2013 Peace Essay Contest First Place Winner Mikaela Benway

First Place:  Mikaela Benway, Homeschooled, Powhatan County

Learning to Live in Peace


Peace has played a significant role in my life. It all started back when I got adopted when I was two years old. Ever since then, I’ve been raised in a family that has emphasized learning about peace, and how to be a peacemaker. We have done this in many ways such as reading and discussing books, learning about different wars, and meeting and getting to know people from a variety of different cultures. As a result, I’ve learned throughout the years that understanding everyone’s differences is an important part of bringing about peace.


I know first-hand about the terrible consequences of war because my native country, Cambodia, experienced one of the most violent genocides of the 20th Century. At that time, a communist named Pol Pot rose to power. During his reign of terror, he killed most of the educated Cambodians and forced everyone else to move from the cities to the countryside. He made them grow rice and do other hard labor that they didn’t know how to do. This caused many of them to starve and die from exhaustion. By the time Pol Pot fell from power, one third of the population of Cambodia was dead. The rest of the country was in shambles and Cambodia’s government had collapsed because no one was educated enough to run it. People starved to death, while others were too poor to take care of themselves or their families. To this day, most of Cambodia still lives below the poverty line, and they are struggling to rebuild their country. As a lasting result of the war, families were destroyed and there were many orphans–I being one of them. Fortunately, I was adopted and now I live in America with a family who loves and cares for me.


My family does a lot to ensure that I grow up understanding the importance of peace. For example, I am homeschooled and character development is an essential part of my education.  Part of that involves learning about peace, justice and modern social issues such as human trafficking, terrorism, and war. I’ve studied about the horrors of war and have visited the Richmond Holocaust Museum, Gettysburg, Antietam and several other battlefields. I’ve read numerous books about historical conflicts, and I also met and spoke with veterans from the war in Vietnam. Additionally, I have learned about important peacemakers such as Martin Luther King Jr., Abraham Lincoln, and the Dalai Lama. We also read and discussed a lot of character strengthening books such as Spinning Tales, Weaving Hope: Stories, Storytelling and Activities for Peace, Justice and the Environment, The Family Virtues Guide, and Do Hard Things: A Teenage Rebellion against Low Expectations. Later this month I am going to attend the Richmond Youth Peace Summit for the first time, which will hopefully help me further develop my peacemaking skills.


My family also tries to expose me to people from different cultures, religions, ethnicities, and more. These experiences have had a positive impact on my life. One of the many ways we learn about different people is by following current events. It helps me learn about events in other nations as well as my own, and being aware of what’s going on in the world is an important thing that I believe everyone should know. Another way my family learns about different ethnicities is by volunteering in a Kindergarten class in one of Richmond’s inner-city schools. Every other week, my mother, brother and I go to Woodville Elementary School and help teach the students how to read and write. It’s a great experience to be around children that grow up differently than I do, and in reality they have taught me to appreciate how lucky I am. My family has also sponsored a refugee from Honduras. We helped her settle in America, find a job, apply for scholarships, and my mother even taught her how to drive. It was interesting to learn about her culture too. My family has had international students from VCU come for dinner in the past, and eventually we are going to take it one step further and have a foreign exchange student come live with us, which will be very exciting. As a result of all these opportunities, I’ve learned to accept people for who they are, and really when it’s all said and done, I realize that we are more alike than we are different.


In conclusion, the concept of peace has always been a major part of my life ever since the beginning. The war in Cambodia had many negative consequences and contributed to me becoming an orphan. However, my adoptive family is very loving and has taught me about the importance of peace. I think that family is the most critical component when it comes to teaching everyone about peace. For example, my education has focused on learning about the horrors of conflict, the positive impact that peacemakers can have, as well as character development. Learning about it through my education has been a great way for me to understand. My family has also exposed me to people from many different cultures, and I now know more about those who think and do things differently than I do. If people understood each other better, then we could all get along. In my opinion, conflict is like a dove with broken wings; but once we all work together as peacemakers, we can mend it, and help it fly again.