Lately, news reports involving Ely refer to a city divided over copper-nickel mining, to long-simmering tensions over the Boundary Waters and, in general, to a northern Minnesota “environmental battlefield.” So—what a good time to think about peace and recognize the local groups that nurture it here and around the world.
Kudos to the Ely Rotary Club and 18 other organizations that are dedicating a Peace Pole in Whiteside Park this month. They got me thinking about the kinds of peace efforts local groups make day-to-day. As I began talking with people around town, I saw a number of projects and would like to share three that reach playgrounds in Ely or schools in Vietnam or exude that elusive and spiritual feeling that we are all one people.
In schools around the world, we may first learn about conflict and peace on the playground. While it’s a place for fun, it can also be a site for teasing, bullying or excluding a child. “Inclusiveness” is a byword for peace at Ely Community Resource and in the Ely grade school’s Peaceful Playground Curriculum.
“You can’t say you can’t play,” is one of the Peaceful Playground program sayings that ECR staff and teachers use to guide kids’ behavior. Several ECR employees join playground staff at Washington Elementary Monday through Friday at all recesses for grades kindergarten through four and for lunch with kids in kindergarten through second grade. Respectful communication, sportsmanship, fair play, friendship skills and practice in being a good citizen are all part of the curriculum that’s used here and in many schools across the country.
The ECR and Parent Teacher Organization members painted the school playground, including a map of the United States, to mark areas for games. It makes the paved area inviting and encourages a variety of physical activities. Kids join in an art contest in the fall to design bookmarks with the theme, “Peace in our Schools, “ and several winning designs are published for the kids.
“Teachers have commented that afternoons, in particular, seem to be going more smoothly in school, ”said Julie Hignell, ECR executive director. “Children are expected to work out any difficulties with one another and to apologize for their parts in confrontations on the playground. Grudges don’t come back into the classroom as often as they once did.” The program will include fifth graders starting next year.
Just as Ely schoolchildren know about the Peaceful Playground, lots of traveling adults know about Kim McCluskey’s small charity called Sun in My Heart. McCluskey guides kayak trips around the world, and his Ely-based business, Adventure Sherpas, has taken him back to Vietnam where he served in war as a young Marine, and to the inspiration for his non-profit. On a trip there in 2003 he met three girls, ages 9 to 13, living alone, floating on a raft made of plastic foam, wood planks and a makeshift roof.
“I’ve always liked kids,” McCluskey said. “I hate to go places and see little kids suffering. They touch my heart. That’s why I called this ‘Sun in my Heart,’ because that’s the feeling I get when I help a little kid.
McCluskey, a Vietnamese friend and others in Ely contributed labor and $3,000 to build a houseboat home for the children. Since then the charity has constructed five mountain village schools in Vietnam and is working on getting permission to build and staff a medical clinic for those in the remote northern region.
Sun in My Heart’s latest venture started when McCluskey received an email from a woman in Rwanda, Africa, who was running an orphanage for 70 children left homeless by the genocide there. They needed mattresses, medical kits, mosquito nets and school supplies.
“They have a little board of directors that accounts for every penny we donate,” McCluskey said. “They send us pictures of all of the kids.” Most recently the project delivered a cow and a calf to the orphanage.
How does Sun in My Heart contribute to peace in the world? “America doesn’t have the best reputation. People don’t always think a lot of us in other countries,” McCluskey said. “To have an American non-profit there for no other reason than to help, makes a difference.”
Coming from an entirely different perspective, and with another international bent is Universal Dances for Peace. Participants around the world, including about a dozen in Ely, meet in groups large and small for circle dances that combine music, sacred phrases, chants and movement from many religions. More than 200 circles meet monthly or weekly in North America alone, says one Ely participant, Carol Orban. In the last year, Orban has helped organize two dances in Ely with dance leader Carl Karasti.
“I think that if, even for a short time, people experience an attunement to other religions that they didn’t know anything about, that works toward peace,” Orban said. “You can arrive belonging to any religion or no religion. The dances have been gathered from spiritual traditions including Native American, Buddhist, Christian, Aboriginal, Hawaiian, South American Catholic and Islamic groups. The languages of the songs may be Greek or Latin, English or Arabic, accompanied by musicians playing flutes and drums, violins and guitars.”
“The dances can be fun, slow, meditative and mantra-like or joyous and energetic,” Orban said. “One comes away with the sense of the oneness of all people, and that all people are striving for love, understanding and acceptance.”
While Ely may be in for a season, or more, of political discontent, we have plenty of opportunities to participate in peaceful activity. Send me your news of groups working for peace, and we’ll share some of their good news here over time. These days, it’s news we can use.