Peace is in our hands

Written on 07/04/2023
Leah Reimer

What daycare can teach us about creating harmony

Written by Leah Reimer

Throughout university, I worked in a daycare. It was an extraordinarily challenging, entertaining, and rewarding job. During my first few months, I felt like I was constantly putting out fires, running around separating kids, telling them no, putting someone in timeout. It was exhausting and demoralizing. But as I grew into my role, I learned how to prevent conflict and proactively build peace instead.

One day, I discovered a beautifully written children’s book at the library, I Call My Hands Gentle by Amanda Haan. I wanted my kids to internalize the message of this book, so I did what any good preschool teacher would do. I turned it into a messy and engaging art project.

I traced each child’s hands on a piece of paper and provided them with as many sparkly, colourful, and ridiculous art supplies as I could find so that each child could decorate their paper hands to their hearts’ content. While they painted, glued, and sprinkled, we brainstormed all the wonderful things we could do with our hands.

We could play with our friends, eat, colour, ride bikes, help our parents, give hugs, and more!

In the spirit of the book, and with all these ideas in our heads, each child carefully chose what they would call their hands. The result was a series of beautiful, unique, slightly chaotic and wrinkly art pieces titled “I call my hands helpful,” “I call my hands kind,” or “I call my hands loving.”

I have no doubt that this art project, like many other lessons I taught over the years, had a far greater impact on me than on these three- and four-year-olds. But I think it holds a powerful and practical example of proactive peacebuilding and peace education.

Today I work at Mennonite Central Committee, an international nongovernmental organization that works for relief, development, and peace around the world. In this role I spend a lot of time thinking about conflict and peace, and how we can support peace globally through things like climate action and food security. While the work I do every day is distinctly different from taking care of kids, there is a surprising overlap between these two worlds.

Peacebuilding isn’t something that only happens far away, by experts, or in complex or violent contexts. It is something we can all participate in here and now, in our own lives, schools, families, and workplaces.

It also isn’t just about conflict resolution; peacebuilding is also about building positive relationships and attitudes of cooperation, care, and honesty.

Peacebuilding involves changing our narratives and habits around conflict. My supervisor at the daycare used to tell our kids “Hands don’t talk” as a useful way of redirecting physical expressions of anger or frustration. This critically simple message was a powerful tool that helped them realize that they were trying to communicate something through their actions.

Imagine what this preschool lesson could mean on a world stage: Guns don’t talk, Fighter jets don’t talk.

If we paused more often to think about all the beautiful things our hands, words, thoughts, and actions can accomplish, we might be slower to turn those tools against each other.