The Path to Peace: Empowering
Youth to Action
As Nobel Peace Laureates and Laureate organizations we realize that if the commitment to peace and human rights is not passed from one generation to the next our achievements will be short lived. – Final Declaration of the 12th World Summit of Nobel Peace Laureates
War is not the answer
Demilitarization isn’t a dirty word; non-violence isn’t non-action; and real peace isn’t for wimps. – Jody Williams
Over 250,000 deaths occur each year due to armed conflicts. Ninety percent of the casualties from these conflicts are civilians—a higher fatality rate than either World War I or II.
To combat the violence, the United Nations has sponsored 67 peacekeeping operations since 1948 and currently maintains 16 operations worldwide. Despite these efforts, 30 armed conflicts on average persist every year. The UN continues to funnel both human and monetary resources toward peace efforts with a running budget of $7.84 billion and 117 nations contributing a combined uniformed personnel force of 98,965. Yet peace remains elusive.
Peace is not just the absence of bad things but also when people make
good things happen. –President Bill Clinton
Grassroots peace movements have sprung up across the United States in an effort to aid the United Nations’ global-scale peacekeeping efforts. Groups like the Nobel Women’s Initiative (NWI) and PeaceJam seek peace through acts of education, inspiration, and action.
Doing good wherever you can
The NWI uses the prestige and clout of women peace laureates, of which there have been only 12 in the 100-year history of the Nobel Peace Prize, to intensify the efforts of women around the world working toward peace, justice, and equality. Centenary trustee Nancy Word ’70 became a Nobel Women Philanthropist in 2009 through her work with Impact Austin—a philanthropy she co-founded.
Impact Austin began with members donating $1,000 each to help fund a cause or nonprofit organization chosen by the group. Now in its tenth year, the group has raised over $3,000,000 for area nonprofits through its power of collective giving.
In an address given to Impact Austin, Lynne Twist, author of The Soul of Money, introduced Word to NWI. Twist had just begun work with NWI, and Word immediately felt a strong connection with the organization, Twist, and the maxim of “try to do good wherever you can.” Word has since traveled with an NWI delegation and three Nobel Women Laureates to Dharamsala in Northern India to visit the exiled Tibetan government and a school.
“I struggle with having such a profound experience—how do I share it?” asks Word. “I give financial support to the NWI and spread the word, but the Nobel Laureates are the ones who command an audience with government leaders. It is truly humbling and inspiring to know the women Nobel Laureates and realize that they are ordinary people who are just very, very determined. Young people need to be exposed to that and know—you can make difference. One person can make a difference.”
Word is also planning a trip in January 2013 to Liberia. The NWI and Word’s efforts there will be focused on stopping rape and gender violence in conflicts. They hope to prevent and eliminate sexual violence as a tactic of war and advocate for access to medical care, empowerment initiatives, and restitution for survivors.
“The work is just so energizing, and you want to do whatever you can do to support these women. They just want justice and basic human needs—food, shelter, and clean water. It is difficult to say that I am looking forward to traveling to Liberia, but it is such an amazing experience to meet these women who—I feel—are the bravest women on the planet.”
Much like NWI, PeaceJam uses the influence and wisdom of Nobel Peace Laureates to create young leaders committed to positive change. The organization has campaigned for a “Global Call to Action” since 2008, encouraging the youth of the world to take action by challenging them to create one billion acts of service and peace by 2018.
The shared interest in Nobel Laureate support is no accident—both organizations seek to educate and inspire others to action from the example of Laureates.
The two organizations combined their efforts during the 12th World Summit of Nobel Peace Laureates held April 23-25, 2012, in Chicago, IL. Since 1999, the World Summit has gathered Nobel Laureates to discuss ideas and proposals to foster peace.
The 12th World Peace Summit took an extra step and, for the first time, emphasized engaging and empowering youth to action. This year’s Summit focused on “Speak Up, Speak Out for Freedom and Rights.” The final declaration of the Summit touched on the important role youth play in the path to peace:
“As Nobel Peace Laureates we realize that if the commitment to peace and human rights is not passed from one generation to the next, our achievements will be short lived. We are concerned that old threats to peace are persisting and new ones are emerging. We therefore urge young people to organize for peace and learn to prevent and resolve conflicts peacefully.”
Extending opportunities to future generations
Centenary students Paul Eugene, Tia Landrum ’14, alumna Mary Kathryn Orsulak ’12, Ellen Orr ’15, and Jordan Ring ’13 were among the 700 university students from around the world to attend. These students listened to impassioned speeches and personal vignettes from luminaries such as the Dalai Lama, Jimmy Carter, Lech Walesa, F. W. de Klerk, Ethel Kennedy, and Nobel Peace Prize winner Jody Williams and engaged in thoughtful dialogue with other attendees.
