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African students’ reflections on peace

A recent competition organised by Peace Talks and Africa Learning International encouraged African students from international schools in Africa and around the world to talk about peace. Sixty students used the competition, entitled ‘Peace You Have My Word’, as an opportunity to share their visions of their own continent, highlighting the diversity of young African voices around the globe and emphaszing that the children of Africa are watching and speaking 

Estelle Baroung Hughes, Secondary Principal at the International School of Dakar and Founder of Africa Learning International, shares some of the thought-provoking and, at times, unexpected remarks on peace taken from the competition entries. 

Peace and beauty 

The overall winner of the competition, Ewuraba Benyarko,17, from Tema International School in Ghana highlighted the importance of self-love for African women and how this brings inner peace: 

 She knew who she was, and that was enough. Undying warmth in her eyes. Chocolate skin that encapsulated divine serenity. Her origin spoke volumes. Her presence raised curiosity. But above that. She embodied what others craved. She was a woman. An African woman; a reflection of incontestable peace.” 

Golden medalist in the category ‘my own definition of peace’ was Georgette Margna, 14, from Enko Ouaga School in Burkina Faso. Georgette speaks of serenity, using a warm ubuntu-like metaphor to describe how peace feels: 

  “Peace is like a tree that we plant in a community, water, protect every day and see growing with patience and love, in order to one day, harvest its fruits.

The connection between peace and mindfulness is particularly well-expressed in the text written by Sanskriti Thakur, 17, from Sekolah Global Indo-Asia School in Indonesia. Sanskriti evokes silent observation of a beautiful object as a source of peaceful joy: 

“Peace is my mother’s decorative porcelain pot. The traces of white lines blend together effortlessly with the blue to tell timeless stories of mankind. The pot is empty, hollow on the inside; darkness engulfs it. It is the shades of white and blue that together coexist to give the pot heart; to give it meaning; to give it life.” 

Peace as a human and political responsibility 

The thirst for peace is tangible in the text written by the students. These children of the African continent are aware but also weary of the artificial hurdles that hinder peace.  

Diego Nwokolo, 17, from Tema International School in Ghana appreciates the power of peace as a social cement and asks everyone to become a peacemaker: 

 Mostly desired but hard to achieve in our world full of war, it feels like there is not enough peace; but I believe that peace can be big or small. It could be seen in an entire country or in little moments. It is the presence of social solidarity, people recognizing each other as fellow human beings, sharing concern for the wellbeing of each other.” 

This vision is shared by Fafa Metognon, 13, a Beninese student at Enko WACA school in Senegal. Fafa depicts our shared responsibility in nurturing peace through this poem:  

 “Peace is someone
Who only says what is inside their heart
Who does not wait but offers to help
Peace might be you, peace might be me
It depends on you, who you want to be.” 

The urge to act becomes more exacting with Khadijah Azeez,a 16 year-old Nigerian student at London Academy in Dubai. Khadijah strongly advocates for an end to be put to the rife discrimination against African women on the continent, arguing that this is key to keeping our communities from falling apart: 

“Without the equal treatment of women, there can be no peace. Violence against African women is the opposite of peace.  Old sexist traditions must be forgotten. African women have achieved so much for themselves regardless of the struggle, they move Africa as a continent, towards peace, step by step. 

Tsiony, an 18 year old student at United World College (UWC) Maastricht, speaks as a true UWC student, with authority and clarity, demanding awareness and change:  

“The thing with peace on the African continent, is that since the moment we were put in shackles and were whisked off to faraway lands, conflict and suffering became unavoidable. The colonizers are gone, they say, the country is yours, they say; yet there are still centuries old structures in place to make sure, that no matter what we do, we continue to fail, and suffer.” 

Through this competition it is clear that international education is growing and evolving in Africa. How can these new international schools be better acknowledged and supported? How can students be given the opportunity to shine that they so yearn for? To address these questions international schools should: 

  1. Create forums where children can talk about peace as a central lens for change-making. Peace is all-encompassing and the best way to make a lasting difference. 
  2. Look for opportunities for all students to reflect on their own personal identities. This competition centered African voices, other projects might highlight indigeneity, gender, sexual orientation or other personal identities the students might want to explore. 
  3. Dismantle Afro-pessimism in your curricula. Instead of only showing an ailing Africa, share the beauty of African values and show Africans coming together to solve their own geopolitical, environmental and social issues. 

A whole range of emotions could be felt in the competition entries. We thank all the participants and hope they will all write again next year. There could not be a better conclusion than the words of Sarah Zoungrana, 12, from Enko Ouaga School in Burkina Faso. Sarah’s reflection encompasses the spirit distilled in her peers’ thoughts:  

“Peace is the daily bread that everyone needs today, but it is war that is selling. Freedom has been given to everyone, but it is used to imprison ourselves. Peace is not only to live quietly or to be happy, but to do justice. We are capable of everything but together and not alone. By working hand in hand.” 

Estelle Baroung Hughes (she/her) is Head of Secondary at the International School of Dakar. She is also the president of the NGO Africa Learning International, an organization focused on the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) ‘Quality Education for All’. Estelle has a passion for writing and music that she explores through her literary blog, her work with the literary prize ‘Les afriques’ and the writing of school-based intercultural musicals. As a Cameroonian citizen, Estelle was inspired by the cultural wealth of her 250 languages country and her experience in international education to co-create the course titled TWICE (Teaching With Inclusion of Culture Embedded). Estelle draws energy and creativity from her ambition to change education, one child, one teacher, and one school at a time.