Take around seventy
students from France, Germany, Spain and Turkey, put them in a room and tell
them to speak English, think English, read English and write English about
Peace and Tolerance. What happens?
"Everyone wrote, said and did something about peace, they were creative,
honest and nice." Gulsah, 14 years,Turkey.
"I learn sisterhood." Fatma, 16 yrs, Turkey.
"I enjoyed the teamwork." Sami, 18 yrs, Syria
In October, 2014, I was
invited for a second time to the Lycee Maurice Genevoix in Paris to lead
workshops on Peace and Tolerance. The school is part of an EU project and this
time the partner schools from Germany, Turkey and Spain were joining us.
All the students were divided into two groups and each group would have a two
hour workshop with me.
How could I make sure that this mix of students with such varied
abilities in English, whom I had never met before, had a positive and
meaningful experience and gained some insight into working for peace and
I need not have worried. The students came prepared to struggle with their
English, listen, debate, question, laugh, say things out loud which are really
quite difficult to admit to ...."I do not feel I can say that I am proud
to be Jewish in France today".... and meet the Other from another country
with an open heart and an open mind. It was a privilege to work with them.
I started with a poem by a boy who was an asylum seeker from Bosnia.
Unfortunately his name is not known.
that we are here
Verzeiht, dass wir hier sind
we take your time
prendre de vôtre temps
wir eure Zeit stehlen
that we breathe your air
de respirer vôtre air
wir eure Luft atmen,
we walk on your ground
fouler vôtre sol
wir auf eurem Boden gehen,
we stand in your view
dans vôtre champ de vision
wir in eurem Blickfeld stehen
This the opening of the poem and we had it translated into
French, German, Spanish and Turkish. Then students came forward to read the
entire poem in all five languages. It was a very moving experience.
After the reading, we discussed the poem and then I asked the students to write
a piece showing how they might respond to the boy. Here are examples of their
unhappy stories have to be listened, so raise your voice, tell it to everyone.
The only ones to blame are those who refuse to pay attention. Alex,
sorry that we look away, feel ashamed if we see you and that we hate ourselves
afterwards. For this there is no apologise, for this I can't find any
words. Ina, 15, Germany
said sorry but you're not the only one. I know you suffered and I did too. But
we're still here, in this world, maybe as strangers, but as humans. So raise
your hands above the waves of sorrow and burn the sadness away. Sami
Hazbon, 18, from Syria now living in Paris
I met Sami Hazbon for the first time earlier
this year on my first visit to the Lycee. He had only recently arrived with his
sister, escaping the war in Homs, Syria. Sami speaks excellent English.
It was lovely to see the progress he is making and how well he is settling into
his new life, even though it has been very hard for him.
Sami has read my novel HIDDEN and commented
on how he related to this story of asylum seekers.
For this visit I wrote a poem specifically
for the students, which I hoped they could access easily and use as a model for
writing their own pieces. The poem is called, 'Light a Candle' and there are
five stanzas. You can read the full poem on my website. Here
are the last two stanzas:-
seven billion candles
students then talked in groups before writing their own poems.
are some extracts from their writing :-
Light a candle for freedom/ for a free men, for prosperity/
light a candle for humanity/ light a candle for no war in the world/ light a
candle to light way of peace. Mustapha, France.
Yes, light a candle/ because bad things only happen in darkness.Pablo,
Light a candle and you have a way/ light a candle to help. Felix
and Paula, Germany.
Light a candle for respect/... light a candle for the animals.
Rima, 15, France.
Peace is a necessary and we light a candle for peace. Thank you
Miriam. It is good. Fatma, 16, Turkey.
Light a candle for all the people who come from Adam and Eve, to
understand that we are all brothers and sisters/ Why not light a candle for
brotherhood and the peace of humanity? Ahmet
Murat, Teacher, Turkish Team.
On the feedback form at the end of the session, the students
give us a sense of what they feel they gained from working together and writing
I'm going to raise my voice for peace from now on. Gulsah,
The project is really great. You must keep doing this. Rima,
I enjoyed work with a group, communicate our ideas. Mehaddi,
It is great to talk with people who lives away of France and to
listen to what they thought. Deradji, 17, France.
I learn words in English, tolerance and respect. Sedraoui,
I learn more about the issues in other countries. Pereira,
It was great to have a real author here and I thought about how
I could change something in this world. Good job! Sebastian, 16,
I learnt it is ok if you don't know what you would do in a
I like when we must speak with our team and the not easy
questions.Hannah, 15, Germany.
Be who you are, you are never alone! Sofie, 15, Germany.
I share the same way to think as the writer so I enjoy this a
lot. David, 17, Spain
The conference help us to think about people who haven't our
opportunities. Pablo, 17, Spain.
Great to have different points of view from different countries
about peace. I really enjoyed it. Pablo Costas, 17, Spain.
We are better collaborating than we think. Raquel, 17,
I'd like to thank Miriam for her amazing work and for the chance
to be in her workshop again. Sami Hazbon, 18, Syria/ France
The pleasure was all mine. I could write much more about the
sessions but I feel that the students words are more valuable.
I also had the chance to meet up with a group of older students
I had first worked with on my previous visit. They particularly liked a poem of
mine called, Corner Shop. The poem is set in my local shop just as the first
Gulf War broke out. Standing in the queue were orthodox Jews, young children,
Hindu aunties and the Japanese hairdresser from opposite. Someone said
something about the war and there was a silence. Then the Muslim shopkeeper
said,"We won't let that come between us."
"No! Quite right!" everyone agreed.
It was an amazing moment. To me it felt like peace had
just broken out. I went home and wrote the poem.The last stanza reads :-
We are the peace process
the mother, the brother.
We are the news, the ceasefire
pressed like coriander in a wrinkled palm.
We are the voice, the banner,
the handshake, brown on white on olive.
We are the ear, the eye, the promise,
prisoner released, girl unharmed, bomber stilled.
Two of the girls translated
this stanza into French and Arabic. We were filmed as we read out the stanza in
all three languages.
You are the peace
process! Hania, 16, France.
Continue to do this
workshop for peace. Lucas, 17, France.
The debate on HIDDEN was
interesting. It make us think more deeply concerning world peace. Like
it! Dora, 16, France.
The debate about Muslim
and Jewish people was interesting. Thank you to Miriam for coming, she is an
interesting woman. Dea, 17, France.
I learnt about the
organisation English PEN and to be more open-minded. Keep doing that, it's
awesome for you and the pupils. Chloe, 17, France.
I learnt about the very
interesting motto of English PEN and Miriam's actions for peace and her meaning
My poem :-
We are the peace process
The Christians, the
Muslims, the Jews,
We are the future, the
We are citizens of a
Maxime, 17, France.