide.

Known as the Rotary International Syllabus for Envoys of Peace, or RISE, the program was conceived a year ago and launched last month as an educational course to teach young people in proximity to a Rotary Club the "basic tenets of peace and conflict resolution."

RISE came into being after getting approved by Rotary International President Sakuji Tanaka.

Twin Valley High School junior Sammy Cunningham and sophomores Adam Richter and Wyatt Shippee are the pilot program's three participants now earning a social studies or history credit. The program consisted of three sessions held from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, Feb. 1-3. All took place at The Crafts Inn.

John Howe and Marcia Pace -- who will act as Rotarian mentors -- also attended the sessions and performed the same course work.

Teitel said the idea of teaching peace curriculum is gaining traction locally, regionally, nationally and internationally. Financial pledges have come from inside and outside of the Deerfield Valley Rotary Club.

"It's important to train the young people who will lead the world," he said. "(The more people are educated) about peace, the less likely they are to pick up an AK-47."

Cunningham, 17, said she got started in the program when it was brought to her attention by Principal Robert Morse. She said she and her schoolmates participated in the three sessions. Patricia Shafer of Mothering Across Continents -- a North Carolina-based non-profit organization dedicated to providing coaching, counseling and mentoring to develop dream projects around the world -- and Carla Lineback of World Learning in Brattleboro designed the curriculum and facilitated the sessions.

Cunningham said they learned about the program and were asked to come up with their own definition of peace and came up with very different answers. She said she defined peace as when "everyone can have the same opportunities and isn't discriminated and can live equally."

But Richter, 15, defined the word as meaning a society with a collective feeling of safety and an absence of war while Shippee, also 15, believes peace to be a lack of a need for weapons and conflict.

Each student was asked to brainstorm a peace project due in May, when the pilot programs finishes. Cunningham said she is considering two ideas right now -- one that involves trying to make sure schools in Africa have the supplies they need to succeed and the other is to incorporate youth sports into the education system.

Cunningham said she wants to attend college to learn about the medical field and the pilot program now has her interested in using her future degree to help disadvantaged people in Africa.

"It's a great program," she said. Its unofficial motto is "RISE now and forever hold your peace."

Richter, who also credits his school principal with introducing him to the programs, said he has learned a lot about war-torn countries that are struggling to retain peace. He has also be enlightened about the repercussions a lack of peace can have, such as unclean drinking water and low-quality education.

He is interested in doing his project about water.

"I've loved water ever since I was little kid," he said. "I love swimming and just anything that has to do with water."

Richter said he would like to send water filtration systems to Africa. He specifically mentioned Halazone tablets, which he said can act as a disinfectant when placed in water, and Brita filters.

Shippee said he plans to send supplies to victims of Hurricane Sandy in New York and New Jersey for his peace project. Both he and Richter said access to life's essential resources goes hand in hand with peace and learned that during the sessions.

"It's a lot of fun. They were very tiring. Everyone was tired at the end of them," he told the Reformer. "It's been interesting, to say the least."

Stafer, who along with Lineback is a Rotary Peace fellow, said two Rotarian mentors -- John Howe and Marcia Pace -- also attended the sessions and performed the same course work.

The students are RISE pioneers attempting to earn the moniker of "Rotary Peace Envoy," which will come with a certificate. Course credit will also be offered following 35 hours of classroom-style presentation and discussion and 20 hours of community project work.

Stafer said each student will meet with their Rotarian mentors for two-hour sessions about every three weeks and there will be a conclusion meeting in early May.

"The sessions were terrific," she said, adding that the curriculum draws from the best scholarly work in the field of peace education, the Rotary Peace Fellowship and her and Lineback's individual experiences in global education. "There are a lot of children (willing to take the time to learn about this subject) and, as a generation, they're very interested in making a difference. These three students were all magnificent participants and, most importantly, they were so engaged."

Stafer mentioned Vermont is the third most peaceful state in the nation, even though the United States ranks 88th in the world according to the Global Peace Index (right behind Equatorial Guinea and just ahead of China).

Rick Manganello -- former governor of Rotary District 7870, which encompasses 60 Clubs in southern Vermont and southern New Hampshire -- said the three students are the perfect age for these types of lessons because they have the rest of their lives to practice what they learn.

"I'm hoping they come away with an understanding of the types of things it takes to make peace in certain situations (such as dealing with bullying in schools or gang violence)," he said. "It all starts with creating a peaceful mindset."

Teitel said it is inspiring to see the blossoming of a program he devised a little more than a year ago.

"I'm optimistic and I'm hopeful that this kind of curriculum will reach the four corners of the world and make a difference among young people," he said.

He and Stafer hope to have 1,000 certified "Rotary Peace Envoys" throughout the world by 2014.

Domenic Poli can be reached at dpoli@reformer.com, or 802-254-2311. You can follow him on Twitter @dpoli_reformer.


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