“It was truly one of those experiences of a lifetime,” said Word. “To see the leaders of peace representing multiple countries, peoples, and generations—all assembled to send the same message to our youth—motivate them to make a difference—was incredibly uplifting. To be able to share this wisdom and inspiration with Centenary students was just the icing on the cake.”
Mikhail Gorbachev, former president of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, chaired the Summit along with Walter Vetroni, former mayor of Rome. The three-day event featured the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights-produced play Speak Truth to Power, moderated panel discussions among 21 Nobel Peace Laureates, and a keynote address from President Bill Clinton, one of five former world presidents in attendance.
The power to commit change starts with the individual. Change comes from millions of tiny acts that may seem relatively insignificant at the time but make a difference when they are emulated by others. –Archbishop Desmond Tutu
The students unanimously identified their meeting with Jody Williams as the most influential encounter they experienced. Williams, a political activist and recipient of the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize, is known for her work in the banning and clearing of anti-personnel mines. She is also a founding member and Chair of the Nobel Women’s Initiative.
“The most practical advice she (Williams) gave to young activists was to do something,” said Jordan Ring, a senior. “Being a peace activist does not require a day-in and day-out time commitment. She encouraged young people to find the cause they are most passionate about, whatever it may be, find an accessible organization that aligns with the cause, and to volunteer. She challenged us to imagine what the world could be if people volunteer for just a few hours a month...imagine the change that could take place.”
Word herself was awed at being surrounded by so many who shared the same passion.
“I felt a fullness of heart and mind being among so many who had the same vision and honest desire to further social justice around the world. There was no sense of this country versus that country— we were all global citizens seeking to further an understanding of how we can embrace each other and our shared environment for future generations.” Many of the students found the speakers to be inspiring, but meeting new contacts was the greater thrill. Reflecting on the experience that she called “life-changing and intellectually draining,” Orr focused on the connections she was able to make:
“My networking circle has multiplied in size. People who are doing good in the world usually want to help other people who are doing good in the world. Jody Williams will be a great source of advice in the future—she has already communicated with us via Facebook.”
Expanding lessons learned
As long as we believe, and we struggle to achieve our dreams; We persevere; We don’t give up; We don’t surrender in the face of odds—We can contribute to the betterment of humanity. – President Jose Ramos-Horta, East Timor
The experience of the Summit has led to internship opportunities for the students and helped them hone their future plans.
New graduate Mary Kathryn Orsulak is currently pursuing her Master in Public Health with a focus on global health at the University of Belfast.
Orsulak cites former President of South Africa F.W. de Klerk as her inspiration: “He said ‘I just knew I couldn’t let this situation go on anymore whenever I could no longer defend my action of doing nothing.’ I think this idea of being will stick with me forever. I want to go into medicine and I want to help the poor because I couldn’t defend my actions if I decided not to help the people who needed it most.”
After being exposed to what she described as “the power of people and the possibilities that emerge when intentions are good and fear is thrown down the disposal,” Orr spent her summer on a fellowship in Germany at the Freie Universitaet Berlin International Summer University (FUBiS).
Jordan Ring, taking to heart Jody Williams’s claim that “changing the world for the better is not magic,” spent two weeks of her summer in Lebanon learning about local civic engagement and the political arena. The fellowship, sponsored by the National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations, brings her one step closer to her goal of working in child soldier rehabilitation.
Tia Landrum, a pre-med major, spent much of July and August in Ghana as part of an intensive medical internship for Global Brigades. While there, she discovered an emaciated and injured 10-year-old orphan girl, lying on the side of a road. Using her own meager allowance, she sought out a caregiver for the girl she came to call “Adom,” which means “the grace of god” in her native language. Simply calling the girl “Grace,” Landrum set up an account through Global Brigades to ask for donations and campaigned using Facebook. Through her efforts and those of many others,
Grace received much needed medical attention and a search is underway for a suitable orphanage to take care of her long-term needs. Landrum plans to use what she learned in Ghana on future service trips to Haiti.
Paul Eugene helped Landrum raise funds for her journey to Ghana. Along with Orr and Ring, he led efforts at home in Shreveport to raise the capital for Grace’s care.
Inspired by the Summit and the Nobel Laureates’ words, Word will continue her work with the NWI.
“Each person made us feel that there was no magic to this—just hard work and finding like-minded people to work with you. One of the laureates said, ‘We need more people with hearts filled like fire.’”
Word feels certain that Centenary leaders will be among them.
“I was so inspired by our students, their values, and their commitment to making the world a better place. And now I have this experience to share with them and help them make connections that will further their goals for changing the world.”