How can I be anything but inspired to see a room of close to 200 teenagers listening with rapt attention to a soft-spoken man discussing demilitarization and the need for our culture to create statues of peacemakers rather than war heroes? Granted his name was Oscar Arias, former president of Costa Rica and a Nobel Peace prize winner.
Nevertheless, with so much cynicism about the state of modern generations burying their faces in smartphones, spending a day at the PeaceJam New England Regional Conference was a breath of hope and delight. The young people both delighted and impressed me with their attentiveness, their insightful questions, and their ambition to take responsibility for improving the problems in our modern world.
PeaceJam first came to my attention when a few of the young folks in my community circle began attending and formed their own group taking on projects that would create benefits of many kinds to the community on the whole. While at the time I didn’t fully understand the intentions of the group, I could see that the young folks were passionate about it and the projects they took on were of service to many.
In the past year, however, I wanted to align our company, Living Peace Professional Organizing, with a non-profit organization that was doing work that I felt my heart could support, and it was at that point that I remembered the enthusiasm and excitement of the PeaceJam youth. So, I reached out to Donovan Arthen a long-time friend, whom I knew had taken an active role in the New England regional division for the group.
Donovan was able to explain to me how PeaceJam was founded to bring together Nobel Peace Laureates with young people to inspire, nurture, and educate them in the practices of being change agents and peacemakers within their own communities.
Beyond the yearly conference events however, PeaceJam has developed an entire sequence of curriculums for ages 5-25 which aims to encourage and build the character traits that will create positive change in our world.
The groups are organized and lead by the young people themselves (with an adult advisor), and they are encouraged to take on a project each year that aims to identify the root cause of some problem in their community and implement appropriate actions to change it.
I heard about many projects including
- organic community gardens that fed not only local food pantries but area schools and educated many about the value of a more organic, whole food diet.
- literacy programs led by the youth to improve reading levels of younger underprivileged children by several grade levels.
- Computer stations set up at a local food pantry and trainings in resume and cover letter writing lead by the youth themselves to help aid unemployed community members in finding new jobs and thereby decreasing the demand on the food pantry by up to 40%.
PeaceJam International has now issued its call to action for One Billion Acts of Peace by 2016, and at Living Peace, we have committed to help them spread their message and reach their goal. Watch this video to learn more about the One Billion Acts of Peace movement, and visit the Peace Jam website to learn more about how you can get involved.
Starting in January of 2014, I have decided to contribute a percentage of the proceeds from our hands-on organizing services to support PeaceJam New England in furthering its message and work. We are grateful for the change these young people envision, and we will do our part to support and encourage their efforts.
While it’s rare that I feel inclined to quote the Bible, watching these young people together gave full and beautiful meaning to the verse “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God.” – Matthew 5:9
May we all be so blessed.