Education: The Best Weapon against Violence
Interview with Jan Hellman
The NVP’s symbol of peace and nonviolence [Photo courtesy of NVP Foundation]
The Non-Violence Project (NVP) Foundation is an international organization working to counteract violence by engaging young people on how to solve conflicts peacefully. Cofounder Jan Hellman, from Sweden, explains.
Could you share the story behind the establishment of the NVP and its development?
The Non-Violence Project (NVP) Foundation was launched in Sweden in 1993 by Rolf Skjöldebrand and me. Today, the NVP is a Swiss-based nonprofit organization with offices in several countries that promotes social change through education. Our symbol is the well-known image of peace and nonviolence, the knotted gun. It was originally a sculpture created in 1980 by the Swedish artist Carl Fredrik Reuterswärd as a tribute to John Lennon. The symbol is featured at more than 30 strategic locations around the world, including the United Nations Headquarters in New York, the Olympic Museum in Lausanne, Switzerland, and Chaoyang Park in Beijing, China.
The sculpture at the UN Headquarters in New York [Photo courtesy of NVP Foundation]
Our vision is a world without violence. Our mission is to inspire, motivate and engage young people to understand how to solve conflicts peacefully. Our belief is that knowledge is the best weapon against violence. To date we have educated eight million young people, students, teachers and sports coaches on five continents and have more than two million followers on our various social media platforms.
In recent years, we’ve witnessed many youth around the world choosing violence as a solution to their problems. How does the work of the NVP help transform a culture of violence to one of peace, and what change have you seen in communities as a result?
Violence is learned behavior; there is no “violent” gene that one inherits. We believe that if young people can learn to be violent, they can also learn to be nonviolent, kind and responsible and grow into adults and leaders who can create a more peaceful world.
We work under the assumption that many conflicts are the result of how young people perceive themselves and how they perceive and relate to others. We also acknowledge that young people’s influence on their environment plays an important role in creating change.
Schools for Peace students in Uganda [Photo courtesy of NVP Foundation]
Therefore, we base our work on individual personal development and on raising awareness in wider environments, including schools and sports clubs and families and the media.
We have five main educational programs:
- Kids for Peace, ages 3 to 10
- Schools for Peace, ages 10 to 20
- Sports for Peace, ages 10 to 20
- Universities for Peace, ages 20 to 25
- Entrepreneurship for Peace, ages 17 to 25
These programs cover topics including the philosophy of nonviolence, conflict management, self-esteem, multicultural differences and bullying. To effectively implement our core subjects, we focus on two methods—interaction and creativity.
Our main focus is on preventing violence from happening and educating communities to help change attitudes and behaviors that have allowed violence to flourish. Violence among the young often leads to social exclusion, and vice versa. This leads to high costs in terms of human suffering and in financial terms. Research shows that preventive education and initiatives can reduce the costs by up to two-third.
NVP participants in a Brazilian favela [Photo courtesy of NVP Foundation]
The NVP education model is built on two methods:
- Live training that is designed to provide teachers, sports coaches and university students with the skills and knowledge necessary to pass the NVP education programs on to students and young people and with the competence and understanding to train other teachers.
- Digital training through a web-based NVP virtual classroom that reaches out to a global audience that goes far beyond what would be possible through live training.
Can you give us an overview of the special programs that the NVP runs?
We run a certain number of special programs that aim to empower at-risk youth to break the cycle of violence and lead a contributive life. One such program is the NVP Prison Program that aims to develop a Personal Empowerment and Conflict Education (P.E.A.C.E) Program for prisoners with the objective of reducing sentence time, thus lessening the cost to society.
The NVP Juvenile Detention Education Program’sobjective is the reduction of the sentences of young offenders to prevent them from suffering lifelong social exclusion.
The Pick-Up Yourself Program empowers young at-risk women with skills and start-up capital to earn a decent living to prevent them resorting to prostitution or crime.
The Social Entrepreneur Program is designed to guide and support young people toward self-employment and help them to take charge of their own lives. Increasing global unemployment mainly affects young people, creating social exclusion that often leads to violence and crime. This entrepreneurship program was developed in Uganda and will be further developed and implemented in other countries.
Lastly, the Cities for Peace Program connects cities and citizens around the world, forming one large network for peace and nonviolence. It includes the implementation of the NVP education program in a minimum of 100 schools in each city.
What is the key to expanding this network of like-minded global citizens?
Raising awareness is a very important part of the NVP agenda, and we know that we cannot change the world alone. Our work depends on the support of well-known personalities from around the world. They are helping us to increase public awareness of peace and nonviolence and of the global educational work we are doing. Our ambassadors come from the worlds of music, sports and the arts and include among others Yoko Ono, Ringo Starr, Sir Paul McCartney, Nico Rosberg, Lionel Messi, Norika Fujiwara, Shonosuke Okura, Steve Angello, Meja, Xavier de la Rue, Anahí , Luigi Buffon, Michael Ballack, Derrick Green, Amir Kahn, Robin Söderling and Dustin Johnson. Altogether we have more than a hundred international and national NVP Ambassadors who help us work toward a peaceful world in which violence is no longer an option.
Jan Hellman is cofounder and chairman of the Non-Violence Project Foundation.
Courtesy of Common Threads