Six Nobel Peace Prize winners joined thousands of young people who are intent on changing the world at a PeaceJam celebration from September 11th through 13th.
The PeaceJam Foundation, a nonprofit organization based in Denver, seeks to create a new generation of young leaders committed to positive change in themselves, their communities and the world through the inspiration of Nobel Prize laureates.
The campus of Loyola Marymount University (LMU) was the site of this three-day gathering that featured conferences, workshops and speeches by the Nobel winners, who came to Westchester to help launch an ambitious global campaign where they and the young adults between the ages of 14 and 25 joined forces to tackle some of the most pressing problems facing the world today.
“The Global Call to Action” aspires to bring together interested parties from all over the world to engage in “one billion acts of kindness” over a ten-year period worldwide, where participants can confront topics such as racism and hatred, stopping the spread of global disease, securing rights for women and children and restoring the environment, among others.
“It’s a great pleasure to welcome our Nobel laureates with great gratitude,” said Father Robert J. Lawton, president of LMU, at a press conference during the first day of the event. “Not only for the good that they’ve done but also for the inspiration that they have been, not only to our young people, but to all of us.”
The ten-year initiative has been endorsed by the Nobel Prize winners who were present at the LMU PeaceJam.
Nobel laureates Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Jody Williams, Adolfo PerÈz Esquivel, Rigoberta Menchu Tum, Betty Williams and Shirin Eba attended the press conference at University Hall on the event’s opening day.
JosÈ Ramos Horta, who was scheduled to appear, was unable to make the trip to the West Coast with his fellow laureates. The president of East Timor and the 1996 Nobel Peace Prize recipient was recovering in Cuba from an assassination attempt earlier this year.
“More than anything else, I wish that I was well enough to be with my brother and sister laureates [at the PeaceJam Global Call to Action],” Ramos Horta said in a statement. “It comes to me as no surprise that young people have embraced the notion of eradicating extreme poverty. The task is not easy, it is not simple, and it will require dogged determination.
“But I know that by working together it can be overcome, and we can transform the world.”
Dawn Engle, PeaceJam co-founder and executive director, thanked the Nobel laureates for coming to LMU and welcomed the participants, many of whom traveled very far to attend the conferences.
“We believe that all of you who have come are up to the challenge,” she said.
“It’s all of our responsibility to answer this Global Call to Action,” added Ivan Suvanjieff, president and co-founder of the PeaceJam Foundation.
Betty Williams, who won the Nobel Prize in 1977 for her courageous effort to end the bitter political conflict and violence in Northern Ireland between Catholics and Protestants, cited her own experience as proof that some of the world’s most difficult challenges can be overcome.
“When we first started out, we were told, ‘You can’t solve [the violence between Catholics and Protestants].’
“And guess what? It’s solved.
“It took a lot of time and a lot of work, but I learned that you can do anything you set your mind to do.”
South African Archbishop Tutu, who arrived at the university after a long flight from Europe, spoke about his belief in PeaceJam and the need to get young people involved in causes like those that the organization sponsors.
“The Global Call to Action campaign is gaining an incredible kind of momentum and is making a huge difference in the lives of young people,” said the Nobel winner.
Tutu said that while it was wise to recognize that there are negative forces in the world, there is also a great deal of altruism.
“We have to say that evil exists, but it is also extraordinary the amount of good that exists as well.”
Tutu, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984 for his nonviolent work to end apartheid and bring equality to South Africa, said that he is amazed at how often those who strive for peace continue to do so despite the conditions where they work and or live.
“There are people who keep going back to these places, people who come mostly from places where they could live comfortably and safe,” the archbishop noted. “But they return repeatedly to situations where especially women can be abducted or killed.”
Jody Williams told the audience at the press conference that participating in PeaceJam was worthwhile because it gave her another opportunity to work with young adults and like-minded people who are striving to bring more peace to the world.
“I’m often asked why young people don’t care,” said Williams (no relation to Betty), who won the Nobel honor in 1997 for her international work in banning and clearing of anti-personnel mines. “But I would invite anyone who believes that to come along with anyone of us to a PeaceJam and watch what these young people do.
“Watch them become empowered, because we take the time to listen and make them believe that their thoughts, their beliefs about a better world are possible, which inspires them to take the first step.”
Three thousand teenagers and young adults from around the world participated in PeaceJam activities at LMU, which included selecting the core issues they wished to engage in, which the Nobel laureates had designated.
Betty Williams, who received several standing ovations and hugs from her many admirers after her campus talks, quickly acquired an entourage of students and PeaceJam participants who accompanied her around campus, seemed energized by the enthusiasm of the students.
“When you’re in a room and you’re looking at all of those young [faces] who are looking for another way, and you have three thousand of them who want to change the world, it’s inspiring and it’s heartbreaking,” Williams told The Argonaut. “I think to myself sometimes, ‘Why should children have to fight for peace?'”
Williams says she does not see the same level of youth activism in her travels because those youths often don’t have role models to emulate.
“There’s a lot of places in the world where a lot of really good work is being done, but children and young adults have their own ideas, and what we need to do is guide that idea, not take it away from them,” said Williams.
Jenn Wing, 26, of Maine, said that she was thrilled to be a part of a movement with such youthful energy.
“I’ve never seen so many students come together with such kindness and loving spirit to talk about the issues that affect us all,” she said.
Jen Scott, 22, said that the three-day event had been very tiring, “but whenever we see the students and how excited they are, we get reenergized. It’s been so inspirational.”
Jessica Gabrian of St. Louis has been working with Jody Williams for almost a year.
“It’s so hard to believe,” said Gabrian, 23. “I can’t begin to describe how amazing the journey has been. [Williams] is so knowledgeable and is such a great role model for women in America, because she speaks her mind, and there are women in other parts of the world who can’t.”
Wing, who has spent time in Tibet, echoed Betty Williams’ statements about youth activism in other countries.
“The challenge is that they don’t always have the same resources as we do, but they are just as interested and engaged as we are at this PeaceJam,” she said.
Nearly 250 students from LMU served as mentors during the PeaceJam event.
The Pearson Foundation will announce an annual Global Call to Action challenge to identify the very best projects completed each year of the campaign.
A Public Broadcasting Service film crew was on site to complete filming of the companion television series, to run in the spring.
The PeaceJam Foundation has been nominated for the 2008 Nobel Peace Prize for its work in creating the Global Call to Action campaign.