“The young do not know enough to be prudent and therefore they attempt the impossible — and achieve it, generation after generation.”
— Pearl S Buck
Dr. Barbara Reynolds, Senior Advisor for Special Projects at UNICEF, is a world traveler by nature. Her job takes her to all corners of the globe where she gets to meet all kinds of people, share in many diverse cultures, foods, music, and traditions, and where she gets to see amazing things. Yet on Sept. 21, she was inspired and extremely happy to witness the future of the world that were the 800 youngsters who converged at the 10th annual International Day of Peace Celebration at the Keeling-Puri Peace Plaza in Rockford, Ill.
“I think what is happening here today is phenomenal,” Reynolds tells The Madison Times. “It’s such a positive lesson for the rest of the world. It doesn’t have to be exactly like this, but just the fact that we’re focusing on the need for peace and how we can achieve it among ourselves is great. We can’t solve peace 6,000 miles away if we can’t solve it at home. So, let’s fix it at home first. If everybody did that, the world would be an amazing place.”
The International Day of Peace is a beautiful day shared by 800-1,000 Rockford-area 3rd-5th grade students who celebrate the cultural heritage of their community, learn to appreciate individual differences and similarities, and become aware of their responsibilities as global citizens as they strive for peace in our world. Most importantly, the International Day of Peace was a day for kids and adults alike to break down the many barriers to achieving peace.
“We are all so similar. Yet, if I don’t know you; I won’t speak to you,” Reynolds says. “Me and you were standing not more than two yards away from one another for awhile. But if you hadn’t come up to say, ‘hello’ to me, I would have never said, ‘hello’ to you. Because I don’t know you… I’m scared. Who is this guy? But now we’re having this wonderful conversation.
“It’s so fundamentally important and transforming to understand that human beings are the same,” she continues. “We want to grow up, we want to go to school, we want to marry and have babies. We want to take care of our babies and have a nice home — and a nice home means different things to different people. We want to have something to eat that’s clean and delicious. We want to try and prevent illness. I’ve been all over the world. We are all the same. We need to recognize our similarities and differences and accept them and share them. We need to find beauty in our diversity.”
Prior to coming to the event, the schoolchildren read up on the many different cultures of the world. At the event, Dr. Reynolds showed videos and led an interactive discussion on what daily life was like for many children in other countries.
“For the kids, I chose [to focus on] water …. particularly because even if you are well or ill, rich or poor, old or young…. we all use water,” Reynolds says. “We all brushed our teeth this morning. It brings us together because it touches all aspects of our life. We’re very fortunate here in the United States because we didn’t have to fetch water like the kids in the video who fetched water for three hours. But in the end, they can be just as happy as we are happy. Happiness is not based upon what we have; it’s based upon how we live our lives.
“The other thing that we can do when we have so much is to make an effort to give back to our communities,” she adds. “And I talked to the kids about some of the things they can do to give back to their community.”
Dr. Reynolds has worked for UNICEF for the past 20-plus years and has had a variety of experiences with her time as a UNICEF representative in Botswana, Nigeria, China, Angola, and more.
“I haven’t been to the Middle East, but I’ve been to East Asia and South Asia and my own region which is the Americas and the Caribbean. [I’ve been] all over Africa and some parts of Europe,” Reynolds says. “It’s been a privilege to be able to serve other people… And serving is what we do. You serve people because at a particular point in time and at a particular place, you have something you can share with people — sometimes it’s knowledge and information, at other times it’s a technology, and at other times it is a good or a commodity. Still, other times it’s your experience and expertise. I think as humans — any time you are in a position where you are a little better off than others, you serve. ‘Better off’ is temporary. No one is permanently better off than anybody else in every way.”
Part of Reynold’s job with UNICEF is developing new ideas that don’t quite have a home and need to be nurtured.
“One of the things that we’re very interested in is technological innovation and how that can enhance development as well as humanitarian assistance,” says Reynolds, who has earned a master’s degree in curriculum and instruction and a doctor of education degree in international educational development at Columbia University in New York City. “So, we’re looking at a range of innovation — how we use mobiles, how we use social networks like Facebook and LinkedIn, and what kind of information they will provide that will help enhance development.”
Another thing that UNICEF has been looking at that hasn’t been a priority in the past is non-communicable diseases. “The big ones like respiratory diseases, cancers, diabetes, and cardiovascular diseases are on the increase,” Reynolds says. “We need to figure out what are causing these things and how we can prevent it. Traditionally, UNICEF has looked at other areas like preventable diseases that you can immunize children against like malaria. We’ve done a lot of work in that area, but as the instances of non-communicable diseases increases, that’s something that we have to address and that’s where a lot of my time is spent.”
Dr. Reynolds is originally from Guyana, a small country in South America, with less than a million people. Both her parents were teachers, but her father died when I was 6, and his death changed her life. Still, she says she had a happy childhood.
“I didn’t know there were so many bad things in the world growing up,” Reynolds remembers. “All of those bad things I learned about as an adult. We didn’t have war. We didn’t have famine. I never went to the doctor as a child. It wasn’t until I was much older that I would learn so many things about the world.”
That is a contrast to many of today’s young people.
“Young people are eating food that comes from everywhere and they eat something different every day,” Reynolds says. “When I was young, I never ate sushi. When you look at younger people today, one day they’ll eat Japanese food, one day they’ll eat Indian food, the next day they’ll eat Thai food, and the next day they’ll eat American food and then Italian food. For them, it’s not a big thing. It’s just variety…. Diversity.
“And through the IPod/IPad age, they are listening to a ton of diverse music, too,” she adds. “They are listening to music in a language they don’t know. On top of these things, the younger people are starting to date outside of their race much more than we were when we kids. They are much more multicultural now.”
The sharing of music, food, information, culture, and traditions is ultimately what break down the barriers to peace.
“If I learn about you, I won’t feel uncomfortable about speaking to you,” Reynolds says. “And when we have an opportunity to help; it’s important that we do so. People from different places look at things differently than us. There are other things in life that are beautiful [which is] an important lesson for the children. When we learn more about each other, we begin to respect each other more. We don’t have pity for other people. We empathize. They’re different, but we’re all the same.
“For me, International Peace Day is about global citizenship. It’s about understanding how much we are all alike,” she adds. “One of the things I tried to show the kids here at International Peace Day is that they and the children that they see on the videos are all the same. Being with these kids today at International Peace Day makes me feel optimistic about our future.”
For more information on the International Peace Day event, see this week’s centerspread.