My name is Vyonne Akoth. I am the founder of a local nonprofit organization in Kenya known as Impart Change, as well as a Community Solutions Program (CSP) 2017 Fellow. Community Solutions is a professional development program implemented by the International Research and Exchange Board (IREX) and supported by the US Department of State. I have a bachelor’s degree in peace, security, and conflict resolution. A few weeks ago I was delighted to join fellow CSP fellows for a workshop orientation, having being selected among 93 successful applicants out of more than 2500 applications. My immersion into Little Friends for Peace (LFFP), my host organization, began on an exciting and high note: summer Peace Camps!
Never have I had so much fun. The summer Peace Camps provided an opportunity for me to learn about LFFP and see how the lives of children are being impacted and transformed positively from a very young age. What made this so exciting is that it was done on the basis of learning while having fun for both the campers as well as the counsellors, me included. The Peace Camps impacted me on a personal level, seeing how campers are being empowered organically to be peace champions at heart, and carry that peace to their surroundings: their families, friends, neighbours and communities at large. I could see the campers learning how to love and respect each other irrespective of their age, race, religion, and cultural differences.
Fun peace tools were used. They included art, games, talent shows, storytelling, and recess time where campers as well as counsellors had the opportunity to harness their peacebuilding skills. I was really inspired seeing how at a very young age, campers knew how to solve conflicts among themselves using peaceful communication messages that focused on STOP, THINK and ACT. Many thanks to MJ for the excellent work she has done developing these messages over the years! What stood out for me was the phrase, ‘Stop, we can work it out.’ This particular phrase was used by younger campers to address little conflicts among themselves. I was happy to be in a position to see its effectiveness.
As an adult, this was a learning curve for me. Whereas I have always had the knowledge of non-violent communication, LFFP has taught me a new kind of peaceful non-violent communication which I have now adopted in my life. This peaceful non-violent communication has taught me how to work on my communication from a personal level to an interpersonal and intergroup level. I have noticed that this has happened to me unconsciously as a result of working with the campers. The whole world needs peaceful non-violent communication!
My journey with LFFP has just begun. I can’t wait to see where the next months will lead, being part of a visionary organization that has the potential to impact the whole world, using humane, exciting, and interesting peace tools for a much needed change both close to home and globally.
In the journey towards peace, reflection sits at the heart of each person who decides to take the leap into such a practice. The practice of peace itself is a conscious effort, and seeing a group of men, who in society’s viewpoint have nothing, come together on the journey towards peace was not only inspiring but even more so humbling.
We often tell ourselves not to take things for granted, and to always realize one’s own privilege in the world we live in no matter our circumstances. Sitting as a black, college-educated female, I knew my privilege, but was also aware of what burdens were predisposed against me because of how I am labeled in the world. Because of this consistent awareness to both privilege and hardship, I was able to reach the deep level with these men who consciously placed themselves in the peace circle that day.
They spoke on the systems they felt were against them, leaping back into history with reflection upon Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the reasoning behind his undoubtedly heroic downfall. We discussed not only the progressive impact he made on what we as an American culture have progressed to today, but also the inquisitive question, did Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. die from his own ignorance? With varying opinions in the group, we were able to move the conversation into the ultimate question of how do we react to things, and how our reactions can be changed to reflect and resolve in a more peaceful manner. Dr. King chose a peaceful and consistent protest to display to the country the hideous mistreating of black people in America. How one progresses to that took center stage.
One man suggested that you could only live for yourself, and to find peace within starts with the desire to better yourself first. Others reflected on the idea that you cannot progress on your own with either looking to others for guidance, or having a solid support system around you. Even more compelling was the discussion of if believing in a higher power constitutes as still living for yourself or if you are still “living for someone or something else.” Such deep, philosophical ideas were discussed that early Thursday morning, creating a much more in-depth and reflective state in the Father McKenna Center than any I was expecting that morning.
