In 2005, the David O. McKay Center for Intercultural Understanding was founded as a way of helping BYUH students gain the knowledge and practical tools necessary to be the influences for peace that President McKay foresaw upon the founding of the university.
In recent months, the McKay Center has seen a direct fulfillment of the prophet’s remarkable vision through the development of a new internship program in collaboration with LDS church schools throughout the Pacific.
David Whippy, a visiting faculty for the Intercultural Peacebuilding program, realized that the success the McKay Center’s peer mediation program was having in schools throughout the local community could be expanded even further. Principals and vice principals from LDS church schools visited BYUH Campus for training in early 2017, and David was able to speak and collaborate with them about implementing peer mediation in their schools through a prospective internship program.
With the eager support of the Pacific principals, David spent the next few months working with a group of passionate peacebuilding students who volunteered their time to develop a curriculum that could be used to teach peacebuilding, conflict resolution, and peer mediation skills to the students and faculties of the Pacific Church Schools.
This summer, the McKay Center sent four students to pioneer the program at schools on the islands of Fiji and Kiribati. Sophia Hutchison and Viliame Talanoa spent four weeks at Moroni Highschool on the island of Tarawa in Kiribati, while Kortney Kluza and Dixie Johnson spent their summer at the Fiji LDS Church College on the island of Viti Levu in Fiji. Each of these students, pursuing Peacebuilding as their major at BYUH, eagerly volunteered time and talent out of conviction that mediation has the power to transform conflicts and repair damaged relationships.
“I grew up in a school where conflict wasn’t something we talked about- we resorted to violence and fighting,” shared Vili, a BYUH senior from Fiji. “Peer mediation helped me realize that conflict doesn’t have to end in violence, and that changed my life. This internship was an opportunity for me to go and give back- to give people a new perspective and teach them skills that could change their lives as well.”
The concepts of peacebuilding and mediation are foreign and skeptic to a lot of people. Sophia explained the importance of conflict resolution, saying that “We all have relationships that are damaged or just aren’t going very well, and it doesn’t feel good. The minute you can change that it can change your life. This internship wasn’t about training kids to be professional mediators, but to simply give them tools that might change and improve their relationships and their lives.”
Though passionate about peacebuilding, Sophia herself was initially skeptical of the success she might see when attempting to teach such concepts and skills to the young islanders. She was amazed at their humble and eager receptiveness.
The interns worked hand in hand with the faculty and staff at the Pacific Church Schools, preparing lessons and teaching students of all ages. In addition to teaching classes, speaking at devotionals, giving trainings, and conducting mediations, the student interns were able to immerse themselves in the local cultures by talking story and getting to know the people, participating in sports and activities, tasting traditional foods, visiting cultural sites, and striving to serve the local people in any capacity.
Each of the interns agreed with Sophia, who said, “I went to Kiribati to teach, but ended up learning so much more than I taught. I learned so much from the Kirbati people and culture.”
Dixie shared how the internship “helped [her] understand culture better, and how to understand and listen to what others mean, because we all have different worldviews.” She shared an experience where she was deeply impacted by the students she spent time with in Fiji- “We played a question game with the kids, and one of the questions was “What is something you would change about your life?” The students seemed to echo the same thing- ‘I would change my attitude.’ They wanted to be more obedient, more respectful, more studious. No one wanted a bigger house, a car, a nicer phone, or new shoes. They are so humble and just want to be better than they are. That taught me so much.”
The internship was also an opportunity for the Peacebuilding students to gain practical, real world experience in preparation for life after graduation. “It really helped me learn even more about [mediation] and become an expert at what I was teaching,” said Kortney about her experience in Fiji. “I learned how much I love conflict resolution and what it can do to help others, which strengthened my reasons and desire to go into it as a career.”
Fiji LDSCC Principal, William Ratusaki, shared; “(The interns) spoke during school devotional, carried out a training with the teachers and also with the student leaders; which were really productive and enlightening at the same time. They carried out activities and lessons in classes. The interns also had the opportunity to sit down with students who received negative logs from their classrooms, basically to share their experiences and also apply their knowledge and skills of conflict resolution. I must commend their professionalism with regards to punctuality, communication and presentation, in which they did an excellent job.”
The McKay Center hopes to continue to develop this collaboration. “We are extremely grateful for this opportunity provided by Br. Michael Carthew (Director of Pacific Church Schools, Seminaries, and Institutes of Religion). He has supported the initiative from the start, and made himself available throughout the entire process. The principals that we have worked with have been amazing, going out of their way to make our students feel welcome and a part of their team. We’re grateful to have had the opportunity to go to Fiji and Kiribati this summer. We hope that our students are able to help in other Pacific schools, and other areas where church schools are located. Peer mediation is all about students teaching and learning from each other. We hope to help and intern at Church and other schools as long as the help is needed.” -David Whippy
As this program has been and continues to be developed and implemented, these young men and women are fulfilling President David O. McKay’s prophecy, by influencing others for good and working to establish peace internationally.
For more information about Peer Mediation, contact Reka Bordas at firstname.lastname@example.org
For information about internship opportunities, contact David Whippy at email@example.com