Cheryl Wowk, program coordinator with the Peacebuilders initiative, is excited to see the youth program make its debut in Red Deer in early February. Mark Weber/Red Deer Express

Local youth invited to check out ‘Peacebuilders’

Initiative aims to promote rights and dignity for all

A new initiative for youth aimed at building socially-conscious and engaged young citizens is on its way to Red Deer.

Having already wrapped two breakthrough sessions in Edmonton, staff and volunteers with the organization are excited to be bringing the initiative to Red Deer and the Central Alberta region.

“I’ve been a teacher and a guidance counsellor for the past 45 years – 40 of which were in Red Deer. I’ve been working on retirement; it’s kind of a ‘fluid’ thing for me,” said Cheryl Wowk, Peacebuilders program coordinator, with a laugh.

Earlier this year, she was approached by Morris Flewwelling, former City mayor and current chair of the Red Deer College board of governors, who asked her if she’d like to help out with getting the Peacebuilders program launched in Red Deer. At first she wasn’t sure, but the unique nature of the concept drew her in.

“I decided I would go for it and help them get it up and running,” she said.

The Peacebuilders program is described as a collaborative program between the John Humphrey Centre for Peace & Human Rights in Edmonton and the Centre for Peace and Justice located at Lacombe’s Burman University.

Meanwhile, the Peacebuilders program has run twice in Edmonton.

“The youth take a six-week training course which is quite intensive, and then at the end of it, they do a community needs assessment,” explained Wowk.

“They look around their communities and ask, ‘Where do we think there is an area that could be improved upon? Where do we want to insert ourselves and make a difference?’

“In my PowerPoint, I describe it as, ‘Is good good enough if better is possible?’ I’ve also done this kind of thing with youth in the past, so it’s near and dear to my heart,” she said, adding that she also uses the theme of John Lennon’s song Imagine during her presentations to introduce Peacebuilders.

“What if our community could be stronger? What if our community could be better? It’s all about creating peace, diversity, inclusion and acceptance,” she said. “I think this is also the time of year to make this public and to let people know we are coming, because we hope for peace, and we hope for things to be better than they are. So my job is to get the word out to these young people.”

Wowk said Peacebuilders is for young people ages 16 to 28.

“We are piloting it in Red Deer, but our hope is to get it throughout Central Alberta,” she said.

Staff from Edmonton will be facilitating the first Peacebuilders sessions here in Red Deer, which start in the beginning of February and run through to early April.

“We will do the training with the youth which runs from 5 to 9 p.m. every Thursday.” As with the other projects, a needs assessment will be done followed by the development of an action plan for a specific project.

“For our first group, we’d like to see the ceiling at about 20 kids,” she said.

The initiative also emphasizes how a single individual can make a profound difference in society.

“In my presentations, I present that every baby is born a unique, special, one-of-a-kind precious little miracle, and that they are born for greatness,” she said. “And that their purpose is to share their gifts with the world. This is a great vehicle for these kids to explore what their personal gifts are, to grow their skills through some training and actually reach out and start touching the lives of others.”

Peacebuilders can also help shape young people to be even more active in their communities down the road.

“Once these youth get a taste of what it’s like to be involved in their communities, they also grow up to become adults who stay engaged in their communities.”

For those interested in more information or about applying for Peacebuilders, they can check out jhcentre.org/peacebuilders-red-deer/ or call the John Humphrey Centre for Peace and Human Rights at 780-453-2638. They can also call the Centre for Peace and Justice at 403-307-3491.

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