The overall idea of progress through one’s own means left a steady impact on me the rest of that day, causing me to look at how I am progressing towards my utmost peaceful life, and what that life constitutes for me. I have always known I am advocate for “peace on earth,” but where did that desire put me as an overall entity of myself? That morning, the men at our peace circle pushed me to think about peace from a standpoint of the less than privileged, and why to them progress was more than what the American Dream entails. As a whole, I left the Father McKenna Center enlightened, thoughtful, and overall more peaceful knowing that those who seemingly have nothing continue to be able minded and steadfast in themselves and their dreams towards peace in whatever capacity that means for them beyond the walls of adversity.
Little Friends For Peace is going international with the help of Kirin Taylor. Kirin helped teach the peace lesson workshop in Vienna. It was called "Live Peace, Teach Peace" and was developed from MJ and Jerry's book. Kirin has been a huge part of Little Friends For Peace and spreading our message. She has worked as our summer camp coordinator after attending LFFP camp herself and she has now established peace club in Rome, Italy. Kirin was offered the opportunity by a woman she met at a peace conference hosted by the international peace bureau in Berlin and has helped spread LFFP’s message in so many ways; she even spoke about LFFP at a museum in Austria. Kirin explained that the most important part of her peace club in Vienna was “emphasizing each individual's role in creating a peaceful world. It starts from individual actions and language, and people were reminded of this.” During the peace lesson Kirin had people make a goal of something that they can do to spread peace within their community. It was extremely successful and helped continue the mission of Little Friends For Peace all the way in Vienna. This workshop was successful because people dove into their passions and things that they wanted to do to help the world. We are extremely excited for the continued growth of Little Friends For Peace.
This year at LFFP, we are extremely excited to have Georgetown students come help with our after school program. In addition to learning about peace and having dinner during our afterschool program, the kids are able to work on their homework assignments. They are given the opportunity to get one on one time with tutors and have any questions answered on their homework. This is a great addition to our after school program. Our kids really seem to be enjoying the Georgetown students that come and help them this year, which also opens up an opportunity for the kids to have a mentor. Our kids are getting extra help with their homework. This is all really exciting for us at LFFP.
Shoa Phillpotts and Mary Joan (MJ) Park, our Little Friends For Peace representatives, attended the Rodham Summit that was both motivational and enlightening. The Rodham Summit took place on October 20, 2016, and was a discussion on how to provide good health and wellness opportunities to youth in different communities. MJ Park, Co-founder and Executive Director, spoke on behalf of LFFP on the panel. MJ contributed to the discussion of the role of youth in community health, and how emotional health is especially important in schools. Additionally, MJ mentioned how health and wellness play into eliminating our culture of violence. MJ also talked about the peace classes that are offered at LFFP and how some kids have a lot of built up anger. If you have built up anger, you can’t maintain good wellness. The Rodham Summit’s goals were to empower youth, goals that LFFP shares.
MJ felt honored to be able to speak at the Rodham Summit. She thought it was great that she could talk to people that shared the same goals as her own. MJ described the atmosphere as a “wonderful spirit of hope.” MJ discussed how her own program helps contribute to disrupting the violence and enforcing health and wellness in communities. It was great to collaborate with more like-minded people. Leaving this event, MJ concluded that it was helping to “create a culture of peace.”
Moving forward, at LFFP we need to eliminate toxic stress. Our mission is that we want to continue to encourage “children to be children” and we want to “provide them with positive role models, and love and help them to find their self worth,” says Shoa Phillpotts. As the Rodham Summit panels established, under privileged kids are given a lot of negative labels, and at LFFP we are going to continue our mission to help discard these labels.
The George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences, Communications and Marketing has photo credit.
Little Friends For Peace is heartbroken to share the loss of one of our most beloved peacemakers and oldest friends, Ann Little, who passed away July 11 after suffering a stroke in late June.
Throughout the years, she became a special friend of ours and a true ally of LFFP.
Ann used to teach at the local public school as a special education teacher. She then left on disability and was often confined to her bed, but she never let this limit her social impact nor her capacity to love.
