Education is often tasked with gigantic objectives. One of the most challenging tasks is
ensuring that people learn to live in peace. After WWII this was seen as the key aim of
“Since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defences of peace must be
constructed” reads the Preamble of UNESCO.
Peace education has come to mean skills for peaceful communication, conflict resolution, empathy,
and challenging unjust conditions, negative stereotypes and rifts in societies which can lead to
violence. In the school context, peace education aims to tackle bullying and create a safe and
acceptable environment for all children.
Peace in small actions
Gutsy Go is a peace education initiative where young people bring forward local societal problems and
design immediate solutions, joint collective actions, which are filmed and shared with others. This
model was initiated in Finland but has been piloted also in Tallinn.
“Every act that increases positive interaction between people, is an act for peace. It is empowering
young people to see their strengths and use them for making positive deeds that have positive
impact”, explains Eneli Meresmaa, a specialist in international youth work at the City of Tallinn.
So far four schools in Tallinn have been taking part in the Gutsy Go initiative. All their 8th graders
worked for a week in groups of 10 people to define local problems and design and implement an
intervention. Some groups visited shelters for children or provided digital support for the elderly. One
group brought together neighbours in an apartment building and another organized a candid camera
to see if strangers interfere in a bullying situation (unfortunately, in the streets of Tallinn nobody did,
unlike in similar social experiments in Finland). All youth actions are filmed by a professional film crew
and the week culminates in a screening where all the actions are shown to the participants, their
families and local communities. These videos are later shared in YouTube to inspire others (search
‘GutsyGo’ in Youtube to see the films).
According to Eneli, these types of activities are educational for all partners. Teachers or youth workers
learn to stay back and trust the process and their youth. Young people learn about their own
strengths and how to do team work, divide tasks, and carry out real-life activities, like making phone
calls and arranging meetings. As everything doesn’t always work as planned, they also learn how to
overcome problems. Most of all, they learn that at the age of 14, their actions can be meaningful and
have positive results.
Peace Education in Times of War
Eneli explains,“In Estonia, peace linguistically is a difficult word to use. We don’t use it directly but we
believe that peace is built with small acts of positive communication and well-meaning action”.
This year’s Gutsy Go action week will take place in April and bring together youth in the new Ukrainian
school in Tallinn and youth in a nearby Estonian school.
The brutal Russian invasion of Ukraine has given the word ‘peace’ a negative connotation to many
Estonians who see that talking about a peaceful solution means yielding to the demands of the bully.
However, even a hardcore pacifist, one of the greatest minds of our times, Albert Einstein, is quoted to
have said that in some situations there is no alternative but to “fight for peace”. At the same time, he
reminds us that “peace cannot be kept by force; it can only be achieved by understanding”.
One central idea in peace education is that all humans are capable of both good and evil. Therefore,
we all need to work hard in our minds as well as in our actions not to create conditions and mindset
that lead to hate and violence but strive to create an environment that brings out the best in each and
everyone of us.
Initiatives like Gutsy Go are important in showing young people the relevance of kind deeds in a world
filled with cynicism and negativity.
This article was written for Eesti Elu by Johanna Helin.
Eesti Elu, reede, 17.veebruar 2023Johanna Helin, Doctoral candidate in Education Leadership and Policy,
OISE, University of Toronto