Monday, 8 July 2013

Human Library on Peace

I had the honour of being a 'Book' in the Human Library Project in Ottawa, Canada. I was one of 25 'Books' who talked to people one-on-one about our diverse experiences in peace at the Canadian War Museum's: Peace —The Exhibition, on Sunday June 9, 2013.

This was the second Human Library project held at the Canadian War Museum.

The Human Library was launched in Denmark in 2000 to focus attention on anti-violence, encourage dialogue and build relations. It has grown in popularity with over 30 countries taking part including Brazil, China, Colombia, Cyprus, Malaysia, South Africa and Australia.

In Canada, 'in January 2012 CBC Radio Ottawa and the Ottawa Public Library held six simultaneous Human Library events at six different branches of the library and there was a special event at the Canadian War Museum. The extensive project inspired other regional radio stations of the CBC to become actively involved in the promotion and implementation of the Human Library in civil society in Canada.

My title was 'Peace Activist'. Other 'Books' were titled:
  1. Cold War Researcher/Developer (John Anderson).
  2. Ambassador of reconciliation (Cindy Ayala).
  3. War Artist (Karen Bailey).
  4. National Reporter in CBC's Parliamentary bureau (James Cudmore).
  5. Around the World in 42 Years (Richard Evraire, Lieutenant-General Retired).
  6. Diplomat, Intelligence Officer, Mediator (John Graham).
  7. Mennonite Peace-builder (Paul Heidebrecht).
  8. Diplomacy in War and Peace (Glen R. Hodgins).
  9. Policing Internationally (Detective Mark Horton).
  10. Making a Difference (Ted Itani, retired soldier and Humanitarian Advisor for the Pearson Centre).
  11. My family, my people (Viviane Jean-Baptiste).
  12. Serviceman on a United Nations mission 1974 (Marcel Lavigne).
  13. Mentor to Afghan Police (Reservist Adam Lecierc).
  14. In Search of a Home (Francis Kiromera).
  15. Social Justice Educator (Lorna McLean, University of Ottawa).
  16. Radio Transmitter in the Second World War (Antoni Miszkiel).
  17. Ally to War Resisters (Marna Nightingale).
  18. Conflict Resolution (Professor Vern Redekop).
  19. Medic in Afghanistan (Martin Rouleau).
  20. Former MP and International Election Monitor (Doug Rowland).
  21. Peace Educator (Jill Strauss).
  22. The Polish Underground, 1944 (Irena Szpak).
  23. Former War Correspondent (Stephen Thorne).
  24. Vietnamese Canadian Leader (Dr. Can D. Le).
With 24 other 'Books' in the Danson Theatre, I had 11 visitors / readers at my table, in sets of one or two, for a maximum of 20 minutes each. My readers were from Canada, USA, Mexico and India. Six were women, five were men. The youngest was 12, the oldest was in the 70s. Readers asked questions about my peace activism, my Doukhobor background and the novelty of this Human Library project. Here are some highlights of their views:
  • 'How is peace possible in view of the huge military industrial complex with loads of money'? That is the David and Goliath challenge!
  • 'As a child growing up in the USA, I recall hiding under tables during the Cold War. How unreal that was.'
  • A former teacher and RCMP recruit: 'I'm impressed by the Human Book project. The people give me insights into my future career.'
  • 'We are interested in the early influences of peace activism amongst Quakers, Mennonites and Doukhobors.' In response, I spoke about my living room experiment with Soviet speakers and the public in 1984-1985, as well as bridge-building tours during the Cold War period. See Resources below for more details on my activism for over 55 years.
A mother and daughter from Quebec suggested a series of candid ideas for beginning a public conversation on war and peace. Here are some of their ideas:
  • Prepare a graph showing the cost of war vs. the cost of peace. e.g. battleships and fighter planes vs education, health care, public infrastructure, and culture.
  • 'The monies saved from severance pay as compared to the cost of billion dollar F-35 stealth fighters is a drop in the bucket. Let's be transparent.' The context of this question comes from the fact that the present Harper government in Canada has begun cuts to civil servants, including their severance pay.
  • 'The costs of the military college in Kingston, Ontario is horrendous, especially when we add the fat pensions for the instructors.' Presently military spending trumps all other spending in our society — a situation that needs to change.
  • 'Make peace mandatory! Once this is done, then the designation of military becomes connected to war as being a crime against humanity. By asking for peace, we do not dishonour our war vets. Rather we respect all those people for their sacrifices, but we go on record in saying that "War ought to be no more" and that "Peace is the Way of the Future".'
  • 'What is the cost of Cadets to Canada? Why not use these tax dollars for peace making, violence prevention, and peace education in public schools? Today we urgently need a Kids Program for Peace.'
As Peace Activist, my main expectation from the Human Library project was to discover ways of beginning a public conversation on killing and nonkilling with the intent of creating a world without wars. Granted, this is a Big Task. But it is an idea whose time has long come. The Canadian War Museum, with its Peace Exhibition followed by its Human Library Project is a good beginning. See the nice YouTube video clip advertising the event.

In looking around the room of the Theatre, it was very clear that the Human Library Project could accommodate many more people. Several of the 'Books' were laying idle, awaiting the curious reader. Why not bring in a bus load of Grade X students and let them loose to explore the books before them? This could be a mutual learning experience for all and the beginning of new discoveries about creating a better world. It would be a good way to involve young people in the discussion.

The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation ought to be involved in the next Human Library project, as it had done successfully in 2012. Publicity is a vital ingredient in ensuring that the public knows the schedule of an important event.

As we mark the fifth anniversary of the Canadian War Museum in its new location, let us reflect how it defines Canada's role in world affairs. Not only is it about military heritage, preserving artifacts of national significance and a look at the service of our veterans, but it is also about the importance of peace (in reality, the word 'peace' ought to have a legitimate place in the Museum's title).

In the eye of the storm (the Canadian War Museum), so to speak, this is a good place to start in seeing things clearly. Visit the Peace Exhibit before it closes on January 5, 2014. Most important, dream a little and imagine a better world without wars. Make your voice known on the most important question — the survival of our civilization including our own lives. Let's begin the discussion....


1 comment:

  1. Congratulations Koozma, on this wonderful achievement.
    You are eloquent in your statement for peace!