No baby is born with the urge to hurt someone; Hetty van Gurp: Brave Choices: Founder of Peaceful Schools International.

Author:Pogue, Carolyn
Position:Legal Humanities - Brief biography

People who harm others do so because they have learned violence somewhere.

Some believe that peacemakers are from picture-perfect backgrounds, people who skipped joyfully from one happy birthday to the next. The truth is that peacemakers don't necessarily have easy lives; what they do have is the courage to make brave choices about how to handle grief, violence and disappointment. Hetty van Gurp, founder of Peaceful Schools International, makes brave choices.

Hetty's father, Alexander van Gurp was a teenager in Holland when the Nazis invaded. He spent most of World War II in a camp in Germany. In addition to poor food, humiliation and hard work, he was beaten, and forced to watch the hanging of fellow inmates. Before the camp was liberated, Alex had nearly starved to death.

After the war, Alex married Margaret van Sintmaartensdijk. Hetty was their second child, born in 1949. "I believe that my father learned there to become a tyrant. My mother says that he never talked about his experiences, but the results were traumatic for us all, especially when he started drinking and became depressed." In 1953 the family emigrated to Halifax, Nova Scotia. Hetty's mother was gentle and patient. Her father was not. Family life was strictly regimented. The children were not allowed to join sports teams or clubs. Home life consisted of chores, odd jobs, homework and fear. "My mother tried to shield us from my father's tyranny, but it wasn't easy. We were all victimized. One time his drinking got so out of hand that my mother put on her coat and walked out the door. My father yelled for us to search for her and to stay out until we found her. I remember being very cold." Hetty was aged nine.

She recalls her father in a drunken rage yelling and marching the children around like soldiers. "It was terrifying, bizarre and dehumanizing," Hetty says. "He must have been reliving the horror of the Nazi Concentration Camp." Each child vowed to give their own children a different childhood.

Hetty went to university at age 18, at 19 she had a teaching certificate and a husband. She soon realized that the marriage was to escape living at home. It was brief. Single again, Hetty faced a new future. From a strict, frightening upbringing, Hetty was catapulted into a society in rapid change. It was the late sixties, and the hippie generation had different ideals, hope for peace in Viet Nam and for racial equality in the United States. Young people hitchhiked across North America and Europe, went to Woodstock, grew long hair, tuned in to the Beatles--and tuned out their parents' values. American draft dodgers fled to Canada. Aboriginal peoples throughout North America gained confidence. The assassinations of Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. fueled demand for change. "Make love, not war" was the cry of this generation.

Hetty responded by continuing her education but in ways her father would not have dreamed. The hippie school of learning was experiential. Hetty hit the road and travelled in Ontario, New-foundland and Mexico. Eventually she...

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