Guest Educator on Peace Boat


Oct. 2018: Peace Boat is a Japanese NGO founded in 1983 which holds Special Consultative Status with the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) of the United Nations (UN). It promotes peace, human rights, equal and sustainable development and respect for the environment. Its HQ is in Tokyo and has five other offices in Japan and a sister organisation Peace Boat US based in New York. It carries out its main activities through a passenger ship that travels round the world and it is funded through the voyage participation fees. Guided by the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) Peace Boat’s main activities on board and in port empower participants, strengthen local capacity for sustainability and build people-to people capacity beyond borders. It conducts three round the world voyages per year and was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2008. Peace Boat is on the international steering group of ICAN (the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons). ICAN played a significant role in the adoption of a treaty to prohibit nuclear weapons at the UN in 2017 and was awarded the Nobel Peace prize that year,

Glencree has a long connection with Peace Boat going back more than twenty years with staff members joining the ship as guest educators and groups visiting Glencree when the ship docks in Dublin.  Guest educators are professors, journalists, musicians, community activists, artists and peace activists who have expertise in a particular field and share their experience and knowledge as an essential part of the on board education programme.  An average of 25 guest educators take part in each Global Voyage and organise lectures, seminars and workshops in collaboration with participants and staff.  Educational programmes on board the ship utilise Peace Boat as a neutral learning space and mobile classroom and aim to enable participants to get a better understanding of how local communities are affected by and find creative solutions to problems that exist around the world.

Peace Boat last visited Dublin in 2008 and our invitation this year was to join the 99th Global Voyage in Palermo, Sicily and work on board until the ship’s arrival in Dublin. I was asked to run workshops on skills for working with conflict and to deliver two lectures on the work of Glencree and the current challenges of peacebuilding on the island of Ireland. There are 1,200 passengers on the ship, mostly Japanese but also Chinese, Malaysian and Thai and as most of them do not have a good command of English the team of translators is very important. I worked with a group of six translators, three Japanese and three Chinese and there was a lot of preparation work in advance of the workshops and lectures. The lecture hall accommodates 500 people and we had good crowds and lots of questions and discussion. The workshops were smaller and used the performance space, but the participants were engaged and active throughout exploring ways to deal with the conflicts they face creatively. There are always a lot of informal conversations around the content of lectures and workshops after these events as passengers approach you with a comment or a question about something that was mentioned. After one lecture a Malaysian man approached me to tell me about the time he spent as a student in Belfast in the 1980’s and his memories of being one a very few foreigners living there during the Troubles. He spoke of negotiating his own safety and keeping his head down. The  fear of moving about the city centre and being caught in the wrong place was still very vivid but he planned to return to see what it was like now.

There are numerous events on the ship every day it is at sea as well as lectures, workshops and seminars. These include language classes, themed gatherings, cultural and musical events, briefings and special events related to port visits.  A wide range of optional tours and activities for passengers are arranged when the ship docks at ports throughout the voyage and these require preparation and feedback sessions on the ship before and after. During my time on board we docked at Motril (Spain), Tangier (Morocco) Porto (Portugal) La Coruna (Spain) and Liverpool (UK) usually disembarking in the morning and departing in the evenings. Events and meetings are also arranged and in some ports as Peace Boat seeks to make visible their mission and if possible meet with city mayors or government representatives to further their goals.

One of the primary goals of Peace Boat is the elimination of nuclear weapons. Since 2008 they have invited ‘hibakusha’ (atomic bomb survivors) to join the Global Voyages and spread this message. To date 170 hibakusha have traveled around the world giving personal testimonies about the effects of the atomic bombs and calling for nuclear abolition. These messages from Hiroshima and Nagasaki have huge potential to deeply move people around the world who are affected by war, violence, poverty and environmental issues. On this voyage I had the privilege of meeting with two of these , Tamiko Sora and Michiko Tsukamoto. As we shared food together they told me of their memories of the bombings. I was concerned that they must find it hard to have to recollect this  relentlessly, but they told me that they have dedicated their lives to spreading the message that these weapons ‘serve no legitimate purpose and must be forever banished from the face of the earth’. When we docked in Porto they made the three hour (each way) drive to Lisbon to meet political representatives to give their testimonies, such is their commitment to this task. I was humbled to spend time in their company and to hear them say how important it is for organisations like Glencree to prioritise the voices of victims and survivors of all conflicts.

As we were sailing through the Mediterranean it was important to have input from an organisation supporting refugees making the difficult crossing from Middle Eastern and African countries. A  Greek doctor from Medecins du Monde, Hara Tziouvara, joined the ship for a few days and spoke about the current realities and challenges of assisting such a large number of refugees in the camps in Greece in terms of social, medical and trauma related needs. Greece is one of the main gateways to Europe and so it experiences huge migration and is under great pressure to provide services. She spoke of the need to continue this provision and help those most in need with accommodation and medical services. Her reply to those who say there are too many people to look after them all was ‘we have no choice but to support our fellow human beings who are suffering through this crisis, mostly caused by war’.

There was also an opportunity to hear about Peace Boat’s Disaster Relief Volunteer Centre (RVC) which was started as a response to an earthquake in Japan’s Kobe region in 1995. Since the more recent earthquake in East Japan in 2011 PVC has developed as a specialist organisation to assist disaster affected communities worldwide. To date they have dispatched over 13,000 volunteers to disaster affected areas in Japan and beyond. Peace Boat  has shifted from emergency response to strengthening the regional economy and enhancing community resilience to promote cross-sector cooperation in Disaster Risk Reduction. They have made a real contribution to emergency situations in the U.S. Haiti and the Philippines and continue to expand their trained volunteer base. 13th October was International Day for Disaster Relief so it was appropriate that this was marked by a number of events on the ship including a talk by Takayuki Suzuki from RVC who gave a great introduction to this work.

The Peace Boat arrived in the port of Dublin on 17 October and a delegation including the hibakushas went to meet the Lord Mayor of Dublin and DFAT representatives. I brought another group from the ship up to Glencree for a one-day workshop. They heard about the history of the site from Val Kiernan and were updated on founding and development of the organisation and Glencree’s work by CEO Naoimh McNamee. After lunch they had a participatory workshop on ‘Capacitar’, an approach to trauma and stress relief, presented by Nadette Foley and Louise Keating. It was also nice to have Rosy Wilson and Gail Varian, two long term contributors to Glencree, present for the afternoon session. The Glencree team gave a great introduction to the centre and its work and participants returned to the ship to continue the voyage this time heading for Iceland and a trans-Atlantic journey.

It was a wonderful experience to work with Peace Boat again and to continue to build our relationship.  Given that it was originally founded by students who set out to ‘establish the facts’, the global reach of the project has certainly grown beyond what they might have imagined. A new ‘ecoship’ is under construction which will be the world’s most sustainable cruise ship and a flagship for climate action and the SDGs. It will sail in 2020 and hopefully Dublin will be one of the ports of call and we will welcome another group to Glencree.

There is a report of the day at Glencree written by a member of the Peace Boat team Shantel Dickerson here.

On Nov 7, 2018  ‘Against the Tide: A Journey for Climate Hope’, a documentary produced by Peace Boat, won the award for best short documentary at the 11th edition of the Kuala Lumpur Eco Film Festival (KLEFF). This festival, produced by environmental NGO Eco Knights, features environment-themed documentary, feature, animated, archival, experimental and children’s films from around the world. Have a look at the documentary here.

Thanks to Cole and Noriko for the invitation on this voyage and wishing them well in future work.