CHANGE STARTS WITH ME!.....the deepest cell of social action…. the core of the PeaceJam Youth Leadership Program and the essence of the wisdom left behind by 1980 Nobel Peace Laureate, Adolfo Perez Esquivel at the Step Up & Lead! Youth Leadership Conference held by PeaceJam Greece on Feb 3-4, 2018 at Deree --- The American College of Greece.
One by one…300 high school and college students and nearly 30 community leaders from Greece and abroad left their comfort zone for two days to risk, to seek, to share, to grow. They came together, under the naked lens of the simple humanity that binds us, to unveil the barriers that obstruct social progress and sustainable change.
The outcome? Reflection, thought, inquiry and action! An unbelievable energy, enthusiasm, and euphoria unfolded over the weekend. In between workshops by top community leaders on sustainable change, daring dialogue with college mentors on the challenges students face today and community service projects to support vulnerable groups, students exploded in song and dance throughout the two days in a celebration of life and human connectedness. “The PeaceJam feeling”, as students called it, captivated the spirit of the young and old(er), and transformed doubts into a clarity and conviction, that the world belongs to each of us and if we unleash the unique potential of youth with trust and commitment to the greater good, it WILL lead to the change we seek in the world; for WE are—and have always been—the source of catastrophe and construction of our world.
How do we know? From the countless examples set forth by the “warriors of courage and wisdom”, said PeaceJam Mentor, Revecca Manolopoulou, but also by the warriors and warlords of havoc. The choice is, who do we want to be? This was the question students were asked to discover. We are the action behind the planting of a tree, the nurture of a generation, the refinement of a culture. But we are also the choice behind the trigger of a gun, the dropping of a bomb, and the embezzlement of our children’s future. The choice is ours.
“So where do we start to unravel the state of the world?” , asked students. “From the fire, “Adolfo said. “From the fire of our spirit and of our minds…it’s the fire of looking at life and knowing we can make it better…. The first step begins with you--when you learn you have your own identity and personality. But is that enough?”, Mr. Esquivel asked.
“Look around you”, said Adolfo, “Whoever is sitting next to you is like you, has the same rights as you do. You may have diverse ways of looking at the world, a different culture, religion, perspective, but you all have the same right to live a decent life—one of respect. And it is this diversity that is the wealth and richness of our world-not uniformity. Look at mother nature- diversity is its strength-- and we need to recognize this diversity in individuals.”
Much bloodshed and conflict has occurred in the world, defending freedom and the diverse rights of people; Freedom held hostage by greed, self-interest, injustice and brute force. True freedom, explained Adolfo, comes when we can trust our freedom in the hands of another— even those we disagree with or dislike. “Freedom-- is when we discover the power of love,” said Adolfo, “Nobody can force us to love. Loving is the most free act we can do as human beings. It is about loving our people, our community. When we can express that love, we can respect the rights of other people.”
And the power of love is what we experienced when four generations came together to empower youth to Step Up & Lead!
Nobel Peace Laureate, Adolfo Perez Esquivel …with stories of courage and resilience
Community Leaders….with best practices for sustainable change
Teachers…. with ideas to transform learning into social action
College Mentors…with deliberate dialogue on challenges facing youth
Students ….with projects to improve their communities
“PeaceJam was life-changing”, said Anna Maria from the public school in Rafina. PeaceJam is family and friendship,” said Deree Mentor, Vasiliki Kotsa, “It is a platform for young people to express themselves, connect with eachother, inspire and be inspired, find role models but also be a role model, share their vision, goals and ideas and find ways to implement them and change the world into a better place”.
Perhaps the most transparent moment was the stark realization that if the love, trust, encouragement, and empowerment that occurred in these two days continue to actualize, this generation of upcoming leaders will capitalize on a new kind of investment— the unique potential of each to create a sustainable world with the power of shared interest for human security. The world is wealthy in entrepreneurship, STEM and research skills. But it is impoverished in ethos and the self management skills it needs to sustain the purpose of industry—balance and quality of life. As student, Chris Grammatikopoulos said, “I am now convinced that the strength can be found within us!”
Nobelist Adolfo Pérez Esquivel agreed: “Your presence here has assured us that we will never lose hope that another world is possible"!
Transforming the hopes and dreams of our youth means mentoring young people to Step Up & Lead with integrity and purpose! PeaceJam Greece will continue to lead the way!
Author: Ellen Froustis, Regional Director-PeaceJam Greece
Published: March 4, 2018