PeaceJam Sowing Seeds of Change

MARCH 11th – 12th: PeaceJam was hosted by Minnesota’s University of St. Thomas Hundreds of youth spent their weekend in an international education program, planning service-learning projects for peace and human rights.

PeaceJam is an international education program centered around leading Nobel Peace Laureates like Wangari Maathai and the Dali Lama. PeaceJam, the brain child of special Man of Peace Award winners, Dawn Engle and Ivan Suvanjieff, engages youth in inter-active educational activities.

High school and college students, inspired by the moral courage of 2004 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, Dr. Wangari Maathai (Kenya), enjoyed training programming that advocated personal responsibility through action. Using PeaceJam’s educational-model, students, advisers and educators develop strategies promoting community service, citizenship and land stewardship.

On a lovely brisk Saturday morning, student and educators from diverse backgrounds and cultures begin to fill a large auditorium for PeaceJam. On stage sits a solitary master drummer, Liberian born Gbassay Zinnah, beating out poly-rhythms.

The participants – black, white, Native, Asian, African and others come from Minnesota, Wisconsin, Colorado and as far away Denmark and Germany . Together they cheer, laugh, wave and call out to friends across the room until Rudy Balles, a Program Director (Metro Denver Partners) and an Emcee for today’s event, calls the meeting to order. Rudy works with gangs in Denver. The crowd begins to simmer down.

Again, Rudy Balles pumps up the volume calling into the crowd, “Are you having a good time?” He’s a full bodied fellow with a single black braid resting on his back. His bronze skin reflects his native heritage. He is confident and ‘in the zone’ when he introduces Dawn Engle, Executive Director of PeaceJam. The crowd goes wild! It’s like being at a rock concert without the concert. These young people are committed to creating change and it’s infectious and fun! A few minutes later the short film”Sowing Seeds of Change” featuring the work of Dr.Wangari Maathai flashes on screen. The audience is riveted.

Today’s PeaceJam, led by Dr. Maathai, is inspired by the film “Sowing Seeds of Change,” produced by PeaceJam and featuring the life and times of the Nobel Peace Laureate. Dr. Wangari Maathai founder of the “Green Belt Movement” is also the first African woman to receive a Nobel Peace Prize.

Dr. Maathai led her country from a climate of dictatorship and exploitation into a future of health and prosperity by digging holes and planting trees. After studying biology, in the US during the 60’s, she returned to her native Kenya. In the 70’s Maathai began her work with village women, men, children and ultimately the Parliament fostering a movement of change for prosperity and health. Dr. Maathai’s holistic, democratic and environmental actions created the “Green Belt Movement.”

At the University of St. Thomas, people gather to the Lady Wangari like moths to light. They are all eyes, ears and breath. Dr. Maathai’s message is eloquent, articulate and compassionate.

“Deforestation in Kenya was culturally and environmentally devastating. Cut down the trees and the downward spiral begins – the soil erodes, the water goes deep, the children starve, the women persevere and the men and boys go off and fight over scarce resources… loss of beauty and life cripple the people, especially impacting the women and children.”

After the opening ceremony and lunch, the rest of the weekend is spent in workshops exploring problem solving techniques and the issues: sustainability, racism, environmental justice, word power, trust exercises, violence, fair-trade, self-esteem and more. The students develop strategies that effect moral integrity – moral courage. The enthusiasm is so intense .

It feels almost competitive when each group, called ‘families’ presents its plan to both Dr. Wangari Maathai and the whole assembly. One ‘family’ reports on a bake sale that raised $900 used to purchase animals through “Heifer” and donated to families in need. Another student group/family is in the planning stage. An all-girl Latino group/family is planning to promote self-esteem within their own communities and gender-group. The objective ultimately is to find a way to serve and thrive.

Donna, one of the local coordinators for PeaceJam says the student’s really get it. When the bought tee-shirts for the events the stuck to the plan.

“I wanted to buy them cheaper. But they said no. We had to practice ‘fair-trade’. That’s how we got our tee shirts. They planned everything!”

On Sunday morning, Dr. Wangari Maathai gives a lecture for youth only – not their advisers. During the afternoon she sits for a picture with each youth group/family.

Later on Sunday evening, Ms. Maathai gives another lecture for the adult public. People have come to be in the presence of greatness – to shake the hand of the woman who mobilized a whole country by digging a hole and planting a tree. One person really can make a difference.

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During PeaceJam, the Laureates work personally with students to pass on the spirit, skills and wisdom they themselves have demonstrated in their own lives. PeaceJam inspires moral courage in the students by educating a new generation of peacemakers/advocates intending to transform their communities, themselves and the world.

Coming soon:10th Anniversary Celebration with 12 Nobel Peace Prize Laureates! September 15-17 2006, University of Denver, Colorado. Featuring: the Dalia Lama, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Rigoberta Menchu’ Tum, Jody Williams, Shirin Ebadi, Bishop Carlos Belo, Wangari Maathai, Adolfo Perez Esquivel, Jose Ramo Horta, Betty Williams, President Oscar Arias. This is a once in a lifetime event. 3000 students are expected. Adults can only come as youth sponsors.

PeaceJam’s motto is: “One person really can make a difference!”







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