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The Peace to the City Network grew out of a campaign of the same name that began in August 1997 and culminated in December 1998. The network was active until 2002; its members - churches, peace and justice organizations, faith communities and civil society movements - continue to work within the framework of the Decade to Overcome Violence (2001-2010).

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Boarding a peace train in war times - a sign of hope and protest against violence

Students from Durban / South Africa work together with students from Braunschweig / Germany for a more peaceful world.

Students of the Hillview Secondary School in Durban, South Africa, and boys and girls from the JFK Secondary-School in Braunschweig, Germany, have boarded a "peace train" together from Amsterdam to Berlin to overcome racist attitudes and violence among young people. 15 Students and 4 accompanying adults from Durban are visiting 20 host students and families in Braunschweig, as part of a youth exchange programme supported by the "Peace to the City" Network of the World Council of Churches.

The 14 to 18 year old visitors from Durban will stay in Germany for almost 3 weeks. For them it is the first time to leave their country, and more importantly, for most of them it is the first time to stay in white families. Previous to their arrival in Braunschweig the South Africans have already been on the road with their German pen-pals for a week.

They travelled by train and bus from Amsterdam to Braunschweig, visiting sites of peacemaking and conflict, such as the Anne-Frank-House in Amsterdam and the former concentration camp of Bergen Belsen. In a series of theatre workshops they acted out own experiences of violence and presented their results in different cities on the way.

They met congregations and schools both in West- and East-Germany and discussed with peace activists and students their own age. In Braunschweig they now stay in various families of the JFK secondary school and take part in school projects on violence prevention. Final highlights of the visit in Braunschweig will be a German-English worship service on Sunday and a farewell celebration on Tuesday in the St. Magni Church, after which they will go on a 3 day journey to Berlin. For years, JFK Secondary School has been training students as "mediators in conflict". They have taken part in a series of violence prevention workshops which have greatly reduced the rate of violent incidents in the school. Approx. 1 ½ years ago the teaching staff got into contact with students from the Hillview Secondary School in Durban, co-ordinated by Rev. Burckhardt, of the Ev. Luth. Mission in Germany and initiator of the Peace Train Project, and Mr. Ringleb, the youth exchange official of the City of Braunschweig. Braunschweig is the first German City which is taking part of the WCC-programme and supporting the "Peace Train", together with the Ev.-Luth. Church of Braunschweig, the Ev.-Luth. Mission in Lower Saxony, the Youth Department of the City of Braunschweig, the JFKennedy School and the St. Magni Congregation in Braunschweig.

"Compared to South Africa, Germany is a crime free country", stresses Victoria Meyers, a black teacher from Durban, and explains the difference in every day live between the two countries. "In Germany people can walk on the streets without constraint."

"It is still relatively friendly and quiet in Braunschweig", explains Thomas Ringleb of the Youth Department. "However, there are worrisome signs of racism and xenophobia within the community which are increasing now as a result of Sept11th."

"To overcome violence is a strenuous undertaking" states Reverend Klaus J. Burckhardt, regional representative of the Evangelical Lutheran Mission in Braunschweig, "especially in times like these. To do a peace train in war times takes a lot of faith. It is a much needed sign of protest and hope which shows especially young people that it is worth to work for peace."

Thanda (18) and Crystal (15) had a close encounter with violence in Durban. "We now have a youth council who will make sure that we have a peaceful together in future". Even six years after Apartheid contacts between people of different colour are rare, regrets Victoria Meyers, teacher and leader of the South African group.

So far 15 year old Kim form JFK Secondary School had no head-on experience with violence. "I am not afraid to live here. Nevertheless I feel that violence prevention and fight against racism are very important. We can learn a lot from each other by living together and having this exchange programme."*

Felix (16) has had contact with violence at a school in the western part of Braunschweig. "There, often younger pupils are been beaten by the older ones", he remembers.

"This is the first time we have visitors from Africa", states Bärbel Kirsch, the principal of JFK Secondary School "The Peace to the City programme has inspired us, and we were glad to be part of it. In spring next year, students from Braunschweig will travel to Johannesburg, where we are met by our new South African friends. With them we shall visit Hillbrow, Soweto and together travel to Durban, later to Cape Town. We are very excited about this second part of the peace train programme, and extremely happy that we are the first German school to take part in this."

Rev. Klaus J.Burckhardt

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