Oppose War and Work for Peace

 

White poppies for peace header with words

Saturday  Sunday 1133  11th November 2018

If you are new to my blog take a look at my About page here

This Saturday was actually a Sunday but I’m sure you won’t mind.

Whilst all around us there has been a sea of red poppies I wanted to present a different side of the Centenary of the Armistice and talk about the White Poppy and Peace. To that end I attended a Remembrance Sunday Ceremony in Tavistock Square, London organised by the First World War Peace Forum. I will list the organisations who took part along with links to their website at the bottom of this piece, so that you might read more about each of them, or maybe just pick one?

Before you read on, may I ask that you go over to my other blog Helen’s Photomania to read a deeply moving and highly relevant poem called “Lest We Forget” written by Sue Gilmurray, a poet and songwriter from the Anglican Pacifist Fellowship, which was read by her at the ceremony.

If you click HERE it will open a new tab.  I commend it to you as a piece of essential reading.

Now I hope you have come back.

Tavistock square is thought of as an unofficial peace park. Not least because it contains, amongst other memorial trees and statues, a statue of Ghandi , a flowering cherry planted in memory of the victims of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the Conscientious Objectors Commemorative Stone commemorating “men and women conscientious objectors all over the world and in every age” beside which the ceremony was held ( photos of this later) Sadly it was also the scene of one of the four suicide bombings in London on 7 July 2005 when a double-decker bus was blown up in the street beside the square.

Click on any photo to enlarge it. 

You can read more about the history of Tavistock Square by clicking HERE

So what does the White Poppy represent – “White poppies recall all victims of all wars, including victims of wars that are still being fought. This includes people of all nationalities. It includes both civilians and members of armed forces. Today, over 90% of people killed in warfare are civilians. “ ( Peace Pledge Union website)

This differs from the Royal British Legion and the Red Poppy – “The Legion advocates a specific type of Remembrance connected to the British Armed Forces, those who were killed, those who fought with them and alongside them. “ ( British Legion website )

I wear both a white, my own has the CND symbol too, and a red poppy. Like so many families, members of my own family served during WW1 and like so many others some of them died. They were my great uncles on my father’s side, all from the same family.

From left to right – William John Merchant – survived, Frederick James Merchant died in Flanders  24th March 1918 aged 26 and finally Henry John Merchant who also died in Flanders on the 8th August 1918 when he was barely 20. What a terrible waste.  Addendum – whilst the people, dates and 1st photo are correct, I cannot be sure the 2nd and 3rd photos are.

Apart from the aforementioned Sue Gilmurray there were some other very moving speakers including Marigold Bentley of Quaker Peace & Social Witness, who has worked on peace building  in Northern Ireland, the Middle East and elsewhere. She once said ” “if war is the answer, we’re clearly asking the wrong questions”.  I couldn’t agree more with this sentiment.

Marigold spoke about war being failure – the failure of politicians, governments and of diplomacy. She went on to say “Humanity may be capable of terrible things but there are always people protesting, challenging, making policy to make the world a better place” and “The possibility of peace is constantly with us. The activities of peace demonstrated here today by many participants and organisations, who have been part of the World War One Peace forum, are a living testimony to the alternative stories.”

The actor Michael Mears read emotional words from the peace campaigner Clifford Allen which were spoken at the end of the First World War. Clifford Allen was chairman of the No-Conscription Fellowship – before his imprisonment for refusing military service. He served three prison sentences including many weeks of solitary confinement on bread and water diets, at the end of which he was a frail and emaciated thirty year old, who looked twice his age, weighed less than eight stone and was suffering from the onset of tuberculosis.

Michael also read the following Haiku written by the poet Adrian Mitchell

Peacetime Haiku

Try one hundred years

Without any wars at all –

Let’s see if it works!

2 minutes silence was held followed by the laying of white poppy wreaths ,and other flowers, at the Conscientious Objectors Commemorative Stone.

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The Ceremony ended when we were invited to share words of commitment, “We commit ourselves to peace and justice…to use our power to work for a different kind of world starting with ourselves…our families, our neighbourhoods, communities, country. We invite everyone to join us in this urgent task.

For humanity’s sake our message is: –  “No More War, Let’s make Peace Happen”each of us being asked to make an individual commitment to peace in repeating those words

The ceremony was followed by a a peace festival held nearby in the Quakers Friends House; bringing together 23 peace organisations, some of which are listed at the bottom of the page.

