Violence,Schools, and Human Security

Several months ago, while doing research for a translation about the United Nations Millennium Development Goals project, I read the following statement about human security penned by Mirta Roses Periago, Director of the Pan American Health Organization. I made note of the piece as I considered it a model of how to simply and cogently communicate an opening message in an annual report.

Since Roses Periago wrote these words last year, the world has had many new opportunities to think about security: what it means, how it can be achieved, and how one community’s efforts to provide itself security affects others around the world. A video recorded by primary school teacher Martha Rivera Alanís in her classroom in Monterrey, Mexico while armed gangs exchanged gunfire less than a block away, which was widely distributed by the media yesterday, prompted me to share both Roses Periago’s words and Rivera Alanís’s video with readers of this blog.

Human security is reflected
in a child who doesn’t die,
a disease that doesn’t spread,
a job that isn’t eliminated,
ethnic tension that doesn’t explode into violence,
a dissenter who isn’t silenced.

Human security doesn’t involve concern
about guns but concern about human
life and dignity.

La seguridad humana se refleja
en un niño que no muere,
una enfermedad que no se difunde,
un trabajo que no se elimina,
tensión étnica que no estalla en violencia,
un disidente que no es silenciado.
La seguridad humana no incluye inquietud
por las armas de fuego sino la inquietud por la
vida humana y la dignidad.

When armed gangs initiated a shootout near the school where she taught, Martha Rivera Alanís calmly told her students to lie down on the floor. Recording the scene with the camera of her mobile phone, she assured them that everything would be all right and then asked them if they’d like to sing a song to drown out the noise of the AK 47 rifles thundering outside: “Nothing’s going to happen,” she told them. “Just keep your heads down on the floor. Nothing’s going to happen here. Just don’t raise your heads.” Then she led them in a song that began “Si las gotas de lluvia fueran de chocolate me encantaría estar ahí . . .” (If it rained chocolate drops, I’d love to be there. . .)

I’d like to be there when children everywhere in the world have access to schools that are safe havens full of interesting books, new ideas, and visions of a better future. Mirta Roses Periago’s list of requisites for a truly secure society is not a pie-in-the-sky poetic vision of an unreachable utopia; it’s a call for us to put human dignity above armed might and a question of channeling our ambitions toward worthier goals. Teachers like Martha Rivera Alanís, however brave they are in the face of danger, should not have to work in shadow of gang violence, government oppression, or war. Neither should families anywhere in the world be afraid to send their children off to school.

The UN Millennium Goals project seeks to create the basis for  sustainable  human development and a higher level of true human security worldwide. For more information about the UN Millennium Development Goals for education and other human needs, visit the MDG website.