There are approximately 7,000 hate crimes in the United States each year. 35% of women experience violence in their lifetime. 20% of students report being bullied. Statistics like these led long-time CMEE Board Member, Aima Raza, to found The Peace Project Inc. The organization works with communities and schools to nurture democracy, advocate for human rights, and transform our society through the education and empowerment of the next generation of changemakers. We recently spoke with Aima about the organization, it’s beginnings, and how you can get involved.
What is the Peace Project Inc?
The Peace Project Inc. provides in-school human rights and global citizenship education programs for middle school students. Through games, activities, case studies, dialogue, presentations, projects, and a field trip to the United Nations, students directly interact with materials, issues, and leaders working on peace and community building solutions. We believe that students have the right to be informed on the hows and whys of current events and human rights violations so that they are better equipped to be empathetic, solutions-oriented and engaged participants and civic leaders in their communities.
Can you describe how and why you founded the Peace Project Inc?
The idea of establishing a community-building initiative really started when I had just become a mom. I grew up in Pakistan and the country transformed post-9/11. It just didn’t seem safe anymore. The idea of visiting with our kids and letting them run around on the streets and play cricket seemed unfathomable. It was really heartbreaking to see a community transformed from this peaceful place to ride bikes and fly kites and walk around exploring to feeling insecure about even visiting with our kids.
Living in NY and seeing the world change after 9/11 played a role as well. I felt terrified for my kids and the thinking about the world they were going to inherit. That’s what led to this idea of setting up a community-building initiative. Instead of being glued to the television, terrified of world events, I could be part of the solution.
What did you find most challenging when you started?
This whole idea was conceived literally on my dining room table and talking with my family and friends saying, “We have to do something.” Once that was conceived the idea then it was just getting our ducks in a row. It was really just dedicating myself to taking the time to do it and finding resources that were available to me. I got lucky getting help along the way–all I had to do was ask and stay focused and be patient.
Is there a particular reason that the Peace Project Inc focuses on middle school-aged children?
Our primary work and the heart of our organization lies with middle school students. There’s a lot of emphasis on kindness and sharing and being a good community member until about third grade. Once middle school begins, there’s very little programming. I remember being in middle school–It’s a critical time when these kids are going through a lot of emotions. They’re also looking to be engaged–they’re so full of ideas. The Peace Project allows kids this age to really talk about and address issues and engage with the outside world in a supportive way.
Why is the Peace Project Inc’s vision—“to create safe, peaceful and tolerant communities in the world by increasing respect and mutual understanding amongst individuals from different faith, ethnic and cultural traditions”—more important than ever?
I think our vision has always been important, but we really have hit rock bottom in terms of how we treat others with whom we share our world, our society, our communities, our neighborhoods. I wish we could scale our programs so that we could go to more places. We’re in NYC and it’s almost like a bubble because it’s so big and vast and diverse…we peacefully co-exist for the most part. I wish we could go into areas where we saw more of these challenges. At some point I’d like to grow or partner with other organizations and find a way to share the curriculum so other people could benefit from it.
What’s the best way someone can get involved with or learn more about the Peace Project Inc?
The best way is just to explore our website and reach out directly. I recently had a wonderful meeting with someone who works at an investment bank. One day she was just really upset reading the news and started looking for an organization that was involved with peace and community building and patience. She found us and then e-mailed me. I love knowing that people can Google three words and find us.
Learn more about The Peace Project Inc.