Similar ceremonies took place in many other towns across the country including Leeds, Bradford, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Aberystwyth, Pembroke, Exeter, Bath, Stowmarket, Saddleworth, Leamington Spa, Peterborough, Bridgwater and Bury St Edmunds.

I was moved to tears on several occasions during the ceremony but I left feeling thankful and hopeful that there are so many groups and individuals who are so committed to working for peace for all of us.

I’d like to end by saying if anyone is offended by the white poppy, and I know that some people are,  please ask yourself these 2 questions.

1 – Are you more offended by the white poppy than the killing, maiming, widows and orphans that result from war?

2- What are you personally doing to prevent more war and promote peace?

Thank you for reading this far.

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An alphabetical list of the organisations who took part in the alternative Remembrance Sunday Ceremony is below, followed by a list of the organisations who took part in a drop-in event, Peaceful Futures, afterwards.  Click on the name and it will bring you through to the website:-

Anglican Pacifist Fellowship

  Conscience – Taxes for Peace not War

Fellowship of Reconciliation

The Movement for the Abolition of War

Network for Peace

Pax Christi

The Peace Pledge Union

Peace News 

Quaker Peace and Social Witness 

The Right to Refuse to Kill ( War Resisters International)

The Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF)

Also :- CND , Campaign Against Arms Trade ,   Servas  , Scientists for Global Responsibility  , ForcesWatch , Housmans , Drone Wars UK , Woodcraft Folk , 80,000 Voices.

Apologies to the organisers if I have missed any.

Your comments are welcome as ever.

Saturday Girl signing off.

You can find my photography blog Photomania here 

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Humanism and Humanist Schools

Saturday 1134 – 4th November 2018

If you are new to my blog take a look at my About page here

For years I considered myself to be an Atheist and knew very little about Humanism but a couple of years ago I did some research around the subject and discovered that I had really been a Humanist all along but just didn’t realise it.  I didn’t like calling myself an Atheist because I think that is quite a negative term. Atheism is a lack of belief or a disbelief in Gods or supernatural beings whereas Humanism is a more positive choice;  a philosophical stance that focuses on the value and agency of human beings.

Here’s a definition of what a Humanist is, from the Humanist Uk website:-

Roughly speaking, the word humanist has come to mean someone who:

  • trusts to the scientific method when it comes to understanding how the universe works and rejects the idea of the supernatural (and is therefore an atheist or agnostic)
  • makes their ethical decisions based on reason, empathy, and a concern for human beings and other sentient animals
  • believes that, in the absence of an afterlife and any discernible purpose to the universe, human beings can act to give their own lives meaning by seeking happiness in this life and helping others to do the same.

Any of you that have followed this blog for some time, (when I was posting a lot !!)  will understand how I think that fits my philosophy on life.  I still have much to learn about Humanism and I’m currently doing an online course which is organised by Humanists UK.  It’s a 6 week course which is run at regular intervals and open to anyone around the world, it’s also free.  You can find out more about the course by clicking HERE

So about 2 years ago I joined Humanist Uk and have attended 2 of their yearly conventions which have both been brilliant.  More recently I joined a local Humanist group that has monthly meetings and the speaker on this Saturday was Paul Ewans who came to speak to us about the Uganda Humanist Schools Trust, of which he is a Trustee. It was something I had never heard of before and it was a really interesting presentation.  

Uganda

From the website :- 

The Uganda Humanist Schools Trust was established in November 2008 as a charity to raise funds to support the efforts of Ugandan Humanists, who have founded schools which offer students the alternative of liberal secular-humanist education: 

  • Isaac Newton High School, Katera, Masaka – founded by Peter Kisirinya in 2004
  • Mustard Seed School, Busota, Kamule – founded by Moses Kamya in 2005
  • Kasese Humanist Primary School, Kasese – founded by Robert Bwambale in 2011

Humanist Schools’ Mission

UHST works with the Uganda Humanist Schools Association (UHSA) to help member schools become high achieving by embracing humanist values.

Working together we design materials that schools can use to promote a Positive Humanist Ethos. The following PowerPoint presentations are examples of the materials which have been used to induct staff in the schools:

Some of the key principles are set out below.

