by Alina Pharis, United World College Maastricht
09 February, 2022
Illustration by Thalia Lembong
“UWC uses education to unite people, nations, and cultures for peace and a sustainable future.” Together we learn this, apply this, and teach this to create a community working together to bring Kurt Hahnʻs dream into a reality. The catalyst, our first sight into this every year comes on September 21th, UWC day and International Peace Day. “UWC Day is a moment to celebrate the strength and diversity of the UWC movement and our mission for a more peaceful and sustainable future through connecting and mobilising UWCers globally” (https://www.uwc.org/uwcday, UWC Day)
This year on UWC Day the second years waited in anticipation for a mirage of different events dancing and music as good as last, and the first years in anticipation of pictures of multinational students representing their cultures and countries laughing and dancing to come to reality. Regardless of the single 1 hour event on our schedule our optimism remained, and our expectations remained high. Around campus excitement spread as in rooms, common rooms and the mensa students painted their faces, donned their traditional costumes, and tied their flags around their necks, as per tradition and request of the school.
Together we all walked to the field admittedly some more late than others, but filled with excitement nonetheless. Upon arrival we were told to go stand in the line, with that I went and found a place expecting perhaps some form of game to break out, competition between the years perhaps, but that thought left my mind as I approached and noticed my friends and co-years standing on lines reluctantly, their flags on the ground and a voice on speaker first recognizing a moment of silence for all of the people and places who are unable to have a celebration like this and are living in conflict then proceeding to let us all know about how we we would go viral in all of our beautiful costumes. But yet our beautiful costumes are not beautiful costumes.
But my “beautiful costume” was so much more than that, I wore a red print across my face for the over 3000 indigenous women and girls who go missing and murdered every year in Canada, who are never found, and whose murdered and go unnoticed. I wore a flag that said ʻEvery Child Mattered” because of the thousands of children’s bodies that were discovered in and around residential schools this year. I am fully aware that my costume was demonstrative of the new and still polarizing issues but everyoneʻs costume tells a story about them, their country, and the relationship between them, these stories should be represented in media and images in national dress is appropriate but at a UWC this is not enough, because our stories deserve to go viral, not our clothes, not our hair, and not our skin. Because we are more than that.
Today was not UWC day, we were not given a platform to share our culture, our traditions and our stories, we were not celebrating strength, we were not connecting, and we were not celebrating diversity. We were standing in lines and being told to dance, cheer, and scream, whilst representing a story and culture that we were unable to tell.