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Nobel Peace Prize Winners Inspire Young Activists Through PeaceJam


Nobel Peace Prize winners are helping young people tackle issues from disease to global warming through a group called PeaceJam. Mike O'Sullivan attended a PeaceJam conference in Los Angeles, California, that brought together six Nobel laureates with several thousand young activists from around the world.

With the energy of a rock star, Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa told the youth they can make a difference, and the students responded to him.

Over three days, the students talked about global problems from landmines to racial hatred.

Dawn Engle and Ivan Suvanjieff launched the movement 12 years ago after Suvanjieff got to know some tough street children in Denver, Colorado.

"They didn't know who the president of the United States was and didn't care," Engle said. "And Ivan was just able to keep them talking, and finally they tripped over the subject of South Africa."

Archbishop Desmond Tutu was a familiar name to the youth. They knew he helped bring change to his country.

Engle and Suvanijieff then sought out advocates of non-violence to motivate young people.

The Dalai Lama was the first of 12 peace prize laureates to join the effort.

Others were Aung San Suu Kyi, who is still under house arrest in Burma, and Iranian jurist Shirin Ebadi.

The laureates mentor youth projects including a tree-planting effort in East Timor and a clean-water system for villagers near Daramsala, India.

At the conference, Vidal Campos Magno of East Timor and Tenzin Loden of Daramsala, India, discussed their projects.

"And talk about my nation, the importance of peace, and what youth can do for the betterment of this world," Loden said.

Sixteen-year-old Natalie Ramirez of Oxnard, California, talked about her work against gang violence.

Izzy Higuera of East Los Angeles said he hopes to put what he has learned here into action.

"Just talk to other people, try to share the idea, and I'll see what I can do in my community," he said.

Argentinian poet and Nobel Peace Prize winner Adolfo Perez Esquivel urged the youngsters to pursue their goals with passion.

Betty Williams, a Nobel laureate from Northern Ireland, encouraged them to be bold and confident.

"People think that just because you're a peace person that you're soft-hearted," Williams said.

"But let me tell you something," she said, pointing to her tongue. "This is my weapon of mass destruction."

The conference organizers and Nobel laureates say 600,000 young people have completed more than one million service projects.

Dawn Engle is hoping for one billion so-called acts of peace over the next 10 years.