In 1983, a group of university students in Japan got together and devised a plan to build community within the Asia-Pacific region — they would charter a boat and travel to neighboring countries to hear from people who were directly affected by Japan’s history of military aggression.

Because of censorship campaigns, during which the Japanese government softened accounts of past military invasions and battles, these students set sail to discover the truth of how Japan had impacted different communities in the region. They wanted to initiate a people-to-people exchange, uncover a shared history with other Asian countries, and chart a course toward a more united future together.

That voyage became the first of many Peace Boat global voyages As an international, youth-based NGO, Peace Boat has since organized over 100 voyages and traveled to more than 80 countries. Promoting peace, human rights, and sustainability, the organization is at the forefront of helping young changemakers create a future in which nuclear weapons are banned, civic space is assured, and sustainability efforts are supported.

Setting Sail for Peace and Sustainability

Peace Boat’s efforts to increase civic space include rallying the global community around the world’s most challenging problems. Inviting human rights and environmental defenders and other members from civil society on board, the organization hosts workshops, facilitates guest lectures, and fosters connections between participants who can work together and find solutions.

Since its founding, one of Peace Boat’s core goals is nuclear disarmament. Based in Japan, the organization uses its platform to discuss the humanitarian impact of the atomic bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, as well as the danger that nuclear weapons continue to pose to the world.

Young people unite to advocate for a renewable energy transition.
Image: Supplied by Peace Boat.

“As we sail around the world, we have guest speakers come on board to give lectures or host workshops about important issues: human rights, gender equality, nuclear disarmament,” Emilie McGlone, director of Peace Boat US, told Global Citizen. “For instance, we bring survivors from Hiroshima and Nagasaki to speak out against nuclear weapons and shed light on their humanitarian impact.” 

The “Global Voyage for a Nuclear-Free World” project invites members of the Hibakusha, which refers to the survivors of the atomic bombs, to share testimonies of their experiences with others and advocate for nuclear disarmament.

In addition to on-board activities, Peace Boat organizes port programs related to each voyage’s itinerary. These learning opportunities give participants the chance to interact with key members of civil society — such as human rights and environmental defenders, Indigenous groups, and NGOs — wherever they’re based. They’re also able to take part in a valuable cultural exchange, linking communities around the world.

“We brought youth from Baltic countries together in Iceland to participate in a climate demonstration, and we often organize educational events at universities,” McGlone said. “Relating to energy issues, [we’ve] organized a museum exhibit in various countries including Venezuela after [the nuclear accident in] Fukushima to demonstrate the ongoing impacts and promote a renewable and nuclear-free future for all.”

“We collaborate with governments, civil society, youth, UN partners, Indigenous groups — making sure all voices are represented equally is really important to us,” she added.

The other half of Peace Boat’s activations relates to SDG13, which calls for climate action, and SDG 14 for the protection and conservation of life below water. Partnering with UNESCO's Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC) as part of the UN Ocean Decade, Peace Boat seeks to bring renewed attention and research toward building a sustainable relationship with the ocean.

“We recognize that operating a cruise ship has an impact on the ocean and try to be as sustainable as possible,” McGlone told Global Citizen. “Engaging young people on energy conservation and working toward a 100% renewable energy future is central to our work.”

The organization's latest project is constructing the world’s most environmentally-sustainable cruise ship, Peace Boat’s Ecoship, which features reduced CO2 emissions, a nearly zero-waste operations model, and increased reliance on renewable energy sources. The boat will host educational voyages focused on climate action, and carry out workshop-based training programs for civil society campaigns.

Empowering Young Changemakers

As a youth-focused organization, Peace Boat believes that the future of the world depends on its next generation of leaders. Many of the organization’s programs are geared toward training young people in civic action and advocacy.

In 2015, Peace Boat US launched the Youth for the SDGs program to encourage engagement with the UN Sustainable Development Goals. As part of this program, anyone between the ages of 18 and 30 is invited to apply to join Peace Boat on an upcoming voyage, engage with fellow youth activists, and share their passion for the SDGs.

“Peace Boat has always been a very creative and dynamic organization where anyone can share new ideas to create a positive impact,”  McGlone said. “Young people need to have these experiences and capacity-building training — our programs provide those opportunities to learn and be part of a global community.”

The organization also hosts a Ukraine Youth Ambassadors program, wherein young people impacted by Russia’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine can share their experiences, educate others about Ukrainian culture, and learn about peacebuilding tactics. 

Additionally, Peace Boat’s Ocean and Climate Youth Ambassador program invites youth from Small Island Developing States (SIDS)  to educate government representatives and others about climate change’s impact in their communities. All these programs in turn are essential to protecting civic space internationally, and at home, for all the activists so they can continue to grow their work.

“These programs give youth a voice to ensure their experiences are heard, particularly by leaders in the Global North,” McGlone said. “Peace Boat has always been a platform for youth engagement. Through our civil society actions and our partnership with the UN, we always try to find a way to raise the voices of young people around the world.”

As a result of their time with Peace Boat, many former participants have remained in civil society, either as experts in their fields or by working for organizations and agencies that champion the Global Goals.

Khadija Stewart, an Ocean and Climate Youth Ambassador from Trinidad and Tobago, joined Peace Boat in 2019 to sail to Malta, Spain, Portugal, Morocco, and New York. She had the opportunity to meet with government officials and environmental leaders, learn about environmental degradation in other participants’ countries, and host an interactive session on climate change’s impact on Trinidad and Tobago.

Khadija Stewart
Image: Supplied by Peace Boat.

“[Stewart] attended the Our Ocean conference in Norway with Peace Boat and the host of the youth summit, Sustainable Ocean Alliance [in 2019]. Now, she works as the Caribbean Hub Coordinator for Sustainable Ocean Alliance, which was one of our partners at the conference,” McGlone said.

Other former participants have gone on to work at the UN and other civil society organizations, utilizing the skills and connections they made onboard.

How Can Global Citizens Get Involved?

Peace Boat’s next voyage will travel between Mexico, Canada, and Alaska this July. Coinciding with the United Nations World Oceans Day theme of the year, “Awaken New Depths,” participants will have the opportunity to learn about mangrove reforestation, ocean biodiversity, coral reef restoration, and other projects in partnership with local NGOs and Indigenous groups.

“We’re looking at the ocean to see how we can have a more sustainable relationship and positive climate future,” McGlone told Global Citizen. “We want the [youth participants] to think through solutions that can be replicated and shared across communities. A lot of the youth on board Peace Boat face similar challenges, so they can share similar solutions.”

Global Citizens who are interested in joining Peace Boat’s upcoming voyages can submit an application for the Youth for the SDGs program. Then, follow Peace Boat on Instagram and Facebook to learn about upcoming events on land, such as any activities Peace Boat is hosting for the United Nations World Oceans Day on June 8.

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