Nobel Peace Laureate Jody Williams was awarded an honorary degree, Doctor of Letters, from William Woods University in a ceremony April 14.
Williams, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1997 for her work with the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, was on hand for the Heartland Region PeaceJam Youth Conference.
In a ceremony prior to Williams’ address to the PeaceJam youth participants, Dr. Jahnae H. Barnett, WWU president, stated the faculty and board of trustees of William Woods chose to honor Williams because she has “demonstrated a strong commitment…and achieved a great deal of success.” Barnett said that Williams “can be held up as a role model for our students.”
Vice President Scott Gallagher and board members Cyndi Butler and John Edwards were also on hand to congratulate Williams.
As the chief strategist for the International Campaign to Ban landmines, Williams and the campaign have successfully convinced more than 135 countries and more than 1,000 non-governmental organizations from more than 60 countries to support the ban on antipersonnel landmines.
Recently, Williams was appointed by the United Nations Human Rights Council to lead a delegation of investigators to survey and assess the growing violence and brutality of Darfur, where more than 200,000 people have been killed and 2.5 million have fled their homes since 2003 when Janjaweed militia and ethnic African groups began fighting.
Williams delivered a public lecture on April 13 at the University of Missouri-Columbia on the topic individual activism to make a difference. Her talk, which was sponsored by William Woods University, the MU Peace Studies Program, and the MSA/GPC Speakers’ Series, focused on both the landmine effort and more recent work, including the genocide in Darfur, the ICBL’s current efforts against the use of cluster bombs, and the importance of everyday people becoming informed and deciding not to remain “willfully ignorant” of war crimes and the abuse of power by governments and others in power.
Approximately 200 people attended the event.
During the weekend, Williams was the featured Laureate for the Heartland Region’s PeaceJam Youth Conference. Young people ages 14-19 from Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska and Iowa were invited to attend the conference.
The conference included several talks by Williams, as well as service-learning projects in which the youth participants, along with their WWU student mentors and their adult advisors, learned the most current facts about the genocide in Darfur.
Then, they made bracelets in the Darfur colors and distributed more than 400 informational leaflets to residents in several areas of the Fulton community.
Jill Flakne, whose Fulton AmeriCorps members helped to plan the service project, noted that Jody Williams first became involved in activism as the result of a leaflet she received regarding U.S. policy in El Salvador in the 1980s.
“The students are following in Jody’s footsteps,” said Flakne.
Scott Miniea, the Heartland Region’s affiliate director for PeaceJam, said that because William Woods University agreed to host PeaceJam for the region, young people and college students had the opportunity to learn about Nobel Peace Laureates such as The Dalai Lama, Archbishop Desmond Tutu and others.
PeaceJam in the Heartland Region is funded through several partnerships including support from the Learn and Serve America Program in both Kansas and Missouri, Missouri Campus Compact, Fulton AmeriCorps, the University of Missouri-Columbia and individual donors.
Jessica Gabrian, a WWU senior who served as a family group mentor to a group of about seven students, was selected by the PeaceJam Foundation to be interviewed for a BBC-produced documentary. The 11-part documentary will focus on various Nobel Laureates and the students they impact.
After the weekend conference, Miniea said, “Every one of the William Woods students who participated as group mentors said that their lives were changed because of the experience.”
Based on the conference evaluations, this was also true of the youth participants, Miniea said, with students saying that they learned that they “really can make a difference.” Another student said, “I learned over the weekend that you stand for what you believe in no matter what the circumstance.”
“This sort of knowledge is exactly what we hope youth participants will get out of the PeaceJam Ambassadors yearlong curriculum,” Miniea said.
The adult advisors and their PeaceJam groups who study the PeaceJam Ambassadors curriculum in their schools and organizations learn about the root causes of violence. They study oppression. They study major world issues that are highlighted by the Nobel Laureates’ 2006 Global Call to Action with the Youth of the World. They learn about Alfred Nobel and how the prizes are awarded. And each year, they study the life and work of an individual Nobel Laureate.
“The Laureate is the only component of the curriculum that changes from year to year,” Miniea said. “And William Woods is already talking with its partners and sponsors about which Laureate will be the focus of the 2007-2008 school year.”
He added, “The kids are excited, and as they take their excitement back to their own communities, engaging in service activities such as a ‘Dollars for Darfur’ campaign to raise money for worthy causes such as building girls’ schools in Darfur, we want to keep that excitement alive.”
The students presented their plans of action as part of the PeaceJam conference on Sunday, prior to skill-building workshops and a final closing ceremony with the Nobel Laureate.
Young people and their adult allies who would like to learn how to get involved in the PeaceJam Ambassadors program should contact Scott Miniea at 573-592-1633 or firstname.lastname@example.org to learn more, or visit www.williamwoods.edu/peacejam.