By Alison Smith
They came with a message of peace and left enriched by the same.
A group of international peace runners traversed roads from Coromandel to Whangamata over a week that was memorable for everyone.
The Sri Chinmoy Oneness-Home Peace Run is a global relay seeking to inspire the creation of a more peaceful world.
Eleven runners from Australia, Mexico, Fiji, South Africa, Britain and New Zealand passed a torch and took turns running 3km each to cover the Coromandel, stopping at Coroglen School, Hikuai School, Ōpoutere, Whangamatā and Waihi Central School.
"The message is just that peace begins with each one of us, and children are our leaders," says runner Preeti Thorpe.
While at Coroglen School they asked "what does peace mean to you?" and children put their hand on their heart in an exercise to identify feelings of inner peace.
"We want young people to be aware they can find those qualities within themselves," says photographer Niryana Marshall. "All that reaching outwardly isn't real and it's not going to help them."
The group says people frequently offer free accommodation, and Riverglen campground let the peace team camp at no charge.
Among the locals who enjoyed an instant rapport with the team was artist Pete Delete of Whenuakite who has completed a giant artwork for peace following the Christchurch mosque tragedy.
Pete has been working for more than a year at his workshop on a giant artwork commemorating the lives of those lost in Christchurch and plans to take his sculpture around New Zealand on a similar mission to promote peace.
He explained his sculpture to the runners while holding up a peace dove that is a feature of the sculpture.
From there it was to Hikuai School, where they were greeted by principal Murray Hawke and students who lined the rural roadside to run with the group.
"Running into Hikuai School, we got a fantastic reception from the children," says Niryana.
The highway of the Coromandel presented a particular challenge for runners negotiating the narrow berms, so runners jumped in the support vans where the highway got unsafe.
Preeti says they start out with a good breakfast, pack a decent lunch and stay hydrated through the day. Each runner does around 3km and has a five to 10-minute break in the van before tagging back in to the run.
At Ōpoutere School, principal Jethro Dyer and students heard the motto of the peace run that "Peace begins with me", and did the exercise to feel peace within their heart.
Last year the group ran every step from Cape Reinga to Bluff and plan an around-the-world run in 2022.
On the Coromandel they cannot run every step because of the road's narrow shoulders:
"But it was very beautiful along the beaches that we ran," says Preeti.
And then it was the turn of Whangamatā Area School students to share their stories of peace.
Young students wrote peace poems and read them out to the audience, and a tree was planted in honour of the visit.
The group held a stall at the Brits at the Beach event in Whangamatā on the weekend [15-16 February], before continuing their journey to Waihi.
A "peace tree" is created at each school where students write messages. Hundreds of schools have been visited so far.
"Peace has to be from person to person, hand to hand, heart to heart. You really have to speak to people so it's very grassroots and it's really one to one," says Niryana.
"It doesn't need money, it just needs people."
Artwork collected from students will be exhibited at the Colosseum in Rome, Italy, in a children's display titled Colours for Peace in conjunction with the Italian Government.