On June 10th, I had the privilege of going with PeaceGeneration to a children’s prison in Bandung to observe youth from the community teaching peace education to the prisoners there.
The beauty of involving youth in teaching peace is that it doubles the impact: both the teachers and the students are placed in a position of learning. The teachers not only learn how to teach peace, but they also learn about the lives of their students.
As we walk into the prison, someone points to a board listing the crimes committed by the prisoners: “More of them are here for drug offenses than anything else,” she says. When we get into the prison, all of the children are wearing matching uniforms and are standing around a central courtyard. At the center of the courtyard is a cage with a singing bird inside.
The students are divided into six groups and they follow their teachers into classrooms. It is clear that many of the teachers are a little nervous about leading a class, especially a class of prison inmates. And the students are a little intimidating. When they are asked to draw their faces and rate how they feel on a scale of 1-100, I see what two students wrote: 75 and 11. There are times when the students ignore the teachers and talk to one another, and there are times of awkward silence. But as the students and teachers begin to have fun together by playing goofy word games or running around the classroom trying to find groups of four, the barriers between them begin to come down bit by bit. As the lesson progresses, I can see both the children and the teachers beginning to understand each other. As we all laugh together, the teachers gain confidence and it becomes obvious that although the students are prisoners, they are still just kids. Their status as “criminals” is not what defines them.
I join a group of four students to discuss the lesson. I don’t speak much Bahasa, but luckily one student has exceptional English and he helps translate for me throughout the discussion. I learn that he loves listening to Taylor Swift and watching movies (though he cannot watch any recent movies because, in his words, “Well . . . I’m here”). He is writing a book about an Indonesian who goes to America, but he had to stop because he realized he did not know enough about American culture to write about living there. A stream of detailed questions about America follows.
Another student asks me if I have any dreams. I tell him I dream of becoming a pastor and college professor. I ask him if he has any dreams. He wants to be a detective. Then he asks, “How did you feel when you came here?” I am surprised by the question, and I give the surface-level response: “I was really happy that I got the opportunity to meet you all.” The three students in my group look at me impatiently. One says, “And . . .?” For some reason, all I can think about is the caged bird I saw when I first arrived. “I felt sad because you are so smart and have so much potential, but you have to be here.” The student who asked nods, satisfied with the answer. He then tells me that after three years in prison he will be released next month. I am confident that the time he spent in this class today will play a part in helping him live into that potential through a life of peace as he returns home next month.