Isma Luyimbazi is a Senior Four student at Katwe Noor Secondary School in Kampala. The 17-year-old who is also the President of the school’s Peace Club is one of the exemplary products of the club’s activities.
At the climax of his primary education, Luyimbazi was among the notorious gangsters that were terrorising the Katwe area.
“When I sat my PLE, I was an uncontrollable gangster, a boy whom you couldn’t tell to do anything. I felt I had the energy within me to beat up any person that I had disagreements with,” he recounts.
Origins of peace club
In 2016, Uganda Muslim Youth Development Forum (UMYDF) in partnership with FinnChurch Aid started a project of peace clubs in different schools around Kampala. The project started as a pilot in four schools, that is; Kawempe Secondary School, Kingstone High School, Kansanga Seed School and Mariam High Secondary School, before it spread to other schools.
The clubs were started in a bid to implement a multifaceted programme dubbed ‘Enhancing Civic Engagement and Economic self- reliance for peaceful and violence- free communities’ in Yumbe and Kampala districts through engagement of vulnerable youths by 2022.
Peace club members from the four project schools meet regularly to share best practices, challenges and innovative ways on how peers and peace workers can create safer spaces and advocate for peace within school as well as community.
According to John Kimbowa Kityo, the Patron of the peace club at Kansanga Seed School, it is important to teach students about peace because most of the conflicts that arise in school are from students themselves.
Spreading the gospel of peace
Through a number of activities such as talking compound, farming and community outreach, the club spreads the message of peace.
“It is better to teach students to live in a harmonious environment. Students from peace clubs do great work in bringing peace in the school. They conduct guidance and counselling and it is them that counsel their peers about peace.”
Kimbowa shares that the club’s impact is being felt because ever since it came into place, the school has not had any strike as they always try to solve conflicts in a calm way.
Erick Picho, the patron Kololo SS explains that they embraced the idea of the peace club in 2017 because of the challenges they had as a school, stemming from diversity of students’ cultures which led to interrelation concerns among the students. These conflicts were also carried outside as students fought those from other schools.
Picho adds that to show visibility, they do community outreach and get slots at school assemblies every fortnight to relay peace messages.
Students speak out
According to Zainab Babirye, a Senior Six student at Kololo Secondary School, peace clubs create unity among students. More often than not, students are inclined to solve situations in a violent way through both physical and verbal attacks.
To her, this solves nothing but creates a gap between students to a point that they can’t seek each other’s help when the need arises.
“Violence portrays a bad image of the school to the newcomers. Whatever happens at school is going to get out there in society because students are ambassadors of these societies. Having peace clubs creates unity and peace for harmonious living despite differences in religion, colour and race.”
Babirye reveals that Kololo Secondary School had always had a bad image among the community as a school with violent students but the head teacher has worked on the school’s image with his revised approach of punishment.
“He does not just expel someone but gives a punishment that will make them calm down and rethink the use of anger or violence on another person. When the peace club came in, it was just like a supporting pole for him because their activities such as reconciliation weeks have created a harmonious environment for students and the public.”
Josiah Tumwebaze, the speaker of Old Kampala Peace Club says when it was launched in their school, he joined for the sake of having fun with other students but with time realised that through the club, a new face of their school is revealed to the society.
Between 2018 and 2019, Tumwebaze says the school had a culture of students fighting each time it rained.
“When I joined Old Kampala Secondary School, a neighbour told me the school is always involved in strikes and I won’t be able to study. After we started engaging in several peace activities, I knew I had to get more than just being a leader of the club but transforming society too. ”
The importance of peace training
According to Ms Lailah Zubairi, the Senior Programmes Manager at UMYDF, young men and women in schools are key to building peace and promoting social cohesion.
She says these are trained in peace education where young people are equipped with tools to build resilient communities while fostering tolerance, diversity in religion and ethnic groups.
“Peace clubs represent something that is unique and relevant to the ongoing context in the country. They specifically focus on peace and security while other clubs focus on other developmental issues so I feel that young people in these clubs in Kampala and Yumbe are doing great work in fostering peace and social cohesion,” explains Zubairi.
The four schools that have peace clubs are in slum areas and have a background of violence in their communities. While interacting with key development partners, UMYDF realised that strikes had become the trend in schools as a way of dealing with grievances.
The youth organisation felt that empowering students in these schools would enable them to stand for peace and social cohesion.
Babirye shares that teaching students about peace while they are still in school helps safeguard them as they are able to make wise decisions and get to live harmoniously with others in the environment.
“I cannot involve myself in hate groups because I am a supporter of a different political party. It also helps us to know that not everything that is negative should be backed with negativity. We learn to use positivity even in situations where conflict is involved.”
According to Luyimbazi, teaching peace in the infancy goes a long way in shaping the behaviour of an individual. He says students, if taught about peace, grow up with the aspect of loving one another and cannot front hatred.
“Many people practise violence because they have a bias within their hearts. When we guard these infants and teach them the goodness of living in a peaceful community, they grow up with this in their hearts. It is rare to find them stealing, fighting or quarrelling.”
Tumwebaze believes that when you teach the young people about peace, you are impacting generations to come. He says that if one is tamed at an early age, he will be much better when he grows up and he will be fronting the core values of peace.
While implementing a number of peace activities in these schools, clubs face a number of challenges. The school schedules are so tight that whenever partners come in to work with the students, they are allocated little time.
“Peace clubs are in the secondary schools. If they are started early enough, we won’t need to go to universities to teach people about peace since they will have grown up already knowing the importance of peace,” Babirye shares.
According to her, the existence of peace clubs in schools alone is not sustainable as many of the activities should be done in communities where the reach and impact is a bit bigger.
Tumwebaze, on the other hand, believes the government should come in and invest some funding in these clubs to help them transmit the message better.
“People are not aware of these Peace clubs. If the government can own such a project and fund the clubs in schools, it will go a long way in helping steer peace. I love Uganda and I don’t believe we have the peace we need now.”
Expanding the reach
The peace clubs have been extended to Yumbe District at Kuru and Odravu schools as well as in the refugee host communities.
“Yumbe District hosts individuals or refugees from South Sudan and we felt that the natives in Uganda that are living closely with them needed some capacity in how they can peacefully coexist with the refugees in the settlement as well as help heal the trauma that young refugees carried from the war in South Sudan,” adds Zubair.