IssueMarch 2012
Tool by Alison Whyte

In 2005, a group at the University of Tromsø in Norway decided to create online training courses based on the ideas of Johan Galtung, the Norwegian sociologist who founded peace and conflict studies.

Professor Galtung defines peace as the capacity to handle conflict in a creative and empathic way. Galtung, who said that ‘violence is to peace what disease is to health’, believes that health professionals and others have a moral responsibility to address violence whenever they encounter it.

The aim of the courses is to provide people with the tools they need when confronted by violence of any sort, and to strengthen the competencies of all professionals involved in any aspect of peace or conflict. They are intended to help us all to prevent war, terror, human rights violations and other abuses of power, and to promote compassion, caring relationships, fair structures and a culture of peace.

The Medical Peacework training courses, which were developed with support from the EU’s Leonardo da Vinci Fund, were launched in the UK in February. Each of the seven courses covers a different topic, from war and weapons, health and human rights, to refugees, discrimination and problems at work. Each of the 21 chapters consists of textbook lessons, standardized questions and problem-based e-learning cases.

The multimedia courses have been developed by experts in each subject in internationally recognised organisations in 11 countries. The UK partner was the charity Medact, which works to prevent the impact of war, poverty and environmental degradation on health.


The courses are highly interactive with lots of multimedia learning. Audio and video clips, high impact photo-journalism and dramatic film footage bring the subjects to life and make the learning experience dramatic and memorable.

Film clips are used to great effect. In one, a group of children is playing a game on what looks like an English village green. Suddenly a landmine goes off. The whole scene descends into chaos, parents scream and children run amok. This powerful, hard-hitting film re-enacts what has become a daily occurrence in many parts of the world. The message is loud and clear. If this was happening in towns and villages in Britain, wouldn’t we be doing something to stop it?

Many of the people whose interviews appear in the modules have been involved in peace work in various ways – advocating for individual clients or challenging the structural violence that underpins unequal global relationships. The courses tackle thorny issues such as dual loyalty, that can arise for health professionals and others who work in prisons or detention centres, or who are part of the military.

There are accompanying e-books, teaching papers with suggested exercises, topics for group discussions and PowerPoint presentations that can be used in any setting. They allow for individual study and contact with fellow students.

The courses were tested by volunteer students and experts in the relevant fields in each of the core countries involved. English is a first language for only one of the countries and there was much discussion to ensure a clear understanding along the way. For example people in the UK thought the title ‘medical peace work’ was too doctor-orientated. But because it translated well into all the other languages it was agreed it should remain as the overall title.

There are examples of how people working in creative ways can help to reduce violence. The campaign against landmines which resulted in the Mine Ban Treaty – signed by 159 countries – began with the collection of data by hospital staff treating the victims of landmines.

It is easy to feel overwhelmed by the level of violence that exists at every level of society. These courses can restore our hope that each and every one of us can be empowered to do something, however small, to create a more peaceful world.