Teaching Peace – PeaceJam

Today’s briefing for NGOs at the United Nations was part of the Department of Public Information’s (DPI) Faith Series, “Islam and its Message of Peace and Understanding among Civilizations.

I was particularly impressed with one of the speakers: Dr. Shirin Ebadi.  She is a human rights lawyer and activist from Iran,  and was the 2003 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate.

These days, her passion is the PeaceJam Foundation.

Dr. Ebadi explained to the audience how PeaceJam got started. In 1993 Dawn Engle and Ivan Suvanjieff noticed that more and more kids in their working class neighborhood in Denver seemed to be quitting school and joining gangs. One day, as Ivan was leaving for work he saw four young boys, he knew, carrying guns and he called them over to talk.

He asked, “Why aren’t you in school?

The boys answered, “They don’t teach anything there, that we are interested in learning.

He asked them, “Who is the President of the United States?

They answered, “Who cares? What did he ever do for us?”

He asked, What country is our neighbor to the north?

They said, “We don’t know and we don’t care.”

Ivan asked, “Did you ever learn anything useful from any teacher you ever had?”

The boys said, “The teachers don’t understand poverty. They don’t understand where poverty takes you.”

Then Ivan asked, “Who would you like to be your teacher?”

One of the boys answered, “Desmond Tutu.” The boys went on to add that they would also like to be taught by Nelson Mandela and the Dalai Lama.

This conversation was the inspiration for PeaceJam. Ivan thought, maybe what Denver needed was to put young people together with Nobel Peace Laureates like Tutu, to inspire young people to use their energy to work for positive change. Maybe this was what the world needed.

Before long, the PeaceJam program was launched, and to date over 600,000 young people have participated in the USA and around the world.

“The mission of the PeaceJam Foundation is to create young leaders committed to positive change in themselves, their communities and the world through the inspiration of Nobel Peace Laureates who pass on the spirit, skills, and wisdom they embody.”

The Core Components of PeaceJam Programs are: Education, Inspiration and Action.

Education – PeaceJam’s curricula are standards-based and designed to stimulate youths’ critical thinking skills, strengthen their research skills, increase their conflict resolution and leadership skills, and promote reflection and action.

Inspiration – Each curriculum teaches about the lives and work of the Nobel Peace Laureates through age-appropriate activities and content. Youth get to know the personal and harrowing stories of the 12 PeaceJam Nobel Peace Laureates and how these role models work to solve problems through non-violence.

Action – On September 16, 2006 10 Nobel Peace Laureates gathered in Denver, Colorado. It was the largest gathering of Nobel Peace Prize winners in U.S. history. The laureates issued a challenge to the youth of the world, the Global Call to Action. This is what they said:

“Today we ask the young leaders of PeaceJam, and the youth of the entire world, to join us in a Global Call to Action. For the next ten years, we invite them to work side by side with us as we address ten fundamental issues. These ten core problems are at the root of much of the suffering in our world, and we believe that young people can mobilize to make a difference in these ten key areas. Over the coming decade, we will continue to lead this effort, which is being launched today at the 10th Anniversary Celebration of the PeaceJam Foundation.

It is our hope that by launching this ten-year campaign, we can inspire people of all ages, worldwide, to work for change. Over the next ten years, we hope to inspire over a billion acts of service and peace”

PeaceJam also brings Nobel Peace Prize winners together with high-school aged youth for two-day PeaceJam Youth Conferences.

At today’s briefing Dr. Ebadi announced the launch of the PeaceJam Foundation’s Middle East Program. PeaceJam has already, as Bishop Tutu recently commented, “made a huge, huge difference in the lives of many young people by giving them hope and direction.” Hopefully it will make a big difference in the future of the Middle East by empowering the youth there to become the agents of change that region so desperately needs.



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