The Humanist Schools believe they have a duty of care to every student, who has the right to expect:

  1. The highest standard of education providing knowledge, skills and attitudes needed for success in the modern world.
  2. A happy and purposeful schooling with abundant opportunities for personal development.
  3. Teachers who strive hard to develop the capabilities of every student.
  4. A safe, disciplined and caring environment, which is free from physical and verbal abuse.
  5. Teachers and students who work together in mutual respect.

SCHOOL VALUES

Every Humanist school aims to promote the following values: 

  1. DIGNITY: Proclaim the natural dignity and worth of all human beings
  2. RESPECT: Respect the life and property of others
  3. TOLERANCE: Be tolerant of others beliefs and life styles
  4. SHARING: Share with those less fortunate and assist those in need
  5. COLLABORATION: Work cooperatively with others to achieve shared goals
  6. RATIONALITY: Use Reason, Logic and Science to solve life’s problems.
  7. CONSERVATION: Conserve and improve the Earth’s natural environment.
  8. NON-VIOLENCE: Resolve differences and conflicts peacefully
  9. DEMOCRACY: Respect democracy and human rights
  10. EDUCATION: Use every opportunity to develop ones knowledge and talents

Each school has appointed a Humanist counsellor whose task is to encourage students to become active citizens by:

  • Organising weekly debates on issues of human interest.
  • Running a club for children to promote humanist activities.
  • Promoting the celebration of important days in human achievement.
  • Arranging charitable activities in the local community.
  • Mobilising students and staff to protect the local environment.

The Humanist Counsellor is a member of the school’s disciplinary committee.

I just love this teachers pledge don’t you?

All schools require their teaching staff to sign the following:

TEACHERS’ PLEDGE

In accepting a teaching position at this Humanist school I agree to uphold the school’s aims and agree that, at all times, I will:

  • Work to create a tolerant, caring community based on mutual respect.
  • Refrain from all forms of physical and verbal violence towards students.

I will strive to:

  • Teach with creativity and variety
  • Understand that students learn through enquiry and action
  • Use only positive discipline
  • Promote student self-esteem and pride in their school and community
  • Recognise that every child matters

Signed by Teacher:

Date:

You can read lots about the Uganda Humanist Schools Trust by clicking HERE  and I hope you will take some time to look over it because there is so much more I could say about the good that the schools are doing, without god. 

What to us would be a few pounds goes a very long way in Uganda and if you would like to make a donation to the trust you can do so by clicking HERE  UHST trustees cover all costs, including visits to Uganda, so every £1 donated goes to supporting the Humanist schools.

These schools are notable and important because Uganda is predominately Christian, approx 84% according to the 2014 census, with about 14% adhering to Islam.  This is not Sunday faith but lived experience for most Ugandans.  Witchcraft though publicly frowned upon, is still rife in the country.   Uganda is theoretically a secular state but the sheer number of believers means that religiously motivated legislation is the norm. For example. as in most African states same sex relationships are criminalised. The Ugandan Anti-Homosexuality Act was passed in 2014 with a penalty of life imprisonment ; an amendment from the originally proposed death penalty !  The schools values are very much needed in Uganda it seems and more than worthy of being supported.

In fact you may not be aware,  I certainly wasn’t, that a 2017 Freedom of Thought Report published  by the International Humanist and Ethical Union, of which Humanist UK is a member, reported that :

“85 countries around the globe ‘exhibit severe discrimination against non-religious individuals’, with several having seen humanists and atheists murdered for their beliefs over the past year” (…) “This past year has seen humanists murdered by mobs in Pakistan, the Maldives, and India. In Pakistan, multiple humanists have been sentenced to death for blasphemy, and a number of bloggers were ‘forcibly disappeared’ by the state. In Saudi Arabia, a man was sentenced to death ‘for atheism’ over a Facebook post, while others remain on death row. In Malaysia, the Government has been ‘hunting down’ atheists, after a photo of a gathering gained publicity. More generally, thirteen countries have laws on the statute books punishing apostasy or blasphemy with death.”

You can read more about this by clicking HERE

You can read more about Kasese school by clicking HERE

To end on a lighter note you may remember that back in March 2015 I gatecrashed, only photographically you understand, a Humanist wedding in a supermarket.  No really I did ! you can read about it by clicking HERE 

Your thoughts are very welcome as ever.

Saturday Girl signing off. 

You can find my photography blog Photomania here 

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