The children demand peace


I Dream of Peace
Published by UNICEF and Harper Collins
Reviewed by Norman Taylor

"Don't ever hurt the children. They're not guilty of anything." This is the plea of a schoolgirl who is one of a great many still suffering from the incessant bombing of Sarajevo. It is a quotation from a sad and wonderful book published last year by UNICEF called I Dream of Peace: Images of war by children of former Yugoslavia.

The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) collected the drawings, letters and poems from schools and refugee camps in former Yugoslavia.

When I received it from my daughter in London it was obvious it should not be gathering dust on a book shelf and so with spare time provided by retirement I started introducing it to local schools. I could do no better than to offer some quotations from the book.

Here is part of the preface by Vanessa Redgrave.

"'When I close my eyes I dream of peace.' These words spoken by 14 year old Aleksander as he was lying in a hospital bed after being severely burned by a Molotov cocktail, are proof of the extraordinary courage of these children as well as their enduring love of life. This book is therefore a strong protest against the violation of their right to grow up in a world without war, regardless of where they live and who their parents are. We must listen to the messages of the only peace makers, the only future we have — the children — and we must act accordingly."

The introduction by James P. Grant, executive director of UNICEF, includes the following: "Wars used to be fought between soldiers and on the battlefield. But today, more than ever before in history, cities and towns are the battlefield and children the victims. The trend to systematically make children targets of atrocities reflects a retrogression in human behaviour. In former Yugoslavia, harming children has become a strategy of war. In these pages, the children deliver a serious message to adults: Understand the cruelties of this war and what it is doing to us, your children! Do whatever it takes to end it! Take our child's-eye view of the promises and possibilities of peace! In a poem ten-year old Roberto asks grown-ups to join him in creating a world in which 'tanks would be playhouses for the kids ... and all the world's children would sleep in a peace unbroken by alerts and shooting'."

These drawings and poems bring to mind Aristophanes' play Lysistrata, in which the women rose up collectively and demanded peace. Now it is the children's turn, and I Dream of Peace is their call to action. Women and the young and the old have been singled out for the most brutal treatment as a strategy of ethnic cleansing. So far, this has created nearly 4 million refugees, of whom more than 600,000 are children. An estimated 15,000 children have died. Many more have been gravely injured.

As you go through this sad and wonderful book, keep a tissue handy, but the key word is, of course, action. All UNICEF earnings from the sale of this book go to the I Dream of Peace Fund to support programs for children affected by war throughout the world.
[This review was first printed in the South Australian Institute of Teachers Journal.]