Preaching peace: Shorewood student wages anti-bullying campaign

Ananya Murali presents her research about bullying at the International Youth Peace Ambassador Training Workshop.

Ananya Murali presents her research about bullying at the International Youth Peace Ambassador Training Workshop.

Dec. 3, 2014

Glendale — When Ananya Murali was a young girl in Montana, she remembers her family being harassed because of their Indian heritage.

It was in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, and the Muralis and other local Indian families were labeled as terrorists by a group of local residents. In response, the Indian community banded together to set up a booth and teach people about their peaceful culture. They taught them songs and dances, and collected donations for the local school district.

Now Murali, a junior at Shorewood High School, is taking action to prevent bullying among children in the North Shore. She said she is particularly troubled by the recent rash of teen suicides in the North Shore.

As part of her Girl Scout Gold Award project, Murali has researched the topic of bullying and has found that middle school is a particularly troubling time for young people.

"Middle school is a time when teenagers are trying to find their identity, and if they don't know who they are as a person, they often act out against other people," Murali said. " If we can stop bullying where it's most prevalent, then hopefully it won't continue beyond that."

Curious to learn more about peace and nonviolence, she contacted the Peace Learning Center of Milwaukee, where she participated in an elementary school peacemaking workshop. This past summer, she also joined young people from around the world at the Youth Peace Ambassadors International Conference in Phoenix, where she learned what other young people are doing to make their local communities more peaceful.

"I came out of the conference feeling energized, knowing that I could make a difference in the lives of young girls" she said. "Even if I start with a group of 100 girls, it will hopefully start a chain reaction and continue."

Murali did just that.

After researching the prevalence of bullying among girls in middle school, she organized an anti-bullying camp that will teach strategies to reduce aggression and emotional distress and improve girls' attitudes toward themselves and others.

Murali's mother, a teacher at Glen Hills Middle School, mentioned the idea to Glen Hills Principal Haydee Smith, who agreed to make the anti-bullying camp a schoolwide event at the school. The camp, which will be held from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 6, is expected to attract more than 100 girls in grades 4-8.

Murali said girls will participate in role-playing scenarios, where they will learn how to identify bullying, confront bullies and empower victims.

"I really want to teach them strategies to stand up to bullying," she said.

After pitching her event, Murali has received a $1,000 grant from Youth Service of America and a $1,000 grant from Keds Brave Life Project. That money is being used to order T-shirts, food, art supplies, books and Girl Scout patches for leadership and anti-bullying.

The main guest of the event is William Singleton, an officer in the Milwaukee Police Department's Office of Community Outreach and Education. His colleague, Jill Wesensel, will discuss her book about campus safety for girls and distribute a copy to every participant.

Glendale police officer Joel Dhein will also talk about the D.A.R.E. program and the dangers of cyberbullying. Mindful Yoga and Ashtanga Yoga will teach participants how to do yoga, calm themselves and focus on their inner emotions. Students from the school's National Junior Honor Society will also lead various activities like blogging, peace murals, peace songs, team-building activities and discussing their experiences.

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