peace ambassador program kicks off with retreat

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By Krystal Pherai and Linnette Bonilla

It was Margaret Mead who asserted, “Never doubt that a small group of dedicated people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has,” and the Peace and Justice Initiative’s (PJI) new core group of student volunteers, known as the Peace and Justice Ambassadors, is doing just that.

On Saturday, February 9, 2013, thirteen students and four faculty/staff members gathered at Valencia’s Criminal Justice Institute (CJI) for the Peace and Justice Ambassadors’ first retreat. The day was centered on three major themes: bonding, exploration, and formation.

Activities began with each participant choosing a partner. The pair would then ask questions about one another that would later be shared with the whole group. During this time, the room was filled with laughter and smiles. After introductions, groups of three were formed to create posters that represented each of the PJI Principles for How We Treat Each Other, a practice of respect and nonviolence. A shared perspective of what the principles meant was drawn, shared, and then displayed on the walls.

Following the principles project was the “Me Bag” activity. Attendees were asked to bring three items from home: one symbolizing their culture, one revealing their connection to Valencia, and one representing what peace and justice means to them.

After lunch, the ambassadors read a Hopi Indian story on teamwork before gathering outside for a team building activity, with the goal of working together to bring a metal pole to the ground using only their fingertips (see photo above). Although this activity may seem simple, each individual was required to work cohesively to reach the goal.

The group then met back inside to create visual depictions of peace and justice. While several different perspectives were shared during this activity, each piece of art carried common themes: unity, community, respect, and equality.

At the end of the day, participants were asked to individually reflect upon the day and write a letter to themselves, which will be mailed back to them at the end of the year as a reminder of the effect the retreat had on their life. For the finale, the participants had dinner at Olympia, a Greek restaurant, where they relaxed, enjoyed each other’s company, and discussed ideas for the future of the Peace and Justice Ambassadors.

Since its formation in 2007, the Peace and Justice Initiative has been heavily supported by faculty and staff at Valencia. The PJI is now happy to say that it is also supported by determined, dedicated, peaceful students.

Check out the Peace and Justice Initiative on Facebook to view more images from the Peace and Justice Ambassador retreat.

This article was contributed by two of the founders of the Peace Ambassadors, Krystal Pherai, staff assistant to the Peace and Justice Initiative, and Linnette Bonilla, Peace and Justice intern and Valencia graduate.

The Peace Ambassadors is a partnership between the Peace and Justice Initiative and the office of diversity and inclusion. A special thanks to Linda Freeman, professor of psychology, Eli Solis, professor of foreign language and peace studies, and Rachel Luce-Hitt, coordinator for the office of diversity and inclusion, for offering their support and guidance in the development of the Peace Ambassadors program. For more information, contact peaceandjustice@valenciacollege.edu.

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