In recorded history since 3,600BCE, over 14,500 major wars have killed close to four billion people; that’s two-thirds of the current world population. In armed conflicts since 1945, 90 per cent of casualties have been civilians. These statistics make the world sound somewhat bleak. To beat that bleakness we need hope – which is exactly what the Peace One Day project intends to spread.
Peace One Day is a non-profit organisation founded to encourage action on Peace Day, an annual day of global ceasefire and non-violence. Peace Day, which falls on September 21 every year, was established thanks in large part to Jeremy Gilley, a British filmmaker who made it his mission to establish an official day as a starting point for world peace. It took Gilley more than 10 years of travelling the globe and meeting with heads of state and the UN to fix an official calendar date. That date is now observed by 192 member states of the UN, and has garnered celebrity supporters including Angelina Jolie and Richard Branson. Gilley’s efforts to establish Peace Day are recorded in his documentary, Peace One Day. It is this documentary that has inspired a group of Dubai-based volunteers to launch Peace Day right here in the UAE this year.
Nayla Al Khaja, founder of Dubai’s monthly world cinema night, The Scene Club, screened the documentary last month to launch Peace Day here. She is an active volunteer for promoting Peace Day in the UAE, and is already busy planning the next few years of initiatives to take the message to as many people as possible. What does she hope that Peace Day will eventually achieve? ‘In my mind it’s exactly what it says; to actually have one day of peace where there’s absolutely no violence and ceasefire throughout the whole world,’ she tells Time Out, admitting, ‘it would be a miracle if that happened. But who knows? The idea is to start with one day. It’s not asking for the moon. It’s really simple. If the whole world comes together in that way, it would be amazing. And if people want one day, maybe they would then start wanting more.’
One of Peace Day’s greatest achievements since becoming official in 2001 is a vaccination campaign in war-torn Afghanistan. Last year, a ceasefire there meant that 1.6 million children in areas of conflict could be vaccinated against polo. The UN has also reported a 70 per cent reduction in violence on September 21 – no mean feat. So clearly Peace Day is already having its effect.
The UAE launch at The Scene Club in August was attended by more than 500 people, and H.H Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak Al Nahyan, Minister of Higher Education, gave a video message showing his support for the project. Al Khaja says the response so far has been ‘overwhelming’. ‘At the launch we had people saying, “What can we do?” Everyone was excited,’ she says. ‘We’re not short of volunteers, that’s for sure.’
This year, Peace Day in the UAE will be marked at Mall of the Emirates, where a number of specially-made short films are being screened to provoke more thought around Peace Day. These have been directed by Ali Mostafa, the man behind the forthcoming City Of Life, Dubai’s first ever big budget feature film. There will also be the opportunity to sign a pledge to show the UAE’s support for Peace Day. Everyone is invited to the event on September 21.
For Al Khaja, the importance of spreading the word is that it might inspire individuals to make a commitment to Peace Day in their own personal way. ‘We’re not here to tell people what to do. Every year people should come up with their own thing [to mark Peace Day] and do it,’ she explains. ‘We can all say, “I want peace, I believe in peace”. Well then, move your ass and do something,’ she laughs. ‘It’s putting peace into action. Peace can be anything that promotes happiness and gives a sense of stability and well-being. We hope that on September 21 each person will make some sort of commitment, no matter how small, for peace.’
Find out more about Peace One Day and the event at Mall of the Emirates at www.peaceday.ae The Scene Club is held at Conference Centre 1 in Knowledge Village on the last Thursday of every month. Check out www.thesceneclub.com for more.