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painting peace - the peace maachine




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- celebrating war
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We plan to produce a handbook about the painting peace project together with practical suggestion for schools that may want to do something similar. We will also produce a promotional postcard of the mural. This together with setting up the project will cost around £1500.

If you would like to make a contribution to this exciting project your support will be welcome. Cheques to PPU or if you are a UK taxpayer to our associate charity PRET or online at


Help with earthquakes and floods, fire fighting and rebuilding old or damaged houses were amongst the very sensible suggestions the sixteen primary school children came up with for a better use of the armed forces. Others included fixing toilets and pipes, taking people on holiday and babysitting services.

The project to produce a peace mural on the side of the PPU’s office began as an idea to encourage local children to think about the possibility of a world without wars or weapons - and to brighten up a rather dull wall. Visions of a better world; making friends with new people; doing something positive with military people and machines and transforming the present world into a peaceful place without weapons or war were the key themes.

After gaining the initial interest of two local primary schools in Camden and finding a good mural artist we headed down to the first of two sessions in Kentish Town Primary School. Once the group from Brecknock Primary arrived ice-breaking games helped to relax both children and adults and encouraged sharing and working together. Exploring some of the assumptions the children had of the other school and providing little known facts about their own school also helped unite the group.

A story about an alien visitor who comes down from space provided inspiration for one of the major themes of the project: what could the military usefully do if they were not busy fighting wars or preparing for wars? The alien is taken aside by the top brass at the Ministry of Defence and questioned about his/her/its planet’s military forces and guns. ‘Guns? Why should we need guns?’ says the visitor. The only enemies on the alien planet turn out to be earthquakes, floods, hurricanes and so on. In addition to disaster-relief work the military forces are occupied helping farmers with their ploughing and fixing radios and televisions for old people.

The children came up with a long list of things the armed forces could do on Earth if they were not engaged in their usual violent activities – work in hospitals, build a school gym and playground, fix the Tube, provide better public transport, and invent new machines like non-polluting cars and aeroplanes. They drew pictures of their ideas and explained them to the rest of the group.

The session the following week focused on what could be done with all of the weapons the military have. We looked at photographs of child soldiers from thirty different countries around the world – some with guns bigger than themselves. Then we looked at pictures of decommissioned guns turned into sculptures in Mozambique and suggested other uses for guns and military hardware. With a long list of possible uses – including transforming guns into musical instruments and bicycles or using them to fill holes in the roads – the children drew some more pictures of their ideas.

Some of the images were wonderfully naïve whilst others were very powerful. A few of the children had been chosen by their teachers to take part in the project because they came from a refugee background and their pictures provided a very different perspective. Others were keen artists and together their pictures were ideal as the building blocks for the mural.

During the half-term break the mural artist, Lucy, pulled the children’s ideas together to produce an overall design for the mural. Distilling these into a huge ‘peace machine’ which transforms anything which enters it was a great idea and we are indebted to Lucy for such a fabulous design.

Military personnel and hardware enter one side of the peace machine and come out the other side transformed into people and tools for peace. Guns are made into toys, tools and pieces of art. Battle tanks turn into fire engines and dull camouflage uniforms are transformed into bright civilian clothing. Former soldiers come out ready to help people in need – they can build sports equipment, take people from disaster areas on holidays on their cruise ships (formerly aircraft carriers) and use their catering expertise to provide meals for schools and the elderly. Two vital pieces of equipment on the peace machine – a bomb-catcher and a tsunami-stopper – protect both people and the peace machine itself from harm.

With a design in hand the next task was to actually paint the mural on the wall. We wanted the children to be involved with as much of the painting as possible so they would feel greater ownership of the mural and have the satisfaction of painting their own ideas in the final piece.

To reach all parts of the mural a scaffolding tower was required - which meant health and safety concerns. We made sure that Camden’s health and safety officers were satisfied with our risk assessment and that all the children had parental consent to take part. On the first day of painting the children practised carefully going up and down the scaffolding. Some were nervous but even at this point it was easy to see the sense of achievement on the children’s faces. By the time they were actually applying paint to their own mural, while two metres up in the air on a platform, they were thoroughly engaged, concentrating hard and brimming with confidence.

While one group was painting the mural a second was working on developing small parts of the design and a third was watching a video. The groups rotated every forty minutes so the children had a regular change of focus. In the first week the video was an animation about the development of weapons – from flint spears to nuclear bombs. A film about the difficulties young refugees face was shown for the second session while an animation about how the world could be different if military budgets were ploughed into education, housing, health and development was played in the final week. The videos provided an opportunity for the children to think and talk about the serious issues related to the mural and to explore their own understanding of peace.

So has the project just been a nice way to spend a few afternoons or is there a more serious educational purpose? The children have worked together and developed trust, sharing and cooperation. They have also developed the ability to imagine life beyond the present and to work towards a shared vision. We certainly believe the children have learned from this experience and hope that many others will be able to do so in the future either by exploring this mural or by producing their own.

When one thinks of a peace mural one might imagine a scene which looks and feels peaceful – probably scattered with doves, flowers and rainbows. What we actually have is a mural busy with action and with concrete ideas and lessons to be learned from. It hints that a different world is possible if we disarm and devote resources to living rather than preparations for killing.

Earlier I wrote that some of the children’s drawings were wonderfully naïve. In fact, research has shown that people across the world – adults and children alike - have very similar visions of a preferred future (as opposed to a predicted future). Rather than naïve or utopian these shared visions of a preferred future are essential as guides to future action.

‘A sustainable [and peaceful] world, for example, cannot come into being unless we can envision it in some detail. However, vision without action will not bring about change and similarly action without vision has no clear goal to aim for … When people are given the opportunity to reflect on their ideal community, and they use their creative imagination to do this, it taps into deeply felt human needs for security, community and social harmony’. (David Hicks. Envisioning a better world)

We hope that the children involved in the mural will retain the vision of a better world expressed in the mural while they are growing up. We also hope that when they are older they will take action to bring that preferred future closer for their own benefit and for the benefit of future generations.

If you are interested in developing your own peace mural get in touch for ideas, suggestions and contacts. Alternatively, if you already have your own peace mural, let us know what it means to you.

Oliver Haslam




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