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From February 25 to March 1, SGI-New Zealand Aotearoa (SGINZ) supported the International Committee of Artists for Peace (ICAP) in bringing the "iChoose" anti-bullying program, aimed at teenagers, to 10 schools in Auckland for the first time.
This took place against the backdrop of New Zealand Prime Minister John Key's 2011 promise of a nationwide conversation on bullying, an issue brought to light by video footage of a high school student being beaten unconscious by her peer.
Directed by SGINZ member Lisa Brickell, the iChoose presentation comprised of a 20 minute musical and dance performance by an all-Auckland cast. The musical, developed in a weekend workshop and rehearsed over a 6-day period, was based on the cast's own experiences of bullying. It depicted how seemingly trivial innocent incidents of teasing and banter and other forms of bullying such as cyber-bullying can escalate into actual violence, self-harm and even suicide. Following the presentation, an informal discussion session with students was facilitated by the cast. At one such discussion at an all-boys boarding school, students participated in an activity involving giving and receiving compliments, the antithesis of bullying.
The essential message of iChoose is that our choices matter, that we can choose to respect both ourselves and others and that we can deal with our differences through dialogue and communication, rather than through disrespect and antagonism which perpetuate bullying and violence.
On February 23, the dress rehearsal of the iChoose presentation took place at SGINZ's Culture Centre in Auckland in front of an audience of some 200 people. In attendance were Su'a William Sio, labour MP for Mangere; representatives from both the National Network of Stopping Violence and the Peace Foundation; as well as teachers and students from schools at which iChoose was scheduled to be performed the following week.
Comments from the iChoose audiences at the 10 schools paid tribute to the effectiveness of the performance as a catalyst for change for both students and teachers alike. One student shared, "I liked how it had different perspectives and stories. I learned that you are not alone and to be kind to yourself and others." A teacher from Kelston Boys High School said, "I realized I need to get to know my students' stories." related article Ambassador of Marshall Islands Gives Talk, Soka Gakkai Youth Kick Off "Nuclear Zero" Petition Drive On July 31, H.E. Tom D. Kijiner, Ambassador of the Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI) to Japan, gave a talk at a Soka Gakkai student division symposium held at the Josei Toda International Center in Shinjuku, Tokyo.
As a follow-up to the iChoose performances, SGI-USA's Victory Over Violence exhibition will be shown at all 10 of the Auckland schools. There are also plans for iChoose to tour Wellington in 2014. To date, iChoose performances have been developed and shown at schools in the U.S. (including Hawai'i) and Norway.
ICAP promotes the ideals of humanism and nonviolence in young people toward establishing peace and developing peacemakers by utilizing the transformative power of art.
[Adapted from articles on the Soka Gakkai New Zealand (SGINZ) website, a February 15, 2013, press release from SGINZ, and articles on the International Committee of Artists for Peace (ICAP) website; photos courtesy of SGINZ]
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