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Home > News > Specials

The Rediff Special/Dhiraj Shetty

January 17, 2004

How far would you go to get your history lessons right?

Some Japanese students went so far as to hire a ship and cross the seas in search of the truth behind their country's role in World War II. The outcome of their travels is the Peace Boat, which is now run by a Tokyo-based NGO of the same name. The ship hosts a unique campus, open to students from all over the world.

Peace Boat promotes human rights, equal and sustainable development, peace and respect for the environment. It believes all these are inter-related, and that any problem faced by any community is a global challenge, which must be tackled through co-operation between peoples, organisations and governments of the world.

The boat has an interesting history. After its surrender, Japan tried to erase all traces of its role in the war. But during the early 1980s, some students sought to find out the truth. Since it was not forthcoming, they chartered a ship and visited the countries affected by Japan's actions and met people who could shed light on its role.

Complete of the World Social Forum| Images: Aboard the Peace Boat

From those travels was born the idea of a peace boat, which could offer a mobile, neutral, peace-making space, and a platform to organise peace education and NGO networking activities.

Later, it included spreading the message of peace and a nuclear weapons free world among anyone who cared to listen. Most of those interested were, and are, Japanese students.

When it started operations in 1983, the ship stuck to the countries on the Pacific Ocean but even then people spent a lot of time at sea because the Pacific is a large ocean and no one could just leave the ship midway if they needed a break. The topics were, and are, serious ones and could prove to be a strain on anyone.

Travelling on a ship is truly a most wonderful experience, but operating one is a very expensive proposition. Hence, the organisers came up with the idea of using a cruise ship. The tourists would impart a colourful character to the concept and their enthusiasm would help reduce the stress on those on board for education.

So, now the ship has a mix of tourists and students. The number of each varies on each trip. The present ship is the biggest the NGO has had in its history. It can accommodate up to 1,250 passengers, but the organisers try to keep the number to about 700: just enough to sustain the enthusiasm and at the same time give people enough space.

The Global University on board is the world's first floating peace studies programme. It combines on board courses with site visits at the various ports of call.

Every year, the ship takes off on three three-month global voyages and one or two shorter regional voyages. It is joined on average by 500 participants, and visit up to eighteen countries on a trip.

An average of fifty guest speakers from all over the world join each of the voyages, providing a wide-ranging and exciting programme of on board lectures. On land, the students participate in numerous study and exchange activities in the countries the ship visits.

The students also distribute items donated by the Japanese at the ports of call among NGOs. These items are collected by students who go door-to-door seeking donations.

For the students, a typical day would be filled with attending lectures on peace, human rights, workshops, seminars, preparation for activities on board and at the ports of call, arts, sports and cultural activities, and learning different languages.

The ship has two seminar halls that can accommodate 400 and 150 persons respectively.

But if thestudents get bored of the lectures and want to just chill out, they can try the theatre, library, sports deck, gymnasium, spa, pool and restaurants.

Almost all the films shown in the theatre are Japanese, some with English subtitles; same goes for the books in the library. So, brush up your Japanese before embarking on the ship.

The tourists also attend some of the seminars and discussions, says Paul Mason, who is the international programme coordinator for the NGO and is based on the ship.

Paul is an Australian. He was interested in social work and also happened to know Spanish and Japanese. That got him the job of an interpreter on board the ship. "But the biggest incentive was the part about travelling around the world, which I would never have been able to do otherwise," he says grinning from ear to ear. He must love it because he says none of those working with the NGO is going to retire rich.

The passengers are a very enthusiastic lot and being on board is a delight. Paul won't let you take a tour of the ship because of legal hassles, but you can take his word; he's been there and done it for five years, in the course of which he got promoted from interpreter to international coordinator.

For the students, it's like being in a college at sea, while for the tourists it is a cheap cruise. Both help spread the message of peace across the world.

When it dropped anchor in Mumbai on Friday to coincide with the inauguration of the World Social Forum meet, students of Sophia and Jai Hind College were at hand for a welcome.

Education is a very expensive affair and imparting it on a ship is prohibitively expensive. But the NGO has managed to keep its head above water.

The ship pays for itself. A student on a three-month course would have to shell out approximately $10,000, while a tourist would pay $12,000. There are a few scholarships. For details, visit thewebsite

Pay more attention during your history classes. Can never say where it can take you.

The Rediff Specials

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Number of User Comments: 1

Sub: peace boat

its different the meaning of peace for india +wolrd, with Pak,minus america, since two brothers pak-usa, is drawing its own definition, hence the boat is ...

Posted by bharat



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