12-08-2016  9:46 pm      •     

In a world with almost pervasive violence, event organizer and psychotherapist Paul Stretch is trying to make a difference. Along with his wife, Alicia Richards, Stretch is putting together the 11th annual Children's Peace Fair, to be held from 1 to 4 p.m. at St. Andrew Catholic Church, North East Eighth Avenue and Alberta Street.
This is the first year Stretch has taken over the organizer's chair for the long-running event. Founder and organizer John Grueschow has stepped aside to let someone else take control for a while, Stretch said.
The fair will provide a variety of activities aimed at elementary-aged children promoting the idea and practice of peace. Stretch said the programs and activities, many of which are art-based, let children illustrate how they see the nature and act of peace. Even the games are non-competitive and will have children figuring out ways to work together instead of against each other.
"Kids naturally pursue peaceful (solutions)," he said.
Some of these activities include making a peaceable kingdom (children illustrate what peace looks like), creating peace flags, cooperative games, music, balloon animals and a small petting area from Pet Assisted Therapy.
During the fair, organizers will have a live teleconference with protestors at the School of the Americas, or what is now known as the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation, in Fort Benning, Ga. The U.S. Army-funded school trains mainly Latin American military in the customs of the United States and has been criticized as promoting dictators with histories of human-rights abuse, as well as supporting state-sponsored terrorism. The children will have an opportunity to ask questions to the protestors.
Although the children will be able to learn first hand about groups protesting against government policy, Stretch said they don't take an active stance on specific government policy. And because children are exposed to violence from a variety of sources, including television news, entertainment and video games, they have a fairly good frame of reference for the subjects being discussed at the fair, said Stretch.
Some community groups will be at the fair to help provide activities for children. The Quakers, or Multnomah Monthly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends, a pacifist religious group, will be there to have children put their hand prints on paper and recite the peace pledge, "I will not use my hands or my words for hurting myself or others."
This pledge became the centerpiece of the "Hands and Words are not for Hurting Week," which Gov. Ted Kulongoski, the Marion County Board of Commissioners, Salem Mayor Janet Taylor, the Salem City Council and the Salem-Keizer School Board signed into being from Oct. 16 through Oct. 22. The project to spread the recitation of the pledge, known as the Hands Project, began in February 1997 by martial arts and self-defense instructor Ann Kelly. The project began with the cooperation of the Salem-Keizer School District and has since expanded to schools and communities across the nation.
The project has chronicled a significant decrease in discipline referrals at some schools that have taken the pledge. A middle school in Nebraska reported about an 80-percent decrease in assaults and insubordination, as well as about a 50-percent decrease in truancy, vandalism and fighting.
Stretch believes that by providing examples of peace and giving children the ability to solve a problem through peaceful means outside the heat of the argument will provide a future reference point to help avoid violence.
The event is expected to draw about 200 children. The sponsors include Love Makes a Family, the Earth Scouts, PaxChristie, Search for Peace Art, the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, the Military and Draft Counseling Project and Veterans for Peace.

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