peace building

Peace Education: An Interview with Maya Soetoro and Scott Nishimoto of Ceeds of Peace

How might we proactively create a peaceful society? Dr. Maya Soetoro is the co-founder, and Scott Nishimoto, J.D. is the Executive Director, of Ceeds of Peace, a nonprofit dedicated to raising peacebuilding leaders. Their 3-Part Peacebuilding Workshop Series trains more than 70 adults each year in peacebuilding practices. Their most recent cohort serves 39 Department of Education teachers and counselors, representing 26 schools.

In these 3-Part Peacebuilding Workshop Series, they work with small business owners, non-profit professionals, service providers, artists, college students, and police officers. In addition to offering their flagship 3-Part Peacebuiding Workshop Series, they also run a variety of other platforms, serving thousands per year, to raise peacebuilding leaders.

Zoe: Maya, what inspired you to co-found Ceeds of Peace? 

Maya: While teaching undergraduate and graduate Peace Studies classes at the University of Hawai’i, Dr. Kerrie Urosevich and I repeatedly heard students say that they wished that they had learned the skills of conflict transformation, restorative justice, and nonviolent communication earlier in life. We started Ceeds of Peace to bring together families, community leaders, and educators to learn these skills and collaborate with one another so that together they would craft opportunities for peacebuilding for the youth in their lives, schools, and neighborhoods. We wanted everyone to feel empowered to contribute to the building of a more peaceful and just world. We wished for people to reframe peace as action-oriented and pragmatic and to think in terms of positive peace (the presence of human rights, equality, fairness, understanding, etc.) instead of simply negative peace, which offers a more passive view of peace that focuses on the absence of violent conflict. 

Zoe: What do participants experience during your 3-Part Peacebuilding Workshop? How does the training ready them to be peacebuilding leaders?

Scott: Our 3-Part Peacebuilding Workshop brings together a wide variety of community members including educators, parents, and caregivers; service providers; police officers; those in the justice system; social workers; and businesspersons. They begin our workshop by learning peacebuilding practices from our co-founders, Dr. Kerrie Urosevich and Dr. Maya Soetoro, along with a series of guest peacebuilders from our community and beyond. Participants learn about what we call our “Ceeds” – how to build courage, how to resolve conflict, how to collaborate and connect, how to act with compassion, among other skills. Inspired and equipped by these peacebuilding lessons as well as our peacebuilding toolkit, our participants then work with our team of seasoned facilitators to craft an action plan. At the conclusion of our workshop series, at a celebratory event we call our “shareout,” our participants have the opportunity to share their action plans for feedback and support so that they can best implement them. 

Maya: Our workshop series asks that participants begin with envisioning their “harvest” and then identify tools, strategies, stakeholders, and thought-partners to make that vision a reality inch by inch, step by step. By creating the action plans that Scott mentioned, our participants identify needs and resources in the community and begin to frame the work of peacebuilding action as part of everyone’s responsibility. Participants identify spaces of opportunity for the young people in their lives to contribute and develop service leadership. They also learn to identify the gifts, resources, and strengths of their community and culture. They deepen their understanding of practices, programs, and institutions that comprise peacebuilding and see that there is always something that each of us can do to care for one another and the planet. 

Zoe: Can you share some stories about the impacts of your Peacebuilding Workshop on schools and communities?

Maya: As a result of our workshop series, participants have collaborated on the creation of peace murals, peace gardens, human rights curricula, spaces for community gathering and storytelling, children’s literature and much more. History and current events are no longer taught as discrete series of facts to be remembered, regurgitated, and swiftly forgotten but rather as opportunities to become more humane and to consider our interbeing. 

Participants have told me that they now see that although it’s not easy, they can choose peace. In accepting the complexities of conflict and peace, they see solutions in ways that don’t overwhelm them. For example, they might newly understand the role that resource scarcity or inequality have in causing a particular conflict, and through their action plans they might connect peacebuilding to building a circular economy in their neighborhoods, such as a system to share tools and resources among farmers or educators, and they therefore see how they can help to get resources to more people.

Families, educators, and community leaders have told us that they now see conflicts as opportunities to make things better. Because many in the past had believed that conflict and violence were inevitable and intrinsic, they had been living with a fatalism about the impossibility of building lasting peace. After our workshops, participants are more optimistic and tend to foreground solutions rather than focusing solely on what is going wrong. They highlight commonalities and peace as natural, and they articulate a certain self-efficacy and confidence about peacebuilding possibilities. 

Scott: To add on to what Maya said, our participants have launched hundreds of action plans including social-emotional learning curricula, restorative justice campaigns, LGBTQ+ clubs, family conflict resolution plans, and peer mediation programs. I think our impact can best be told by our past participants. Here’s a video of one of our participants sharing the work that was inspired by her time with Ceeds of Peace.  

Zoe: What’s one thing that readers of this interview can do to help build peace?

Maya:  Remember that peacebuilding leadership isn’t top-down leadership; it is the work of those who lead from beside, behind, and beneath – people of every age, faith, geography, and financial background. Each of us has a way to contribute, a place to enter the stream and add our ingenuity and commitment to the ocean of solutions being implemented. Believe that you can make a real difference in the lives of those around you, and seek opportunities in your home, school, and neighborhood – every environment that is a part of your daily life – to use your hands, hearts, and minds in the service of others. If you are an artist, bring beauty and feeling to others. If you are a storyteller, help us to learn the stories of those who have not been heard and seen so that we might grow empathy. If you are a construction worker or counselor, if you are passionate about math or design, help us to consider pathways from houselessness to community wellness. If you are a child, consider how you can be a better friend or sibling, or perhaps find an elder in need of a hug or a hand to hold.

Scott: Peace is action: within ourselves and within our homes, neighborhoods, schools, communities, and beyond. Not sure where to start? Start by “envisioning the harvest.” What do you want to grow and bring to life? Brainstorm with your family and friends about what a peaceful, just, beloved community looks like, then work backwards to achieve particular elements of this community. Here are some concrete action examples: You can begin daily journaling to develop a deeper sense of peace within. You can work with your family at the dinner table to come up with a family conflict resolution plan. You can lend a hand to clean up a local stream. You can write testimony for a legislative bill you’re passionate about. You can take action wherever you think change should occur.