The World Health Organization recently named Tucson's Peaceful Resources Center as the home of the International Safe Schools Designation Program. According to Max Vosskuhler, executive director, one of the center's goals is cutting down on the number of deaths from injuries, the leading killer globally for people up to age 44. The naming of the center by the WHO gives it a prominent position in prodding schools to get people talking and developing holistic ways of reducing injuries, whether from violence, accidents or other causes. For more information, visit www.peacefulresources.org or call 990-5156.
What does it mean when a school or community has won the "safe" designation?
It doesn't mean that the community is always safe, that there are not going to be any injuries. It means that the community is working in such a way--or in the case of schools, that schools are working in such a way--that they're systematically working to reduce injury and promote safety. It's based on data, and there's evidence to support it. There are currently 102 designated safe communities in the world. There are about 23 communities that will be designated in the next 18 months, provided that the communities stay on track with where they are. And it's growing exponentially, which is a good thing. There are only two in the United States.
What are they?
Dallas and Anchorage (Alaska)--which is actually quite surprising to me. Having followed the movement, having been working within the movement for five years, and having presented the movement to five or six communities--both through businesses and city governments--people are just like, "We don't want to have anything to do with it." It's very strange to hear that for me, because ... having traveled around the world and having seen what it means to communities to have the prime minister or the president come to the community for a designation--when the World Health Organization designates a community, it means something for that entire country. And we see that businesses will relocate to that community; investment goes up in that community; people want to move into that community; land values go up in that community. People recognize that, gee, something is going on in that community.
But not in the United States.
In the United States, where we have a large number of injuries due to road traffic, violence, crime--you name it--it's still foreign to me why communities don't want to invest some of their development money into becoming safer communities, because we certainly have lots of nonprofit organizations that are working in various areas of safety. If we brought all of them to the table, along with city government, fire and police, we could do a lot more by ... saying, 'Let's share the information; let's work together,' rather than having everybody work separately.
What does the naming of the Peaceful Resources Center as the home of the Safe Schools movement mean for the center and for Tucson?
For the Peaceful Resources Center, it's recognition, first of all, of the work we've been doing for five years. It gives us the full, formal ability to continue. ... For Tucson, what it means is that after five years of having an organization that's been working with the WHO, we now have a formally designated WHO center in Tucson.
Has Tucson ever shown interest in being designated "safe?"
We're working on making those formal presentations right now. It looks like Tucson and the surrounding communities are starting to show interest, which is good. My forecast and my hope is that Tucson will be designated within the next three to five years.
Why are you personally involved with trying to make communities and schools safe?
The reason I am personally involved in creating safer environments is because, having grown up in Phoenix and being a gay man--and knowing that no matter how good one can be, and how intelligent you can be, and how strong you can be--you can be discriminated against and injured physically and psychologically. It really does take a community around you to protect you. The only way to do that is for the community to be educated so that it systematically doesn't allow for those sorts of injuries to occur. I don't want other kids to go through the sort of ridicule and sort of hidden physical abuse from other kids that I went through growing up. None of that's OK. There are better ways for children to interact; there are better ways for communities to educate their children about difference and diversity. It takes leadership to do that.