The Peace Education Programme is an innovative educational program that has been delivered in over 120 correctional facilities around the world. The aim of the program is to help participants discover their own inner resources and the possibility of personal peace.
As a preview to some of the issues being covered at the 6th Annual Correctional Services Healthcare Summit, we spoke with Dr Andrew Ramsay, a volunteer with the Peace Education Program, to find out more about implementation and outcomes from a health and well-being perspective.
Can you tell me a bit about your professional background?
I worked for most of my professional life as a GP within suburban Adelaide, although I did stints in country practices. I was a part-time lecturer at the medical school working in the Department of General Practice there. In the last 10 years of my life as a GP I took a particular interest in mental health focusing on depression and anxiety disorders, given that those two ailments were very commonly treated in general practice. 10 years ago I retired from my general practice and went to work as a GP consultant in an Emergency Medicine Department at Noarlunga Hospital, which is a small hospital just south of Adelaide. In that roll I have daily contact with people who are either in custody or who have been brought in by the police for any number of reasons, often because they are suffering from some mental disorder the police have been called to rescue the situation, so in this job I have quite an active working relationship with members of the SA police force or people who they are caring for.
What is the Peace Education Program?
The Peace Education Program is a 10 week course that runs for approximately an hour once a week. It’s a media based course and it’s designed based around the work of a chap Prem Rawat. The course is designed to encourage people to reacquaint themselves and revalue their own inner resources, the sorts of tools we use in our day-to-day life. This includes things like inner strength, self-awareness, appreciation, choice, dignity, those sorts of positive qualities that we all have and sometimes lose track of. The underlying agenda of the course is that people come to revalue those resources, and in revaluing them make better choices in their own life, and choices that lead to embracing peace as a personal quality, a personal experience, and something that is possible to feel in our lives each and every day.
How did it begin?
It started in a prison in Texas. San Antonio Prison was using talks recorded by Prem Rawat to show to the prisoners as a feel good and motivational exercise. They got such a positive response that this course was put together by a foundation that he heads called The Prem Rawat Foundation (TPRF). Volunteers put together the Peace Education Program together for use in that jail as a structured course, and it was very successful. It’s now used all over the world. It is still distributed by, and the quality of the presentations is managed by TPRF. It’s now used not only in prisons around the world but by all sorts of other settings. In South Australia I’ve used it in community-based mental health rehab centres. I’ve used it in a community hospital that runs a palliative care unit and the CEO was looking for something to encourage her workers. It’s been used in Demark as part of their Adult Education course offered there, and in England they use it in aged care homes for staff and residence. At the end of each course people are asked to fill in a feedback form and those comments are collated and looked at and the course has been modified over the years in response to that.
Which countries has it been implemented in?
In South Africa the people at a Government level have insisted it be presented in all of the prisons. So that’s a really big berth in South Africa. South America has embraced it as well, with many of the South American prisons using it. In Ecuador, the Head of Education has asked for it to be included in their school curriculum. It’s used in a lot of European countries – Spain, Italy, Germany, Israel, France, Great Britain just to name a few.
How did you become involved?
I went to a conference where they were presenting the Peace Education Program as a tool that could be used and it really appealed to me. I undertook the training and now head a small group of people in Adelaide who help me put on the programs. I like the notion of peace as a personal experience and that if people can live feeling that then their lives and the lives of those around them are likely to be more peaceful.
Has it been implemented in any Australian correctional facilities so far, or is it more community based at this stage?
It is more community based at the moment. I have approached the women’s prison and Mobilong prison in Adelaide and the course coordinators there have both been enthusiastic, but to date we haven’t firmed on a time to run the Peace Education Program. It’s been used reasonably and extensively in New Zealand, but I don’t think to date there has had a birth in any Australian prisons.
What is the importance of the themes of each video?
A: Because they are the positive qualities that each of us have but often get overlooked or devalued in day to day life and by revaluing them the quality of one’s life can improve.
What has the response been like?
The feedback that we’ve had in each of the courses we’ve run has been invariably positive. I think that it’s important not to overstate it but it’s quite a quick commitment to take on turning up each week for 10 weeks. So if people take that on they really do need to feel that they’re getting something out of it. In the last course I ran the numbers actually grew as the course went on as people brought their friends. The feedback has been very good. At the very least people enjoy the Peace Education Program. They say they go away feeling the better for it and look forward to coming next week.
What are you most looking forward to at the conference?
I’m really looking forward to the number of sessions on mental health and mental illnesses in prison. I also used to do a lot of obstetrics in prison so I’m looking forward to hearing the session on that as well.
Dr Andrew Ramsey will be speaking in further detail about the Peace Education Program at the 6th Annual Correctional Services Healthcare Summit. For more information, including the current agenda, please head to our website.