UNODA and Peace Boat launch new disarmament education guidebook

December 7th, 2020

The United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs (UNODA) joined Peace Boat on 3 November to jointly launch a new guide to the international non-governmental organization’s unique approach to disarmament education.

Called “Navigating Disarmament Education: The Peace Boat Model”, the publication was the latest addition to a special series published by UNODA as a platform for civil society to express views on disarmament and related matters. The book introduces pedagogical methods developed by Peace Boat through its 37 years of experience hosting disarmament education programmes around the world. It also discusses how such education can support the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development while effectively incorporating digital technologies.

At a virtual launch event that drew 75 people, the book’s co-authors participated in a panel discussion with two other experienced practitioners of disarmament and non-proliferation education.

The event’s panelists—Ms. Sumiko Hatakeyama and Mr. Akira Kawasaki, co-authors of “Navigating Disarmament Education: The Peace Boat Model”, Dr. Kathleen Sullivan, the Director of Hibakusha Stories, and Dr. Randy Rydell, the Executive Advisor for Mayors for Peace—are joined by the event’s moderator, Ms. Diane Barnes.

In opening remarks, the United Nations High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, Ms. Izumi Nakamitsu, noted Peace Boat’s unique approach to teaching about disarmament issues by helping individuals of all backgrounds to bridge their differences and develop common understandings. Peace Boat prepares participants in its Global Sea Voyages to be advocates for peace by challenging them to critically assess the root causes of violence, she said, adding that the organization has given people from over 60 countries the opportunity to interact directly with survivors of the atomic bombings in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

The United Nations High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, Ms. Izumi Nakamitsu, delivers opening remarks.

The co-authors of “Navigating Disarmament Education: The Peace Boat Model”, Ms. Sumiko Hatakeyama and Mr. Akira Kawasaki, reflected on Peace Boat’s foundation and its disarmament education approach, designed to help participants (a) understand the humanitarian consequences of weapons and develop a sense of empathy, (b) recognize the threats and dangers that exist in the world and (c) learn methods for taking action to facilitate disarmament. After their book explores each of these aims in dedicated chapters, it goes on to discuss the advantages of this education model as well as its various challenges, which now include repercussions of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Noting Peace Boat’s established focus on promoting advocacy through its educational programmes, Mr. Kawasaki emphasized that the organization would continue its focus on introducing students to options for developing as non-governmental campaigners.

Mr. Akira Kawasaki, a member of Peace Boat’s executive committee, reflects on his organization’s origins and introduces the three pillars of its approach to disarmament education.

Ms. Sumiko Hatakeyamathen reflected on her first experience with Peace Boat, as a language interpreter for 103 hibakusha who participated in a sea voyage to over 20 countries. The powerful and personal testimonies of the atomic bomb survivors, she said, provide a key opportunity to understand how nuclear weapons can irreversibly destroy someone’s life. “Peace Boat’s model for disarmament education starts here, to feel the humanitarian impact of weapons and nurture empathy”, she said, adding that the central teaching role of the hibakusha underscores the vital role of communication in disarmament education. In this regard, Ms. Hatakeyama emphasized the necessity of contextualizing their testimonies to account for different cultural, political, and historical backgrounds, enabling all learners to grasp the universally unacceptable nature of nuclear weapons and openly discuss ways forward.

Dr. Kathleen Sullivan, the Director of Hibakusha Stories, noted the activism, compassion, scholarship and joy that Peace Boat has inspired among the more than 80,000 people who have taken part in its educational activities and projects. Stressing the transformative nature of its hibakusha programme for many young people, Dr. Sullivan recalled numerous past participants sharing that they chose to dedicate their lives to disarmament after learning from the personal testimonies of atomic bomb survivors. She also underlined Peace Boat’s role in supporting these survivors and lifting up their stories. To conclude, Dr. Sullivan noted Peace Boat’s important presence within the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, and she described advocacy for the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) as a process of disarmament education itself.

Dr. Randy Rydell, Executive Advisor for Mayors for Peace, highlighted the publication’s key emphasis on teaching not only “about” disarmament, but also “for” disarmament. The three main elements of Peace Boat’s methodology, he said, are crucial to developing the enlightened and informed citizenry needed to tackle the most common obstacle to progress for disarmament—a lack of political will. Reflecting on his own experiences with Peace Boat, including on a 2010 voyage focused on nuclear disarmament and a prospective nuclear weapons convention, Dr. Rydell explained how the participating atomic bomb survivors helped inspire a United Nations effort to make hibakusha testimonies more accessible by translating them into multiple languages. He said this experience showed how Peace Boat’s approach to disarmament education can play out in real life, leading to practical actions in support of disarmament.

Dr. Randy Rydell, in discussing his personal experiences with Peace Boat, introduces a photo he took of the organization’s ship docked in New York harbour alongside the USS Growler, a submarine that once carried a nuclear-tipped cruise missile.

Before concluding, the authors answered questions from the audience and other panelists about their organization’s work with the hibakusha. Addressing how disarmament education on nuclear issues could remain effective without the direct testimonies of the hibakusha, Ms. Hatakeyama emphasized the value of new technologies and artifacts in amplifying the emotional resonance of their recorded messages.

To watch the event in full, click here. To read the publication in full, click here.

Text and photos by Marykate Monaghan.

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