Goddard Peace Conference

Goddard Peace Conference

“Every year, kids who didn’t know each other in the morning are hugging goodbye at the end of the day. It gives me goosebumps,” says Susan Casey, Principal of East St. Margaret's Elementary School in Indian Harbour, Nova Scotia.

Transcript / Captions

The original Goddard Peace Conference was started in 2007 and it was started by the then principal,

Brendon MacGillivray. Our school itself was built…

East St. Margaret's was built in 1958, and it was built as a consolidated school.

We are a community that has fishing embedded in family life and Mr. MacGillivray

was noticing that within the community, he was hearing lots of talk of conflict that was happening.

And then noticing the students when they were coming into the building were really dysregulated,

and upset, and didn't seem to have the skills to be able to turn it around. He had the idea of creating a one-day,

major focus on learning around peaceful skills.

And really wanting the students to experience ways that they could create peace within themselves,

within their families, their community, our country, and even internationally.

He had a connection to Captain Nichola Goddard. He knew that Captain Goddard had been killed in Afghanistan

the year before and reached out to the family and asked them if they would be willing

to have the conference named after her and they agreed.

We had arts and journaling. We've had also workshops where people share their stories and experiences.

We had Dr. Shelly Whitman from the Roméo Dallaire Child Soldiers Initiative come and speak and really tell the kids

about what life is like for some children the same age in other parts of the world.

When I was in Grade 6, I did attend the Goddard Peace Summit. I remember coming to the school

and just being so excited to learn more about Nichola and just learn about peace and giving back,

how to be kind, and integrate that into my community and my school.

Since I've been here, we've focused on different ways, different strengths,

maybe that students could tap into to build those peaceful initiatives.

The Goddard Peace Summit is an amazing conference for East St. Margaret's because we are such a small school.

To be able to host that event is definitely something unique and exciting for us.

I was impressed with the amount of kindness that was given there.

Everybody was really, really nice and everybody was really accepting

and really happy to teach you about their experiences.

maybe that students could tap into to build those peaceful initiatives.

It inspired me to be…to try to be the best person that I could be and trying to take that into how I treat others.

So, going forward for our conference, we are trying to think of different ways to make it engaging and exciting.

Within our Nova Scotia curriculum, we really focus on and help the kids learn about four different cultures.

One is the African Nova Scotian, the Indigenous, the Gaels and the Acadians.

We're really a diverse community in that way, which makes it awesome to be with the students here every day.

I think the importance of one person having the power to change multiple people really stuck with me.

You don't need a huge crowd to make a big difference.

That’s part of what moves her to run the annual Goddard Peace Conference. The conference creates a forum for students to learn about conflict resolution and community – all in honour of Captain Nichola Goddard who lost her life during the Canada’s mission in Afghanistan.

In 2018, the conference received support from Veterans Affairs Canada’s Commemorative Partnership Program. “It [the funding] allows us to have honorariums for presenters and awards for the participants,” says Susan. “In other years, it’s allowed us to do some publicity, through community news, and outreach as well.”

The outreach is important, Susan says, because it connects the students to the Veteran community. “We reached out to the whole province for Legion participation, and we also talked to Camp Hill,” says Susan, referring to the Veterans’ long term care facility in Halifax. For some of the older Veterans, it’s a long trip from the hospital to the conference, but they are keen to see young minds learn.

How it all began – a soldier’s day for peace

In 2007, East St. Margaret's Elementary School principal, Brendon McGillivray, was seeing a lot of conflict in the school community. He thought that a workshop-style “day of peace” for the Grades 5 and 6 students would help them understand one another. The Captain Nichola Goddard Day of Peace for Students began that year and helps students experience ways to find peace within themselves, their families and their community.

“Captain Goddard believed in ordinary people doing extraordinary things, and we want young people to believe they are capable of extraordinary things,” says Susan. “Most of the students are motivated to take action for peace when they return to their schools.”

Brendon McGillivray gained permission from the Goddard family to name the day after their daughter, Captain Nichola Kathleen Sarah Goddard, who was killed during combat duty the previous year in Afghanistan. Each principal since 2007 has built on the idea with the help of the school’s office administrator, Danette McDaniel. She makes sure the tradition carries on.

Peace among people, and within

Everyone involved works to help the conference stay true to its values. “Most years, Sally or Tim Goddard opens the conference, and we share a video about Nichola,” says Susan. “We talk about her values of giving everyone a chance, and not being afraid to go after goals. Seeing the best in people was part of Nichola’s work in the military. Her focus was on relationships, even in Afghanistan.”

At the 2018 conference, for example, there were nine workshops. Students from several schools attended each session, rather than staying with the students they knew. Some workshops had military components, such as a presentation by retired CAF and RCMP officer Phil McLelland, who served in Haiti during the devastating earthquake in 2010. “He explained the situation after the earthquake and asked them: How would you solve this? How would you keep it peaceful? The kids loved his workshop,” says Susan. Another presenter, Dr. Shelly Whitman, described her work with the Roméo Dallaire Child Soldiers Initiative. Students were shocked to hear that in some parts of the world children no older than themselves were recruited by force.

Veterans have a continued presence at the conference. In Susan’s first year as Principal, she reached out to The Royal Canadian Legion branches across Nova Scotia and has since had regular presentations from the Berwick Branch. “Petty Officer First Class Peter Rigby, Petty Officer Second Class Peter Martin, and Leading Seaman Chris Goddard—they’ve been fabulous,” Susan says. “They talk about their experiences in Kuwait, Southeast Asia, Yugoslavia, Afghanistan and Bosnia. With real‑life experiences, they can impress on students the importance of not taking peace for granted.”

Margaret Guildford, a Second World War Nursing Sister, also gave a presentation. Now in her nineties, she is “a real firecracker,” as Susan puts it. “She showed the kids pictures from the war, and was completely honest about her experience, but the kids were speechless and weren’t asking any questions,” Susan says. A bit of Margaret’s military attitude may have come out at that point: “She got stern with them and told them that they need to start talking. And that loosened the kids up.”

Not all of the workshops had military themes: some focused on building peace within oneself through art, music, yoga and martial arts. A Mi’kmaq Elder and Korean War Veteran, Bill Lewis, led a peace circle and a smudging ceremony. An Acadian representative talked about the importance of food and culture to the community. An African artist helped the students work on peace banners with another Fine Arts Specialist.

Looking onward

Veterans Affairs Canada is committed to honouring those who served Canada in times of war, military conflict and peace, and to keeping the memory of their achievements and sacrifices alive for all Canadians. Funding is available to organizations undertaking remembrance initiatives through the Commemorative Partnership Program.

Date published: 2020-03-23


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