Editor’s Note: Missioner-in-training Janice Smullen shares her experience of volunteering with Little Friends for Peace during her time of formation in Washington, DC.

“If peace is what every government says it seeks, and peace is the yearning of every heart, why aren’t we studying it and teaching it in schools?” Coleman McCarthy

The mission of ” Little Friends for Peace” (LFFP) is to teach peace at an early age and practice it at every age. LFFP strives to answer violence with skills for peace. MJ and Jerry Park have been teaching peace for 35 years. They received the Pax Christi Teacher of Peace Award in 2008. I met them at the Perry School Community Center where LFFP has its own peace room which serves as the central planning stage for MJ and Jerry and their dedicated staff amid walls decorated by drawings and paintings and posters depicting the many steps toward peace.

I view the Perry neighborhood as an economically distressed area that looks rough. However, I soon learned that it is inhabited by such people as Alverta Munlyn who spearheaded the campaign in the 1980’s to save the historical M Street High School (opened as the first public college preparatory school for blacks in 1891) and MJ’s friend Ann whose mother was a teacher (and raised 14 children), who became a special education teacher herself, and whose daughter is a teacher. Her daughter went to Bennett College in my hometown of Greensboro, NC!

Ann and I spoke together about children and grandchildren as she pointed out the photographs of numerous children she had educated or helped raise. Our community surroundings differ for each of our families but we both want to instill joy, respect, and peace in the children we touch.

Ministries of LFFP now include: teaching peace in classrooms; facilitating peace camps during the summer; bringing their information programs to potential schools, churches, and neighborhoods; and a summer program in El Salvador. Community programs are open to all ages (the “little” stands for “little steps”) and many of the participants of the past now bring their own children and grandchildren.

I have participated in programs in elementary school classrooms where children are encouraged to tell about what makes their peace and what breaks their peace. Peace makers may be “church,” “music,” “sharing,” “reading,” or “getting an ‘A.'” Peace breakers may be “death,” “yelling,” “breaking something,” or “My (insert person) is gone.” Teachers are encouraged to sit in the Peace Circle and share also.

Other activities may include songs, co-operative games, drawing, walking, or role-playing. Conflict resolution practices taught include holding one hand up to signal STOP with the other hand out stretched below to signal, “I want to talk about it.”

We might construct a “Peace Pie” or a “Trouble Cake” to talk about words that encourage and words that hurt. We might spend hours or days or weeks talking about the “Peace Train” and its cars for Respect, Thinking of Solutions, Checking Feelings, and other tools to avoid and resolve conflict.

MJ Park and one of her groups during peace training

MJ Park and one of her groups during a peace training

The goal of the program is to recognize an inner voice that enables each of us to see the good within so that we can enjoy it and affirm it in others. Many of the children have lots of hardship and loss to overcome as peace becomes a way of life to be lived. With frequent sessions together, we become more trustful about sharing our thoughts and respecting each other. Their eyes light up when they see “Miss MJ” coming and peace does seem possible.