Sharma chairs discussions at local school’s peace conference

Alok Sharma, Member of Parliament for Reading West, on Saturday 17th November joined His Excellency Pekka Huhtaniemi, Ambassador of Finland, at The Bulmershe School in Reading for a Children’s Peace Conference. The event was organised by Year 11 GCSE Citizenship students at The Bulmershe School in conjunction with the South Asian Development Partnership (SADP), with the conference being facilitated by the students.

The conference included many contributions from local school students, who spoke to an audience that included students, staff, governors, councillors, the Mayor of Woodley, and key figures from the local community, including religious leaders, youth workers and the police. The students also directed a series of questions on the topic of “Conflict and Peace” to a lively panel session which included Alok, the Ambassador of Finland, Councillor Shahid Younis, Wokingham Youth MP Sumaiya Karim and young rapper/poet from London Ibrahim Sincere.

The event in Reading followed on from the Children’s Peace Conference that Alok hosted in Parliament earlier this year, which brought to the notice of many the suffering of women and children through conflict and violence. The aim of the conference in Reading was to build on the momentum generated at the Parliamentary event to spread the message of peace more widely.

His Excellency Pekka Huhtaniemi delivered the keynote address at the conference, and he spoke about the possibilities that schools have to help promote peace in the world. The Ambassador identified five themes in his speech which he believed schools should adopt as part of a “peace education”:

  • Awareness of the human rights that government’s have signed up to support
  • Knowledge of the lessons of history from the point of view of peace and conflict resolution
  • Understanding of other cultures outside one’s own communities and societies
  • Understanding of methods to overcome poverty and enhance development
  • Appreciation of the importance of sustainability including sustainable lifestyles

HE Huhtaniemi said: “I am convinced that if such themes were properly taught in our schools, our children would have taken many important steps on the road towards becoming good global citizens, citizens who would make many important choices in the spirit of global responsibility.”

The Ambassador continued: “Equipped with such knowledge, they would certainly be very reluctant to support violence of any sort. They would seek to look at problems from many sides before fixing their opinions. They would respect the rights and dignity of others, and they would be ready to defend those whose rights are hampered or who otherwise are underprivileged in our societies.”

Student of The Bulmershe School Matthew O’Horan explained that one must believe in peace and paraphrased John F Kennedy saying “Ask not what your community can do for you, but what you can do for your community”. Student Ayesha Rhafi raised the issue of international aid and the duty of everyone to be active global citizens. Student Sadiya Attiq spoke about Islam, which she explained literally means “peace”, and about Islamophobia as the irrational fear of Muslims. Student Ben Claridge raised the plight of refugees and defined peace as “freedom from war”. Student Serene Pachniuk highlighted the impact of conflict on families and explained that this can be self-perpetuating, resulting in a vicious circle of conflict. Student Destiny Ardener addressed the subject of children’s rights and the violation of these, explaining that the international community needs to work together to protect the innocent. Student Paulina Borrowik expressed her desire for the world to live together without conflict, war and racism and said that this could only be achieved with international support to help end conflicts.

Patron of the South Asian Development Partnership Dr Prem Sharma, who was involved in the organisation of the conference together with The Bulmershe School, said: “The South Asian Development Partnership has already organised a number of events on the theme of peace across the country and we have now been approached by the governments of other countries keen to organise similar conferences.”

Peter Lewis, Headteacher of The Bulmershe School, said: “I am delighted that The Bulmershe School was invited to host and facilitate this important conference, building on the success of the Peace Conference held at The Houses of Parliament in April. The passion and clarity of the speeches and questions from our young people were very impressive. I hope that the strong messages from young people for peace, arising from this whole series of conferences organised by the South Asian Development Partnership, will be heard by both local and national politicians and leaders and act as a spur for actions for peace to be kept as a real priority in our world.”

Amjad Ali, The Bulmershe School’s Subject Leader of Citizenship, said: “This was a really successful event and all credit to the young people who facilitated it. The students are continuing with their idea of addressing local, national and international conflict by creating a DVD with the conference highlights, sending it to other local schools and aiming to set up a Youth Conflict Forum as suggested by Alok.”

Alok said: “I was really pleased to take part and I was impressed with the students and their contributions. My thanks to the Headteacher of The Bulmershe School Peter Lewis, and the school’s Subject Leader of Citizenship, Amjad Ali.”

Alok continued: “As highlighted by the Ambassador of Finland during the conference, having an awareness of other cultures is critical in achieving peace and harmony in the world and events such as this conference help to build this mutual understanding.”

Photo: Alok with Pekka Huhtaniemi (Ambassador of Finland), Prem Sharma (Patron of SADP), Robin Thomson (Partner at SADP), Amjad Ali (The Bulmershe School’s Subject Leader of Citizenship), Shahid Younis (Councillor for Bulmershe & Whitegates ward on Wokingham Borough Council), and students of The Bulmershe School at the Children’s Peace Conference

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