Australians can advocate for global peace in their own country through combating “the evils of racism and discrimination”.
Matt Schultz, a Newcastle-based history teacher, said sustainable peace required “rooting out direct, structural and cultural violence, which can include racism or discrimination within a society”.
These were among the key points made at the Peace Summit of Emerging Leaders at the United Nations Conference Centre in Bangkok, which Mr Schultz attended.
Mr Schultz said the summit had given him a deeper understanding of the idea that “peace is not just the absence of direct violence”.
“Peace is a process by which the roots of conflict are addressed and non-violent means for resolving conflict are discovered,” said Mr Schultz, who spoke to the Newcastle Herald shortly after returning home.
“I am eternally optimistic and truly believe peace is possible.
“It is critically important that we instil ideas, disposition and skills in young people to help them to become peace-builders.”
Mr Schultz named Rahila Haidary as one of the summit’s speakers who particularly inspired him.
Ms Haidary was an Afghan refugee who escaped the Taliban. She’s now an Australian citizen.
“As a six-year-old, she had to dress up like a boy to attend school,” Mr Schultz said.
When the Taliban found out, they threatened to kill her. Her family fled to Pakistan.
“Her father was a boat person who was taken to Christmas Island, but then processed and invited to Australia with his family on a humanitarian visa,” he said.
“She spoke with joy and hope. Her asylum journey is a heartbreaking story.”
He said the racism and discrimination she had faced from some members of the Australian community, particularly far-right nationalist groups, was disgusting.
“This angered me and inspired me, as we really need to combat the evils of racism and discrimination within our own society,” he said.
“While we haven’t experienced much direct violence within our nation, we certainly do have some deeply embedded structural and cultural violence in existence, like racism and discrimination, that needs to be challenged and combated.”
“As Rahila says, as human beings we must respect other human beings, no matter their identity, skin colour, gender or race.”
Her advice was to be “practical and think about the small impact you can make within your community”.
Mr Schultz said this inspired him that he can make a difference as a peace advocate in his role as a high-school teacher at St Philip’s Christian College at Waratah.
As a humanities teacher, Mr Schultz aims to help the cause by “teaching my students the values of civil society, dialogue, respect and mutual understanding”.
He believes the key to peace-building is education through schools, universities, community groups, journalism and family values.
“So much of what I teach is focused on the causes and impacts of conflict and violence,” he said.
When students leave his classroom, he wants them to feel inspired to believe that “peace is a real possibility and that they can play a part in it”.