Most high school and college students idolize rock stars and television personalities. But others have dreams of solving real world problems with true life heroes: Nobel Peace Prize winners.
Through its role as the Heartland Region Affiliate for PeaceJam, William Woods University is making it possible for students to do just that.
Nobel Peace Prize winner Jody Williams, known for her work to ban landmines, will visit William Woods April 14-15 as part of the PeaceJam program. The two-day PeaceJam Conference will be preceded by a public talk in Columbia, co-sponsored by WWU and the University of Missouri.
The visit by Williams is the grand finale to the year-long PeaceJam program, a curriculum dedicated to inspiring a new generation of peacemakers in today’s youth. PeaceJam serves to connect the lives of high school students to those of Nobel Peace Prize winners, such as the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu.
In recognition of its growing regional role, William Woods University continues to develop programs that involve service to the greater community. This began with the establishment of the Office of Faith and Service in 2004 and the establishment of the Office of Service-Learning and Civic Engagement in early 2006.
Following this path of community outreach and service, William Woods became the Heartland Regional Affiliate of PeaceJam in summer 2006. As headquarters for the Heartland Region of PeaceJam, WWU serves the youth in Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska and Iowa.
The organization operates with the collaboration of WWU students, faculty, staff and partners. WWU students serve as mentors for the youth, and the program gives high school students an opportunity to learn innovative community problem-solving skills while spending time on a college campus.
Williams learned about landmines while working in El Salvador developing humanitarian relief projects in the 1980s. Used for war, landmines explode and maim or kill people. Those that do not explode can stay in the ground long after a war is over, exploding when stepped on, and killing innocent lives.
In 1992 Williams helped organize the International Campaign to Ban Landmines. This group worked to remove landmines from the ground, but also urged governments to
stop making landmines and stop using them in war. By 1997, 90 countries had signed the treaty to ban landmines, and now that number has grown to more than 150.
Williams is only one of several Nobel Laureates who are involved in PeaceJam. In September, William Woods made it possible for 31 students and 13 adults to participate in PeaceJam’s 10th Anniversary Youth Conference at the University of Denver.
The youth-oriented conference featured 10 Nobel Peace Prize winners, including South Africa’s Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Tibet’s Dalai Lama, Costa Rican President Oscar Arias and East Timor’s Prime Minister Jose Ramos-Horta. All won Nobels for their work toward non-violent change in their respective countries or regions.
Scott Miniea, affiliate director, said of these famous peacemakers, “They were average people who did something extraordinary. And there is a lesson to be learned in that.”
PeaceJam’s goal is to impart that lesson to the youth.
Katie Finley, junior at William Woods, was drawn to PeaceJam because she is an education major. She saw her experience as a PeaceJam mentor as another way to work with students and hone her leadership skills.
“It was such an amazing experience and it really allowed me to make a difference with the youth,” she said. “The younger participants got out of PeaceJam the ability to converse with other people on a deeper level. They also developed the ability of being able to think about the future and how their actions and thoughts of today are really able affect the future either positively or negatively.”
William Woods hosted a PeaceJam Slam on Oct. 20, to kick-start this year’s PeaceJam program for approximately 50 young people. At this gathering, the Heartland Region announced Williams as the Nobel Peace Laureate who serves as the region’s focus for the 2006-07 academic year.
Students are studying her life and the problems that she endeavors to address, and they are completing curriculum activities on the topics of non-violent problem solving, peacemaking and related issues.
They will then implement service-learning projects in their communities that solve real-world, pressing problems. In April, when the students return to WWU’s Fulton campus, they will spend the weekend with and present their projects to the Nobel Laureate.