By Samuel Teo on behalf of the organisers of the Conference
For the first time ever, the Peacemakers Conference 2020 was conducted virtually via video conferencing on Zoom. Taking place from 20 to 22 July 2020, the Conference aimed to teach 13 to 16 year olds how to resolve conflicts amicably.
In total, we were delighted to host over 300 participants from Admiralty Secondary School, Ahmad Ibrahim Secondary School, Assumption English School, Damai Secondary School, Dunearn Secondary School, Evergreen Secondary School, Jurong West Secondary School, National Junior College, Northland Secondary School, NUS High School of Math and Science, Peicai Secondary School, Queenstown Secondary School, Raffles Girls’ School, School of Science and Technology, Temasek Junior College, Welham Girls’ School (Dehradun, India), West Spring Secondary School, Woodlands Secondary School, and Yishun Town Secondary School. This is the largest and most diverse cohort of students that we have ever received in the 11 years Peacemakers Conference has been running.
Additionally, we were blessed to have almost 60 student facilitators from the NUS Faculty of Law and SMU School of Law, and more than 50 professional mediators who took time off their busy schedules to help out in various capacities at the Conference.
Learning the Principles of Peer Mediation for Effective Peacemaking
Over the course of the Conference, the participants were exposed to mediation as a mode of amicable conflict management. Our lead trainers, Mr Juegan Lingam, Ms Tan Su, and Ms Valerie Seet trained them in the foundational principles of mediation, the process of peer mediation, and the basic elements of collaborative problem solving.
The participants also learned the importance of maintaining neutrality as mediators, and assuring parties of the confidentiality of the process. In terms of facilitating communication between two disputing parties, the trainers emphasised the importance of gathering information in order to identify parties’ interests behind their positions and to harness that to guide parties to problem-solve by generating fair solutions that achieve both parties’ desired outcomes. Lastly, our trainers focused on the skills involved in effective communication and managing emotions, such active listening and reframing.
Practising Mediation in a New Virtual World
In the “new normal” brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, online mediation is becoming an increasingly ubiquitous phenomenon. Having to move the Conference online, we wanted to capitalise on the convenience of the online format to reach out to even more students, whilst tweaking the existing workshop model to keep the Conference as engaging for the participants as possible to ensure that they still got the best experience despite the new format.
The participants got to know each other and the facilitators better during the icebreaker activities online, which consisted of games optimised for the virtual platform. The content of the Conference was delivered through a combination of large group lectures, and small group exercises, where participants were encouraged to practice what they had just learnt through a series of challenging but relatable role play scenarios.
To ensure that participants received constant guidance throughout their learning, a typical small group exercise consisted of three participants and at least one facilitator. The participants took turns to role play as parties and mediators in hypothetical disputes. These role plays were drafted in a way that they would be relatable to students in secondary school, from conflicts between CCA leaders arising out of limited space for training in school, to disputes between school friends over more personal issues.
It was encouraging to see participants enthusiastically taking down notes while listening to our trainers from the comfort of their own home. Participants also actively asked questions over the chat function on the video conferencing platform, and even bonded with their fellow participants during the breaks that were scheduled throughout the session. It was heartening for the organising committee, facilitators, and coaches alike to see so many happy and eager faces over video.
Mediation as a Diamond… or Boba?
As with previous years, participants were given the opportunity to work in groups to create visual metaphors for what mediation is to them. Participants were encouraged to think about how they would complete the phrase ‘Mediation is…”, and as usual, we received very interesting submissions. Each group also did a short presentation on their chosen visual metaphor.
To give you a taste of their creativity, we will briefly share two metaphors with you. The first is “Mediation is like an Egg Whisk”, and secondly, to commemorate the beverage that took the nation by storm during the Circuit Breaker period, “Mediation is like Boba”! Our participants explained that mediation is like an egg whisk because the mediator’s role involves bringing together two distant parties, represented by the egg white and yolk, and doing so in a delicate manner to avoid making a mess. Participants also felt that mediation is like boba because it adds to the experience of just drinking milk tea – akin the mediator’s presence adding value to the process towards conflict resolution!
The organisers would like to express their heartfelt gratitude to the many people that made the Peacemakers Conference 2020 such a great success. First and foremost, we would like to thank the Singapore International Mediation Institute, the Community Mediation Centre, the NUS Collaborative Dispute Resolution Club, Sage Mediation, ShopBack, and I’m Kim Korean BBQ for supporting the Conference. Without them, the Conference would not have been the success that it was.
We would also like to thank all the facilitators and coaches who volunteered their precious time to invest in the participants’ mediation training. The coaches’ dedication, patience, and wisdom are greatly appreciated, both by the organisers as well as the participants.
Finally, we are incredibly grateful for the energy and enthusiasm shown by our participants. Over the course of the conference, you asked brilliant questions, were incredibly diligent, and very capably put all that you had learnt into practice. It has been such a joy to see how everyone has grown in confidence and proficiency as mediators in such a short period of time. While watching you grow and learn, we have learnt much from all of you as well.
For many of us, this is just the beginning of our journey as peacemakers. We have full confidence that the lessons learnt will be shared with our peers, and hope to see everyone continuously hone our skills and grow as mediators!
As Singapore’s leading peer mediation experts, Peacemakers has an extensive track record of managing and delivering conflict resolution training for youth at both local and international levels. If you would like to train your youth to better manage conflict, let us know how we can help via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.