Campus & Community / Magazine Feature

Youths take action during PeaceJam

If actions speak louder than words, PeaceJam participants made plenty of noise Saturday.

More than 3,000 youths wrote letters, signed petitions and formulated ideas for initiatives they could take home and put into place. The projects were the result of specific calls to action issued by nine of the 10 Nobel laureates attending PeaceJam at the University of Denver.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the 1984 Nobel Peace Prize winner from South Africa, exhorted more than 300 participants in one session to draft letters to the United Nations demanding the release of 1991 Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, who has been under house arrest in Burma, now called Myanmar, for the last 17 years.

“This little woman has these big men running scared,” Tutu said of the military junta that runs the country. “All by saying democracy and freedom.”

Laureate Jose Ramos-Horta, the 1996 Nobel laureate for his work in East Timor, asked his audience to launch a letter writing campaign to their elected representatives to increase development assistance to the world’s poorest countries.

“We don’t have to stand by and let poverty destroy the lives of yet another generation,” the draft letter stated. “We can end poverty if we take steps now.”

Horta’s candor struck a responsive note with Valerie Randall, a senior at Metropolitan State College of Denver.

“I loved that he was so willing to talk about the difficult issues and the need for reform in the U.N.” she said.

Horta also asked participants to launch individual initiatives in their hometowns, a common theme of PeaceJam and one that resonated with a number of participants.

Ashley and Corbelia Williams of the Leech Lake Reservation in Cass Lake, Minn., said they planned to organize a “healing walk” for their community and plant a “peace garden” when they returned home.

Andre Atlas, 18, of Minneapolis said he planned to form a peace committee when he returned home so people could “just come together.”

“To see a group of youth come together to promote peace is inspiring to me,” he said.

Jordan Shanahan, 17, of Bristol, Vt., said he and his group from Mt. Abraham Union High School were eager to continue what they learned at PeaceJam, focusing on thorny issues of respect and communication and trying to make a difference.

It was a theme Tutu had emphasized repeatedly.

“What you do today seems like a small thing,” Tutu said. “But it’s a big thing. We mustn’t give up on the world.”

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