[Student Essay] Concert For Peace - A Student-Led Activism Project
By SieEun Rhee, Grade 9
Service as Action is a foundational principle of the Middle Years Program. In Grade 9 Individuals and Societies class here at Branksome Hall Asia, students have the opportunity to explore the concept of Service as Action during the unit ‘Injustice and Activism’. The aim of this unit is to help students connect with one of the UN Sustainable Development goals on a practical level and realize that even a small action can create a large difference in the world. Through the use of the Service as Action framework, all Grade 9 classes were able to explore modern injustices that they cared about. Possible topics for the unit project included modern world conflicts, lookism, racism, mental health, social media addiction, etc. Once a topic was chosen, students were in the driver's seat, taking the lead on the type of activism they would choose based on the UN SDG they chose to focus on.
At the same time we were beginning this project in I&S class, war had just broken out in Ukraine, dominating world headlines. This 21st century crisis started to arouse the international community. However, we realized, no one in our community was discussing the matter anywhere. We may be on a small island in a small country located far away from Ukraine, but as global citizens, we felt the need to speak out, and this project was a great opportunity to do so. Some of our classmates were originally unenthusiastic about this topic because they thought that our actions could not make an impact. Most importantly, the war felt like a distant event instead of a reality for most people. Nonetheless, we decided this topic was worthwhile due to the fact that we could educate ourselves, and the greater community while promoting peace through music. We chose to connect the vision for our project to UN SDG 16: promoting peace, justice and strong institutions.
When approaching the project, we had to consider various sensitive factors such as discussing a possibly political matter in a community with diverse backgrounds. Also, no matter how extensive our research was, it was difficult for us to connect with the issue emotionally. To face these challenges, we contacted a former staff member, Mx. La Mór, who is currently working in Pechersk School International in Kyiv, the capital city of Ukraine, for an interview. Our conversation with Mx. Mór and her colleague Nikita helped us understand the mental and emotional stress that war is putting on them, their families, friends, and community as a whole. Learning about the war from a first-hand account was an entirely different experience than reading about the war. They believe that it is important for the world to stand up for Ukraine. Mx. Mór told us that “this project might be the most important thing you do throughout your entire school life”. Their stories and opinions on the issue reawakened our original objective of taking action for those who are suffering from the war.
Since we only had about three weeks to prepare, we contacted proficient musicians within our community and the teacher band, who all gladly agreed to perform in our concert. The concert was structured in a way that the audience was constantly reminded of why they came. After a quick introduction, a video of Ukraine’s message to the world, there was a series of performances and storytelling in between the acts, where our class students told a story of a Ukrainian refugee in first person perspective to the audience. In addition, we made a historical timeline in a visible space on campus to help educate our community about the war. Overall, our community responded very well to our efforts to raise awareness and money for Ukrainian refugees. Those who came to our concert described it as “one of the most meaningful experiences” of their lives.
In the end we raised a total of KRW 868,000 to donate to UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, in order to help Ukrainian refugees who are in need. We are planning to continue raising awareness within our community and also considering opening an after school CASE activity to further spread our mission of speaking out for world peace in times of conflict. To echo the words of Mx. Mór, this was undoubtedly one of the most meaningful experiences we have had in our school life.