Three survivors of the Florida Parkland high school mass shooting say they are determined to change gun laws in the US.
Following the shooting on 14th February, which claimed the lives of 17 people, students have campaigned against US gun laws, calling for an increase in the legal age limit to buy guns, and increased background checks.
Their #NeverAgain campaign included a 17-minute school walkout across the US, and is building towards a March For Our Lives in Washington D.C. on March 24th, with more than half a million people expected to attend.
Survivors Suzanna Barna, Lewis Mizen and Kevin Trejos all appeared at the Global Education & Skills Forum 2018 in Dubai to tell their story, and explain why they won’t give up their campaign until schools in the US are safe.
“This is a lifetime mission for us,” says Mr Mizen.
“This is something we are going to fight for as long as we are here. And we are younger than the government, so we are going to be here for a lot longer than they are. We’re going to fight for change as long as we can.”
The Pakland survivors’ determination to overcome their horrific experience echoed the attitude of another inspiring speaker at the Global Education & Skills Forum.
At age five Mohamed Sidibay was snatched from his family home in Sierra Leone and forced to become a child soldier: “My toys were replaced with an AK47.”
After the civil war ended, he was alone, orphaned, angry and without hope.
But education restored his hope. As he told the Global Education & Skills Forum:
“When I learnt how to read and write I felt powerful,” says Mr Sidibay. “There is nothing more powerful than understanding the power of education.”
Despite acknowledging that the scars of war can take “a lifetime” to overcome, today Mr Sidibay is embarking on a law degree in the US, thanks to the education he received through UNICEF.
“I was taught to think with a pen in my hand rather than a rifle,” he says.
“That’s the power of education.”
A brighter tomorrow
Education’s power can also be used as a tool to inspire young people still in the midst of desperate situations caused by violence.
Actor, activist, and producer Priyanka Chopra appearing at the opening plenary of the Global Education & Skill Forum has visited Syrian children in refugee camps in Jordan, as part of her role as a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador.
She warns that without education “it is very easy for them to hold onto a rifle rather than a pen”.
However, against all the odds and despite their current dire situation, many of these children are able to learn.
“Every child I spoke to in that camp wanted to return to Syria and rebuild it,” she says.
“Education is what gives them that desire.”
Peace with the past
Education can not only offer hope of a brighter future, it can also help young people come to terms with their violent past.
Scott Weber, Director-General at Interpeace, says his own experience of working in Rwanda shows how education can be used to find a way to talk about traumatic events in a country’s recent past.
“They stopped teaching history after the genocide, because they didn’t know which version of history to teach,” he says.
“Every textbook that had been written had been written by previous regimes to advance their particular slant on the situation, so they couldn’t use the materials they had. The teachers had been trained to advance those ideologies, so they said ‘until we figure this out we’re going to stop teaching it’.”
A country-wide process of discussing the genocide from both points of views later took place, and Mr Weber says Rwanda was then finally in a position to write a history curriculum that could be taught.
“We helped Rwandans at a social and political level, canvassing the country just to get them to talk and have a cathartic moment about their own history,” he says.
“Then [they were] able to write a curriculum book that now they teach. It doesn’t hide [the] bad parts [of their history], it exposes them in a way that can be discussed, not taking one side or the other.”
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