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Source: University of Waikato

In 2009, Alyn Ware received a Distinguished Alumni Award for his dedication to peace education and promoting a world without nuclear weapons. We checked in with Alyn to catch up on the decade that’s passed since he received his award, and learn how his skills as an educator have helped him with international peace efforts.

With education and understanding, everyone can be a peacekeeper

Alyn Ware has parlayed a career from a teacher in New Zealand to an international peace educator and nuclear disarmament consultant in New York and Prague. And at first glance the two might seem at odds, but Alyn says philosophically they’re more similar than you might think.

“The core of my philosophy of education is that we should focus primarily on the people we teach – understanding who they are and where they’re at. The topics, information, ideas we teach are secondary.

“This approach, and the skills I learned during my studies at Waikato to implement it, have become the core of my advocacy work in community and international political arenas.”

Alyn graduated from the University of Waikato in 1984 with a Bachelor of Education. Twenty-five years later he received a Distinguished Alumni Award for his commitment to global peace education and nuclear disarmament. He is also one of only two New Zealanders, alongside former Prime Minister David Lange, to have received the Right Livelihood Award (Alternative Nobel Peace Prize).

The story of how he got from there to here is an interesting one.

Origins of peace

Growing up in Tauranga, a child of the 70s, Alyn became interested in peace efforts and was inspired by the teachers he had growing up.

“I witnessed creative and dedicated teachers make such a difference in students’ lives and growth. In my teens, I read books on teaching and education, developing my understanding of the vital importance of good education for personal growth and fulfilment, and a healthy and peaceful society,” he says.

This holistic approach would go on to form the basis of Alyn’s future peace career, further bolstered by his time at the University of Waikato.

At Waikato, Alyn wrote for the student magazine, Nexus, and joined student groups active in opposing apartheid and racism, including protesting the 1981 Springbok tour, and established the Waikato Campus Peace Group to support the campaign for a nuclear-free New Zealand.

After graduating in 1984 Alyn furthered peace efforts through education by establishing programmes and initiatives to support peace education in kindergartens and schools, touring New Zealand leading classes and a performing roadshow on peace and disarmament. He was later appointed to the New Zealand Department of Education Advisory Board on Peace, and in 1986 received the United Nations International Year of Peace Award.

In the years following, Alyn established his peace work overseas, primarily in New York and Geneva. Now based in Prague, Alyn’s main work roles include coordinator of Parliamentarians for Nuclear Non-proliferation and Disarmament, director of the Basel Peace Office, and coordinator of the World Future Council Peace and Disarmament Program, among others.

But his goal remains the same. “We continue to focus on visions and initiatives for a nuclear-free world, a world without war and a world where the massive global budget for weapons and war are used instead for peace, climate protection, and sustainable development.”

At Waikato

Alyn took full advantage of student life in the early 80s. “Waikato provided so many opportunities in all areas of life. In addition to the academic studies which were superb, and the political action and dialogue on campus, I also performed in plays, played sport, helped organise concerts and creative events, and just chatted to friends about life, the universe, everything.”

Alyn’s activism in his studies and the years immediately following helped progress New Zealand to a nuclear-free status.

“My first successful anti-nuclear campaign was to move the Student Union and then the Waikato University Council to declare the campus a nuclear weapon-free zone (NWFZ). The following year we moved Hamilton City Council to declare Hamilton a NWFZ, and the following year New Zealand became nuclear-free.

“We were successful in changing government policy, banning nuclear weapons from our country and moving our government to be a global leader for nuclear disarmament.”

On receiving a Distinguished Alumni Award, Alyn says it was an honour and recognition that peace disarmament is an important pursuit, well-served by the academic training and other experiences of being a student at Waikato.

“It was also significant to receive it from then-Chancellor, the Rt Hon Jim Bolger, who as leader of the National Party at the time changed National policy to oppose nuclear weapons and to support the 1987 New Zealand Nuclear Weapon Free Zone Act.

“This demonstrated the power of our actions to change entrenched positions if we operate from a base of respect for everyone, especially those with whom we disagree.”

And for anyone considering a peace career, or any career for that matter, Alyn says it’s important to be able to think critically, and be proactive and creative.

“Study what excites you as you will study better, enjoy it, and apply this knowledge much more than topics that don’t excite you, and critical thinking will help you to develop your own well-informed opinions and engage productively in social and political action.”