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The Peace Room

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The History of the Peace Room

By Andrée Jordan

The Peace Room was created by Mrs Bidwell in South Africa. Her parents had moved there from England for health reasons, and she had grown up there. By the 1940s she was a grandmother, and was concerned for her grand children, growing up in a time of war. Although South Africa was relatively uninvolved, her English heritage probably made her more aware of what was going on in so much of the world and she wanted to instil a desire for peace and the ability to negotiate collaboration rather than using force into her grand children.

Plan of the Peace HouseShe decided to build some “play rooms” for her grand children in the grounds of her house. She decided on three rooms: a work room, with a half sized cooker, a museum for displaying interesting items they collected, and a Peace Room. In the Peace Room there was a window seat curved around the bay window, a table and chair with a gavel in the centre of the room, and on the far wall, a bookshelf. Although they were for children they were big enough for adults to enter, if slightly crouched, and join in.

The idea of the Peace Room was that the children would have meetings. One child would be elected “chair person” and would preside over the meeting. The others would sit around the edge and would nominate people who they felt had “made a difference” to the world: those who had somehow made the world a better place. After discussion there would be a vote, and those people elected would be placed on the bookshelf. A devoted grand mother and grand father turned the children’s “heroes” into real little books, each of which was a biography explaining a bit about the person and what they had done which gave them a place in the Peace Room. The children could then read these at their leisure. Mrs Bidwell also wrote a Peace Song which was painted high onto the wall of the Peace Room. Sometimes Mrs Bidwell would challenge the children by nominating someone like Adolf Hitler, and defending his right to be placed in the Peace Room. The children would have to argue with reason as to why or why not he should be allowed in.

Vriede - the Peace HouseHowever, the room did not just influence Mrs Bidwell’s grand children. News of the Peace Room travelled, and famous people would visit. Marda Vanne, a South African actress visited and made a significant decision there. Paul Fischer in university in Philadelphia in America heard of it and wrote to Mrs Bidwell. Someone at the International Peace Congress in Vienna in 1952 who had heard of the Peace Room wrote and said that her dreams were beginning to take shape.

Sadly, in the 1960s, with the troubles in South Africa, the Peace Room was left in disrepair, but it is still there, a monument to an inspirational woman, and an idea that should not lie forgotten. It is now time for someone else to “build on the steps built by others” (Peace Room Minutes).

World Peace is a vision which may never be realised, but is always something worth working towards. With the development of the Internet, the floor for communication has expanded exponentially and now at last there is a medium where small visions can become world wide over night. This Virtual Peace Room allows children from all over the world to nominate those who they feel have made a difference and “contributed to the world” in some way. It could be simply by bringing hope to a neighbour in despair, or starting a community garden. It could be someone famous, or someone unknown. The idea is to get children to think about the interaction of local and global issues, and local and global answers.

So here it is. With many thanks to MirandaNet and all those who are turning this local dream into a world wide reality.

Andrée Jordan

Teachers there is a Peace Room Presentation (PowerPoint, 1.27 MB) which can be used with class groups and gives further information about this resource.

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