When Rockford native Bob Schlehuber left for the Peace Corps in Ukraine two years ago, he had no idea what to expect. But after working as a teacher in the town of Pryvillia, he realized students faced an environment of bullying and lack of courtesy for others—and he set out to change that.
The whole process started last June when Schlehuber was watching a documentary about Bob Dylan. Through the documentary, he started researching those interviewed—one of them was Peter Yarrow.
Yarrow, from the legendary folk group Peter, Paul and Mary, is the President and Co-Founder of an organization called Operation Respect. Already in 20,000 American schools and in 6 countries, the program's geared towards elementary-age students, to create a respectful and safe climate for learning. Schlehuber knew that was what he was looking for.
"I think we instantly think of bullying as a physical violence that children can bestow upon another child," said Schlehuber, from his apartment in Pryvillia, Ukraine. "Here, it's a little bit different. It's more of an idea of, emotional, that we kind of overlook how you speak to another child, or how a teacher interacts with other children."
So Schlehuber set out to contact Operation Respect. He had modest expectations of getting the program to work—he'd already failed to create a student exchange program with Rockford. But after working with the Peace Corps, the U.S. embassy and various non-governmental organizations, the program took off, quickly.
Operation Respect was on board, but to make it work in the Ukraine, Schlehuber knew there was a laundry list of tasks ahead. The most daunting was translating the program—including songs and texts into Ukrainian. But he had a hand—those in the Peace Corps and Yarrow's.
Yarrow was so excited for the work Schlehuber was doing, he came to Ukraine to perform and meet the mat responsible for starting the program. But more importantly, the trip was to train Peace Corps members and school teachers from across the country on how to use Operation Respect's lessons in their schools. Ultimately, that's both Yarrow and Schlehuber's goal.
"We're not only aiming at educating the children on how to be better people," said Schlehuber. "We also hope that the schools and the communities also feed off of this idea that peace is an answer, peace is kind of an emotion that can be carried forward to do such powerful things."
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