Magazine names N.S. safe-school advocate a hero Reader

Magazine names N.S. safe-school advocate a hero Reader’s Digest award goes to van Gurp

Chris Clements
The Chronicle Herald
Thursday January 11, 2007

A Nova Scotian who started a movement to make schools safer has been named one of Canada’s Heroes of 2006 by Reader’s Digest.

Hetty van Gurp, of Granville Ferry, co-founded the League of Peaceful Schools in Nova Scotia in 1998 after her son died when a bully pushed him into a school stage and broke his back. "It’s a complex emotional response," said Ms. van Gurp when asked how she felt about being named one of Canada’s heroes. "It’s somewhere between deep humility and great pleasure at being recognized."

In 2000, Ms. van Gurp took a leave of absence from her job with the Halifax Regional School Board. She took an internship with an organization in Japan that was working to ban land mines. Connections made during her time in Japan led her to Serbia where she worked in the school system and saw the problems that country’s civil war had caused for the youth. In 2001, in response to her work with schools in Serbia, Ms. van Gurp founded Peaceful Schools International, which now has more than 200 member schools in 10 countries.

The organization compares itself to the "magic stone" of the Stone Soup folk tale. It provides the stone and each school provides the ingredients — in this case programs, policies and practices — that suit that particular school.

Ms. van Gurp’s younger brother John is on the board of directors for Peaceful Schools International and he’s happy that his sister’s work is honoured in ways such as this. "I’m proud of the work she does and I’m extremely pleased she gets recognition for it," said Mr. van Gurp. "It’s very important work and she’s somebody with a vision and passion who won’t back down from her projects. Nothing anybody says can change her mind that this is the most important work she could be doing."

Ms. van Gurp has been given many awards for her work over the years, including the YMCA Peace Medal and the Queen’s Jubilee Medal. In 2005 she was awarded an honorary doctor of civil law degree from Saint Mary’s University.

Earlier this year, nine Saint Mary’s students had a chance to see van Gurp’s work in action when they accompanied her organization on a trip to Belfast, Northern Ireland.

Zach Churchill, president of the Saint Mary’s University Student Association, was on the trip and thinks Ms. van Gurp is very deserving of this recognition. "She took her suffering and turned it into something really constructive and positive that’s changing the world," said Mr. Churchill. Ms. van Gurp’s brother agrees that the outcome of his sister’s work is the important thing.

"What’s she’s done with peaceful schools is becoming a movement," said Mr. van Gurp. "That was her goal, to plant seeds, to have the goals of her society become part of school culture." Ms. van Gurp says she is most proud of convincing school administrators that "it’s possible to create a safe learning environment without a lot of resources."

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