Most kids grudgingly plough through school projects, hoping to do the bare minimum to scrape a pass and get through to the next level. But Tom Littmoden, a pupil at Greenfield Community School, is not ‘most kids’. Shy and unassuming, this 11-year-old is, by his own (and his teacher’s) admission, ‘no academic’, yet an assignment on peace and conflict has certainly captured his – and our – imagination.
Tom’s Year 5 class was set the rather complicated topic of ‘Peace and Conflict’ for their final unit of inquiry. The class of 10-year-olds were asked to discuss global conflicts, learn all about peacemakers and contemplate ways of bringing peace to the world which, let’s face it, has many a global leader baffled. It’s a deep and difficult issue, but, under the International Baccalaureate Primary Years’ Programme (PYP), one that students not only have to get to grips with and write about, but one that they have to broaden and develop into a plan of action.
Teacher, Lubna Khawaja explains, ‘We had the lessons and the discussions, but then we left it up to the students. It was a chance for them to think about ways that they can promote peace and come up with a plan of action – all by themselves.’ Sounds pretty tough to us, but Tom took it all in his stride, and what started as ‘just another piece of schoolwork’ has morphed into part of the global peace phenomenon One Day One Goal – where football are matches played across the world on International Peace Day (September 21).
‘I typed ‘peace and sport’ into google and found the United Nations website where there was a video about a filmmaker called Jeremy Gilley who had an idea to create a day for peace,’ Tom explains. ‘It was a really good idea because it meant everyone would stop fighting for one day, and that would allow food and medicine to get to people who were sick and hungry.’
The UN adopted September 21 as an annual global day of ceasefire and non-violence in 2001, after which the ideas came thick and fast. ‘Some other people had the idea that every year on Peace Day, people would stop fighting each other and play football,’ says Tom. ‘It would bring people from different communities together who would never normally play together.’
A keen sportsman, Tom thought it was a brilliant idea – and one that he could use as part of his project. ‘It really appealed to me because I love sport, and it doesn’t matter if you’re fighting about something, everyone can enjoy skateboarding or football – even if you don’t speak the same language,’ he says. ‘And it seemed easy. All I would need was a pitch, a ball and some people to play, and I’d have my instrument of peace.’
But the devil is in the detail, and getting the message out there coupled with the nitty-gritty of organising his own Peace Day football match was pretty tricky. ‘I had to design a poster, prepare an exhibition stand, then explain my idea to everyone who walked past. I must have talked to hundreds of people over two days! It was really difficult and I was very tired, but Ms Lubna reminded me that I had to keep showing enthusiasm.’
And did Tom succeed? ‘Well, first of all, I wanted to raise awareness and make sure everyone knew about Peace Day. Not many people did, but they do now! Then I got people to sign up to play, and I had the idea of asking security guards at the school and maids if they wanted to take part. I’ve put up an invitation at the supermarket for people to get in touch if they want to play. I hope my football match will break down some barriers here too.’
Tom has enlisted Libra Academy soccer coach Adrian John to help with the actual match organisation, and is hoping local companies will help out with water for the players, and maybe a few t-shirts too. He’s also thinking of introducing a ‘pay to play’ system to raise funds for charity, ‘but I need to look into that a bit more,’ he says, a little overwhelmed at just how far his idea has come.
So what has Tom, who has difficulties with traditional learning methods, learned from the experience so far? Meeting deadlines, being organised and perseverance, according to his teacher, Ms Lubna. ‘The two-day exhibition was extremely tough and we were worried that Tom would give up, but he didn’t. We’ve been there to guide him, but all the ideas have been his,’ she says.
For Sarah, Tom’s proud mum, the whole project has been a massive boost to his confidence. ‘He’s had problems in the past, but this has really brought him out of himself, given him the courage to speak to people and made him realise he can achieve an awful lot.’
And for Tom? ‘I’ve learned that often there is no right or wrong answer – there are just different answers.’ Wise words indeed.
If you’re interested in taking part in or supporting Tom’s football match, call 050 325 5492 or see www.libra-uae.com. For details on the One Day One Goal initiative, see www.peaceoneday.org.