Despite her bad heart and diabetes, the ever smiling and optimistic Ann invested her time and miraculous abundance of energy in care and love for the children of the neighborhood. From the confines of her bed, in what the community has come to know as her “Cozy Room,” Ann lovingly and compassionately raised four generations of Sursum Corda residents by providing snacks, encouragement, Christmas presents, company, homework help, a listening ear, and a sense of family.
On any given day, it wasn't uncommon to find a cluster of 10 kids—from 2-year-olds to high schoolers—gathered on her haven of a bed. If you'd ventured into her room, which became something of a community center, you would've noticed an entire wall wallpapered in photographs of the children she raised—and their children, and their children’s children, and their children’s children’s children.
She became an arbiter of trite childhood fights, a tutor, a grandmother figure, and a source of love and peace in an often-violent environment.
Gandhi asserted that violence would end where love began, and it began in the Cozy Room on the big bed with Ann’s loving heart.
She reminded us often that true peace building is in investing in relationships and connecting heart to heart—having compassion for one another. She showed us how to spread peace by serving as a refuge for hopeless spirits, comforting them, and teaching them joy.
The children served by Little Friends For Peace were grateful to have made new playmates last week during a visit by the Hill Helpers, an extraordinary group of staffers from Capitol Hill seeking to use their free time in the service of others.
About 20 volunteers braved the rain and mugginess to weed our gardens, play basketball with local boys and color pictures with neighborhood girls.
The Hill Helpers came from a variety of legislative offices, lobbying groups and affiliated organizations to build community around the goal of service. LFFP thanks them for their initiative and looks forward to future partnership in peace-building!
Ronald Little grew up in the Sursum Corda housing complex in northwest DC amid a culture of violence. Cussing and fistfights—even shootings and domestic abuse—were not unheard of in this small community just west of the NoMa neighborhood.
Many had a difficult time resisting the expectations born in this culture. “I grew up in a pretty rough area,” said Little, now 24. “You have to kind of be tough, macho, you know.”
Even this year, he lost multiple companions to violence.
“I had a lot of friends in school who were lost in the street,” he said. “They didn't really have things like this—people who actually care about you and take you places like to the museums, to experience different things, teach you how to properly express yourself without hurting another person’s feelings or making it worse, and also teach you how to defuse a situation—things like that. Everyone isn’t really fortunate enough to have things like that in their lives.”
He was talking of MJ Park and Little Friends For Peace. “MJ was like the balance in my life,” he said. “There’s a time and place for everything, and she came at the right time.”
While his peers spent their summers learning to navigate the streets of Sursum Corda—both emotionally and physically—Little spent ages two through 18 in Peace Camp.
“Peace Camp was such a big deal to my life,” he said. “This neighborhood is a troubled area. Peace Camp, when it was in my life, it taught me how to respect others, put others before you sometimes.”
Little still intentionally practices the peace skills he learned during camp, with respecting others at the forefront. His conflict resolution skills have been equally valuable.
“If some things tend to bother you, you have to talk it out and express yourself,” he said. “It’s all how you say things. Even though you’re expressing yourself, it’s all how you present yourself and express the problem.”
Even the small tactics have stuck.
“I know sometimes when things tend to get frustrating, I do the ‘hot potato’ thing,” he said, referencing Park’s signature method of blowing off steam. He smiled and moved one hand over the other. “One potato, two potato, three potato, four—and just take a deep breath. Sometimes if it doesn’t work I just keep doing it over and over.”
He identified the process of stopping and cooling down as a method worth instilling in Sursum Corda residents. “Calm down, collect yourselves and come back, and then we can work the problem out that way,” he said. “People act off in instinct and act off in anger, and that's not going to get anything done.”
Little's suggestions are deeply rooted in the LFFP practices, and they have served him well over the years. But if Peace Camp did one thing, it gave Little reprieve from the pressures and trials of the street.
“The best part of Peace Camp was when I was a kid,” he said. “Some people say, ‘I have to do this and do that,' to live on a day-to-day basis. I didn’t have to do that. [MJ gave me] a wonderful childhood.”
Little has since moved on from Sursum Corda, and as he now furthers his education and pursues passions in culinary arts and music engineering, he nods in appreciation to LFFP and the Parks who helped him rise.