BIS #7100 India – Mumbai Salesians for a Culture of Peace

(ANS – Mumbai) - During August, September, and October 2023, educators from the Salesian Province of Bombay (INB) were immersed in an enlightening and thought-provoking induction programme focused on peace education. This initiative had been eagerly anticipated and fulfilled a longstanding aspiration of Fr Savio Silveira SDB, the Provincial of INB. He graciously invited Fr Peter Gonsalves SDB, a professor specialising in Peace Communication and Media Education at the Salesian University in Rome, to lead this exceptionally pertinent course for the present time.

The participants were presented with a comprehensive 180-page teachers' manual titled "Exercises in Peace Education," authored by Fr Gonsalves in 2003 and subsequently updated by him in 2018. This manual served as the primary resource for the development of diverse peace-related themes, which were structured as lesson plans intended to nurture the intellectual and emotional growth of young people ranging from 5 to 17 years of age. These themes exhibit a robust socio-psychological focus and are organised into distinct clusters, encompassing topics concerning self-discovery, fostering empathy, embracing diversity, promoting collaboration, addressing issues of bullying, conflict resolution, environmental awareness, and the cultivation of a peaceful culture.

A total of 320 teachers from 15 Salesian schools across the states of Maharashtra, Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh took part in this unique initiative and have expressed their eagerness to integrate it into the upcoming semester.

This undertaking holds significant importance in the diverse landscape of the Province, just as the task of teaching peace is undeniably challenging. Amidst the rich tapestry of ethnicities, languages, cultures, contexts, faiths, social classes, and castes within these regions, differences naturally abound. Nevertheless, a prevailing sense of harmony exists in nearly all school environments. Teachers conscientiously strive to prevent any form of discriminatory language and actively promote the practice of tolerance. This commitment is evident through the inclusive celebration of major religious festivals, where both educators and students participate wholeheartedly.

However, it is essential to acknowledge that perfection remains an elusive goal. The endeavour to fortify the foundations of peace and proactively mitigate conflicts necessitates ongoing vigilance and timely reminders. This is precisely why the introduction of the Peace Education Course, coordinated by the Education Commission of the Province, is a most welcome addition to the school curriculum. Meanwhile, an empirical study is being undertaken to explore the participants’ concept of peace, both before and after the induction course.

However, it is right to mention that this is not an entirely new venture in the Archdiocese of Bombay. Already in 2019, celebrating the 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi, sessions on peace education based on Fr Gonsalves’ book were conducted in the schools of the diocese. This drive to promote a culture of non-violence was spearheaded by the Archdiocesan Value Education Centre (AVEC).

The entire project, according to Fr Gonsalves, draws its inspiration from the words of Mahatma Gandhi: “If we are to reach real peace in this world and if we are to carry on a real war against war, we shall have to begin with the children; and if they will grow up in their natural innocence, we won’t have the struggle, we won’t have to pass fruitless idle resolutions, but we shall go from love to love and peace to peace, until at last all the corners of the world are covered with that peace and love for which, consciously or unconsciously, the whole world is hungering.”

Peace remains elusive, and the thirst for it persists. It is never too late to give peace another chance.

Fr Flovi D’Souza