Dr. Feizi Masrour Milani is creating a process for enabling young people to make cultures of peace for themselves and their communities. His approach promises to reduce violence between teenagers, who in Brazil are becoming agents as much as victims of violence.
The New Idea
Feizi's approach differs fundamentally from other violence-prevention: it seeks not simply to repress or avoid violence but to create a new paradigm that promotes a culture of peace and youth development. Instead of ignoring the importance of young people in preventing violence, it engages them in the construction of healthier relations and a more peaceful way of living. Feizi is publicizing his approach to citizen organizations, policymakers, and opinion leaders, in an effort to change the current approaches to reducing violence. He advocates strategies that promote positive values, tolerance, understanding, and peace, which are vital to preventing violence throughout society. With adolescents as the protagonists and multipliers of the model, Feizi is stimulating young people to take responsibility for their schools and communities and begin to transform the violent society in which they live. By involving teachers in devising violence-prevention strategies together with their students and adopting them in their teaching methods, Feizi is improving the learning environment and the quality of education. The program thus brings together parents, community members, and young people to create a culture of peace.
According to the Pan-American Health Organization, violence is one of the gravest public health problems in the Americas. Brazil has the world's third highest rate of young people killed by homicide or other violence–48.6 per one hundred thousand. In 1996 alone, over fifteen thousand young people were murdered nationwide. Approximately half of adolescent deaths in metropolitan regions are related to violence. The rate of youth violence in Salvador, Bahia, is among the highest in Brazilian states. While the statistics generally show the numbers of deaths and homicides among youth, they hide the even greater problem of violence against women, which is typically veiled in silence. The problem gains even greater dimensions with statistics revealing that childhood victims or witnesses of violence carry a greater risk of turning to violence as adults. Two models dominate current thinking about dealing with violence in Brazil. The first emphasizes repression, including additional police, tougher laws, and more prisons. The second attributes violence to poverty, which will only be reduced with the elimination of economic exclusion and social injustice. Feizi believes in a third way: given that violence carried from one generation to the next constitutes a "culture of violence," he proposes establishing a "culture of peace" through multifaceted and educationally integrated interventions.
Feizi compares his strategy for youth violence with recent medical approaches that seek "health promotion" instead of "sickness treatment," and hopes to reduce violence by promoting a culture of peace. He says he is not merely implementing a project but proving and disseminating a paradigm in which violence among youth can be reduced and the lives of all actors enriched. Feizi trains adolescents, parents, teachers, and neighborhood residents to find solutions for street, domestic, and gender violence. Drawing from his extensive experience working with youth of all ages, Feizi is developing a methodology that involves simultaneous programs for training and outreach to transform environments in which violence prevails. Feizi is implementing his approach at a school on the periphery of Salvador, Bahia, with a focus on adolescents ages eleven to eighteen. The first task is to transform adolescents and educators into social agents who understand the values that constitute a culture of peace, and to show participants how to implement, communicate, and spread this culture. Feizi's team of multidisciplinary professionals holds workshops with students and teachers that promote conflict resolution, tolerance, and understanding. The next step is convening workshops in which adolescent "multipliers" learn how to internalize these values and articulate them in their own way among their peers. Other training sessions expose teachers to techniques for preventing violence and for teaching the culture of peace in the classroom. Outreach is also important. Parents and family members receive instruction about violence and its relationship to the home. Workshops held with other parents of the community form linkages and support networks among adults, and also help students and teachers reinforce the families' commitment to the education of their children. During these encounters, Feizi establishes strategic linkages among community organization and institutions to build a positive environment against violence. He is also forging links with policymakers and thought leaders about alternatives for preventing violence beyond the current repressive measures. Feizi founded the National Institute of Peace and Human Rights Education in March 2000 as a formal mechanism for disseminating his work more broadly. The Institute's goal is to "promote education for peace, human rights, and universal ethical values, contributing to the individual and collective transformation." It has secured initial financial support and has created a partnership with Projeto Educar é Ensinar a Viver, which has extensive experience working in the poor urban slum areas around Salvador. Endorsements for the project have come from UNESCO and the National Secretary of Human Rights. The municipal Secretary of Education of Salvador has declared its willingness to replicate the project. Feizi is also cultivating a relationship with the prestigious Federal University of Bahia to publicize his approach throughout the country and gain support for promoting public policy changes. He also is developing partnerships with the government and private institutions that could provide funding to replicate his approach.
Feizi was born and raised in the Bahá'í Faith and has been deeply influenced by its values of tolerance, diversity, and respect for life. However, because of his faith he was also exposed to the destructiveness of religious intolerance, hatred, and persecution that his family experienced in their native Iran. Instead of discarding their beliefs, his parents came to Brazil, where Feizi was born. They continued to serve the community and instilled in Feizi the desire to seek out ways for promoting a culture of peace that embraces tolerance, understanding, and respect regardless of religion, class, or ethnicity. As a teenager, Feizi took the initiative to give classes to children in some of Vitória's favelas. He entered medical school at the Federal University of Espirito Santo, and in 1983 transferred to the Federal University in Alagoas. Throughout his university experience, he participated in education and health projects involving indigenous tribes in Brazil's Northeast. These transcultural experiences deeply impressed him. In 1985, he joined public health campaigns relating to the Aids and dengue epidemics.Feizi's first professional experience working with adolescents started in 1990, when he created a program called Healthy Adolescence for the municipal government of Lauro de Freitas, the poorest municipality in the metropolitan region of Salvador. After four years of success with the youth-assistance program, Feizi began an adolescent training program with support from the Odebrecht Foundation. The foundation was so impressed with the results that they replicated the program in a school in Belo Horizonte and contracted Feizi to direct another project in Salvador. Feizi was selected to be a Fellow of the Kellogg International Leadership Program in 1995. He visited youth programs around the world in search of models for youth development. After returning to Brazil he created a successful program with adolescents that involved training leaders to mobilize the community to improve its environmental conditions. However, in all of his experiences Feizi continually faced the prevalence of violence, a fact that he could no longer ignore. He decided to dedicate himself to helping young people create a more peaceful world for themselves.