First PeaceJam com­ing to Athens

No­bel Lau­re­ate Adolfo Perez Esquivel to head­line event on pro­mot­ing youth lead­er­ship

Kathimerini English - - Focus - IOANNA KARCAS

Greece’s Ei­mai, an or­ga­ni­za­tion pro­mot­ing youth lead­er­ship and civic en­gage­ment, has teamed up with the USbased PeaceJam Foun­da­tion to bring a No­bel lau­re­ate, univer­sity-level men­tors and other spe­cial guests to speak at the coun­try’s first full-scale in­stall­ment of the in­ter­na­tional con­fer­ence.

PeaceJam is a nine times No­bel­nom­i­nated, award-win­ning school pro­gram with a mil­lion ac­tive young cam­paign­ers in 40 coun­tries whose aim is to in­tro­duce No­bel Peace lau­re­ates to high school and univer­sity stu­dents to in­spire pos­i­tive lead­er­ship.

“We are see­ing more and more young peo­ple be­com­ing dis­en­gaged from school, es­pe­cially cre­ative minds that need flex­i­bil­ity to ex­plore, learn and in­no­vate be­yond test tak­ing. They lack op­por­tu­ni­ties to ex­pe­ri­ence the real world on a so­cioe­co­nomic level,” says Ellen Froustis, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of Ei­mai and re­gional di­rec­tor of PeaceJam Greece. “As a re­sult, they have un­der­de­vel­oped career skills and job prospects. They don’t of­ten have ac­cess to adult men­tors who can lead them to the next step, in­spire global think­ing, con­nect­ed­ness and prob­lem solv­ing – help them see them­selves as com­pet­i­tive global cit­i­zens. There is a lower level of civic en­gage­ment and com­mu­nity-mind­ed­ness among our young peo­ple. There is lack of trust in the coun­try’s lead­ers to bring about sus­tain­able re­form.”

The two-day con­fer­ence in Greece is be­ing hosted by Deree – The Amer­i­can Col­lege of Greece in Athens, and will take place on Fe­bru­ary 3-4. Ti­tled “Step Up and Lead!” it will be at­tended by Adolfo Perez Esquivel, who was awarded the No­bel Peace Prize in 1980 for his re­sis­tance against the 1976-83 dic­ta­tor­ship in Ar­gentina and will speak at the event.

“We wanted to in­vite a lau­re­ate who has ac­com­plished so­cial change in a coun­try that has ex­pe­ri­enced sim­i­lar po­lit­i­cal and so­cioe­co­nomic up­heavals to Greece – na­tional debt, high un­em­ploy­ment, poverty, dic­ta­tor­ships, as well as af­flu­ence,” says Froustis. “Mr Esquivel is an or­di­nary per­son – an artist, a pro­fes­sor – with an ex­tra­or­di­nary will and com­pas­sion to de­fend the dig­nity of his peo­ple and fight for eq­uity and jus­tice with­out lift­ing a weapon or re­sort­ing to vi­o­lence, with­out suc­cumb­ing to cor­rup­tion to se­cure his own self-in­ter­ests. This is the type of role model our young peo­ple need – lead­ers who don’t lose their val­ues in the face of ad­ver­sity, but rather use them to build the so­cial fab­ric to al­low peo­ple to flour­ish and pre­vail.”

PeaceJam events – which this year are also tak­ing place in South Africa, Liberia, Bel­gium, the UK, East Ti­mor and Sin­ga­pore – com­prise a two-day con­fer­ence where stu­dents dis­cuss global is­sues, at­tend work­shops led by lo­cal civil so­ci­ety lead­ers and share their com­mu­nity projects with the lau­re­ate as change agents in their com­mu­ni­ties. Over the last 20 years PeaceJam cam­paign­ers have ini­ti­ated more than 2 mil­lion com­mu­nity projects world­wide. The lau­re­ates who are part of the PeaceJam Or­ga­ni­za­tion in­clude the Dalai Lama, Des­mond Tutu, Jody Wil­liams, Esquivel, Rigob­erta Menchu Tum, Betty Wil­liams, Mairead Cor­ri­gan, Shirin Ebadi, Os­car Arias, Leymah Gbowee, Jose Ramos-Horta, Tawakkol Kar­man and Sir Joseph Rot­blat.

Th­ese No­bel lau­re­ates have de­vel­oped a school cur­ricu­lum ac­cord­ing to their own ex­pe­ri­ences and paths, help­ing de­velop their own so­lu­tions in turn to the global chal­lenges faced by their com­mu­ni­ties.

“Our dream is to see PeaceJam stu­dents ini­ti­ate their first univer­sity groups in Greece where they can be trained fa­cil­i­ta­tors for work­shops with mid­dle and high school stu­dents in our con­fer­ences and af­ter-school pro­grams,” ex­plains Froustis, adding that more than 500 stu­dents from dif­fer­ent schools around the coun­try are ex­pected to at­tend the event.

Ei­mai or­ga­nized a mini PeaceJam con­fer­ence at the Amer­i­can Farm School in Thes­sa­loniki in 2016 whose suc­cess prompted the up­com­ing event.

“More than 250 stu­dents and teach­ers came to­gether to learn about the refugee cri­sis and its im­pact on Greece. Stu­dents at­tended work­shops or­gan-

cre­at­ing peace projects with Gu­atemalan No­bel Peace Lau­re­ate Rigob­erta Menchu Tum, in Monaco in June last year. PeaceJam events are tak­ing place this year in South Africa, Liberia, Bel­gium, the UK, East Ti­mor and Sin­ga­pore. ized by the Bo­dos­sakis Foun­da­tion and Eleni Kostelidou from the NGO Ar­sis – both of which work with un­ac­com­pa­nied refugee mi­nors,” says Froustis. “The im­pact was so great that we de­cided to move full speed ahead to bring our first No­bel Lau­re­ate to Greece in the 2017-18 school year.”

One of the ini­tia­tives that emerged from the Thes­sa­loniki event was the LifeBag Project, where stu­dent at­ten­dees helped pro­vide sur­vival items to hun­dreds of young­sters at refugee camps and shel­ters. The project ex­panded to in­clude par­tic­i­pa­tion from schools in other coun­tries such as the US, UK and the Nether­lands.

This col­lab­o­ra­tive ini­tia­tive was one of five global win­ners of the One Bil­lion Acts of Peace cam­paign – an ini­tia­tive by the No­bel Peace lau­re­ates to in­spire youth-led global com­mu­nity ac­tions. This year the fo­cus will be on the ed­u­ca­tional needs of young un­der­priv­i­leged Greeks and refugees, with an ini­tia­tive called the LearnBag project that will help pro­vide refugee chil­dren with school sup­plies.

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