One of my favorite early grade school memories was having a pen pal. Every year, my teacher would present each student with a profile of another student who lived in another town across the nation. I would immediately begin writing to my pen pal, asking them questions like: “What is the weather like where you live?” and, “Do they have a McDonalds there?” I would, then, mail my letter off and anxiously await a response. Never in my wildest dreams would I have imagined that years later, the internet would bring people together instantly through email and IM…or that I would grow up to work for a company that facilitates face-to-face, real time video messaging between people all across the globe.
Our partnership with Peace One Day has extended beyond three years and we have had the opportunity to team up on many cool projects. The most recent initiative, PeaceTalks is particularly special to us. The talks allow students who are actively involved in Peace Day to connect with other students across the globe so that young people of different cultural backgrounds can come together. The talks help show them that the world is bigger and more unique – but at the same time more similar – to them than they likely expect.
A few weeks ago, two groups of students at Instituto Educativo Olinca in Mexico City and Stretford High School in Greater Manchester, UK had a digitally upgraded pen pal experience hosted by Jeremy Gilley, founder of Peace One Day. Jeremy traveled to Mexico City to host the first ever PeaceTalk between the two classrooms, using Skype to facilitate a dialogue about differing cultures, traditions and peace efforts.
As the Skype video chat began, students in both countries marveled at each other’s uniforms. The Olinca students were dressed in polo shirts and bright blue slacks, and Stretford students wore blazers and ties. Olinca students, who speak English and Spanish, were very excited to learn that 50 different languages were spoken at Stretford High and were also surprised to see how ethnically diverse the school was. Since the aim of PeaceTalks is to create more cultural awareness and dispel existing stereotypes, it was pivotal that students were able to see what they had in common with one another.
As the talk continued, very quickly the subject moved onto school work and projects each classroom had been working on. Students at both schools had recently created artwork to support Peace Day and they showed it to one another on the video screen and offered to mail the artwork to each other to keep in their respective classrooms. From the art exchange, came the idea for a student exchange and teachers in both classrooms enthusiastically said they would work towards making it happen. As Jeremy concluded the PeaceTalk, he remarked at feeling a sense that the connection between Stretford High School and Instituto Educativo Olinca would continue beyond his visit. Jeremy said, “I am touched that Peace One Day’s PeaceTalk could be the project that brought these young people together.”