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Tale ved konferencen Bullying-Free Education i Estland

Madam Ilves, Mr. Chancellor of Justice, honoured guests, Ladies and Gentlemen.

I have been very much looking forward to my visit to Estonia and to hear and experience more about your work against bullying. For me and all of us at The Mary Foundation and Save the Children Denmark, it is with joy and satisfaction that the programme Free of Bullying is now supporting the creation of environments where children can thrive and feel save to be themselves, not only in Denmark, but here in Estonia as well.

I would like to start with a brief introduction to The Mary Foundation and how the programme Free of Bullying came about.

It is now almost 10 years ago that the Crown Prince and I got married. As a wedding gift the people of Denmark and Greenland collected one million Danish kroner and gave it to us together with the idea that it could go towards setting up my own foundation. This thoughtful gift became the first spark of inspiration to a vision from which a different kind of foundation would grow. It enabled me to fulfill a desire to give something back to society by making a difference to the many people who find themselves alone in the world.  

The Mary Foundation’s vision is to fight social isolation based on the concept that “everyone has the right to belong”. Child or adult, we all have a deep and basic need for contact and relations with other people – a need to feel valued and to be an accepted part of a community. Without the chance to share our thoughts, our feelings, and our lives with other people, we simply fall apart inside.

But what is social isolation?
Social isolation goes against our very nature, because our need to belong is just as basic as our need for food, water and safety. Social isolation is often associated with other problems – such as bullying and violence – both as a cause and as an effect. One could say that social isolation is part of a vicious circle. But essentially, social isolation is about feeling completely alone.

The Mary Foundation's vision means a lot to me personally. I have always found it difficult and upsetting to see people who, for whatever reason, are alone, excluded and isolated. This feeling I remember clearly from early childhood and it is with me to this very day. There is something so very unfair and wrong about a man, a woman, a boy or a girl standing completely alone in this world.

So how do we fight social isolation in The Mary Foundation?

We began by examining the social situation in Denmark – where were there specific unmet needs, which issues were particularly taboo, where could we make a difference with positive results, and which areas really meant something to us?

In our initial analysis we found that Bullying met the criteria. This area is closely linked to our vision that everyone has the right to belong. No child should be subjected to systematic exclusion, which is what bullying is about, and no child's future should be compromised because of the severe and potentially long-term effects of bullying.

Our very first project was the programme Free of Bullying, which we launched in 2007 together with Save the Children Denmark. Our inspiration came from an impressive Australian organization named The Alannah and Madeline Foundation, who at the time had ten years of experience with fighting bullying through their Better Buddies programme. As the international patron of The Alannah and Madeline Foundation I was aware of this project and could see its potential in a Danish context. And with the help from leading Danish experts in the field, Save the Children Denmark and The Mary Foundation developed the Danish Free of Bullying programme.

The issue of bullying was a subject of discussion and awareness in Denmark at the time – but a new perspective on the mechanics of bullying was arising amongst experts. Instead of looking at the individual child as the cause of bullying, the dynamics in the group as a whole came into focus. Free of Bullying became the first programme in Denmark to adapt and implement this new way of thinking. And the first programme in Denmark to target children as young as three years of age.

Free of Bullying is not about the individual child, it is not about a bully and a victim. Free of Bullying is about the group and the dynamics within it. It is about creating environments, where tolerance, respect, care and courage are the foundation of the group and every child in it. When children learn through dialogue, play and physical interaction how to be a good and caring friend – we make the group resistant to bullying. When the group is strong and in agreement on what is fair and unfair, and everyone has the courage to interfere when something unfair occurs, the group creates an environment, where it is difficult for bullying to exist.

Free of Bullying is about early intervention and prevention. Prevention through strong and sound relations makes the programme relevant as early as kindergarten where the children become aware of social norms and build their social relations.

So this group perspective combined with the programme targeting 3-8 year-olds was quite innovative in Denmark when first started seven years ago.

The results of Free og Bullying in Denmark have been very promising. Studies show that the children simply become more caring towards each other and better at solving conflicts themselves. They take responsibility for each other and comfort each other, when someone is sad. They reach out to each other and are more inclusive in their play. They simply become better buddies.   
 
Studies also show that no less than 98% of teachers would recommend Free of Bullying to other institutions. Later today Lars Netteberg from Save the Children Denmark will give you much more detail on our experiences and work with Free of Bullying in Denmark.

As you all know, bullying is not isolated to particular countries and communities. Therefore we were extremely pleased when the Estonian Union for Child Welfare first showed interest in Free of Bullying back in 2008. Free of Bulling is no quick fix, but a long-term investment in our children’s well-being and future. Implementing the programme in a new country requires a lot of effort and a lot of cooperation.

Three years ago the Estonian Union for Child Welfare, Save the Children Denmark and The Mary Foundation signed an agreement of cooperation. Today we see the first results of this partnership. Free of Bullying is now available in more than half of all Estonian kindergartens and is currently being tested in 25 schools. And the results so far show the same positive changes as we have seen in Denmark.

The way in which you have adapted and implemented Free of Bullying has been extremely professional. And this is reflected in the results you have already achieved. You have taken ownership and like us believe the simple idea of the programme and what it can mean to the lives of children.

The involvement of the Estonian Ministry of Education and The University of Tallinn as well as our cooperation with the Estonian Union of Child Welfare have given Free of Bullying the best possible start in your country. I hope that Free of Bullying will be as valuable a tool to you as it has been and continues to be for us in Denmark. On behalf of the Mary Foundation and Save the Children Denmark, I would like to congratulate you on your achievements so far. We are looking very much forward to our continued cooperation in securing Estonian and Danish children an environment where they feel safe and accepted – and free of bullying.

The title of today’s conference is Bullying-Free Education. Most of you here work with children on a daily basis and your impact on their lives, their development and values cannot be overestimated. We all have a role to play. I am sure this conference will serve as an inspiration in your work towards achieving the important and ambitious agenda of this conference.