By Ron Ridenour
Benalma'dena Seven hundred and seventy primary and elementary school children, aged three to 12, walked and skipped three kilometers to the main square (Plaza de España) here in this town located n in Spain's Andalusia province, and back to their municipal school, Jacaranda.
On this 30th march for international peace in commemoration of the day that Mahatma Gandhi was assassinated (January 30, 1948), the children sang "No to War", "Yes to Peace", "Save the Children," "Friendship Yes, Violence No". (The event was postponed a week due to a storm.)
They were accompanied by their 29 classroom teachers and about 100 parents and grandparents.
For a week each January, these students study peace, solidarity and friendship values, and how to protect Mother Earth from man-made pollution. The day dedicated to "Save the Children" includes students asking their parents for donations of funds and clothing for poor children. Since 2011-2, they have raised some 7500 Euros ($8500). A committee of teachers and parents decides where to send the donations, sometimes in Spain and sometimes abroad.
The students also make designs for banners and T-shirts. A committee of students and teachers decides what designs are used. The municipal marine sports and water firms donated 3000 Euros to manufacture 1000 T-shirts that the students and teachers wear.
I have participated in hundreds of peace activities but never one where the prime activists are young children. I asked some children and parents what marching for peace means to them.
Ten-year-old Julia made the T-shirt design for last year. "I love peace" is centered on the blue shirt, and "We must all work to create peace" is the co-slogan. All words are in Spanish and English.
Julia tells me, "We can't get peace in the world without everyone together, building for it. I just thought about that when I drew."
This year's T-shirt is pink. A dove is flying leading three children wearing shirts with a peace sign, a heart and a smile, and the words: peace, respect, solidarity, equality, happiness, friendship and love.
Along the march, I meet up with Carmen, Jonathan, Tillie and Dario ages 11-12. Their collective voice speaks gleefully: "Togetherness is beautiful. Racism and machoism are wrong."
Lise, 4, feels that marching is "fun". Her teacher adds, "Teaching peace can be fun. Teaching war is not."
One mother tells me, "We are so grateful for this school, because it focuses on developing a consciousness of peace and friendship, of love, really. We do not make wars; it is the politicians. War for oil. This," says the parent, opening her arms as to embrace the hundreds of children assembled before the march began, "this is life." Her husband adds, "Not forming Hitlers and Francos, and those of today's times."
A Polish couple moved from their country to Benalma'dena, in part to get away from warring conflicts. Carolina and Robert tell me as they march, "We must help create a future, and this school is one way of doing it. Wars are for politicians and the rich. Here the children are stimulated with peaceful thoughts."
Thirty-year old Carmen walks beside her husband and her father as they follow their two children and grandchildren. "I bring my children to this school because of the values they teach," Carmen says. "The academic part is OK but the best is the morality that is taught, and done so without authoritarian finger pointing. The teachers let our well-nourished children know that other children in the world die of hunger, others barely live with little nutrition; many live with fear and in violent danger. They are helping our children become conscientious adults. This is humanitarian, this is caring, and one day our children may make a real difference for peace."
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