It is very difficult for me to write a regular blog. Travelling almost constantly to different places in the work and coping with seven nights, six different hotels, is confusing, not to mention exhausting. But, in this work, there are no half measures.
All of us involved in creating the first City of Peace in the world for children must be prepared to go to any lengths to ensure we indeed create a new paradigm, a new way forward for the world’s children. It is what we promised and what we shall deliver. We must never break a promise to a child.
Well, let’s see, where have I been and what has WCCCI accomplished since my last blog in February.
I was at Bradford University to do a PeaceJam with 400 young people, the majority of whom were Muslim. It was phenomenal. These youngs wanted no part of fanaticism or Jihad. They wanted to practice what the Koran teaches, tolerance, understanding, forgiveness, love. They were also determined to get a good education. Violence, death and destruction they wanted none of it. Yet they had issues and problems and felt upset sometimes when being treated unfairly because they were Muslim, but they were sure on one thing. Violence is not the answer. You can look up the ‘Jam’ on www.peacejam.org. Thank you young Muslims, you are a credit to Islam.
Florence was my next stop where I worked for two days with Younicef for Unicef. What an event. What an honor to be allowed to address and answer questions from such beautiful young minds. We all are aware of Unicef’s magnificent work for children in the developing world and each year more and more youngs join the ranks of the organization. Another extraordinary example of how young people are not only concerned about the suffering of children, but are committed to ending that suffering. Thank you, Unicef, for the privilege of being with these future world changers.
Next, back to Basilicata for a Foundation meeting. Meetings, unfortunately, are part of the work and as head of the Foundation Board I must, of course, attend. But, oh how I dread sitting round a table for hours. I call it ‘office work.’
However, Valerio Giambersio, our top man in Potenza who, under President De Filippo, runs the everyday operation of the Foundation had everything in order so the meeting, although long, went very well.
We also met with ANCI, the National Committee of Immigration. It is extremely important our families become immigrants instead of refugees. The meeting was very successful. We expect a smooth transition for our families.
We visited Sant’Arcangelo to see some of the finished refurbished houses as our first families are expected soon. By year’s end we will have housed 40 families.
In Scanzano Jonico the building of our administration/research center is well under way. As I looked at the structure I could not help but remember the time seven years before when I stood with the people of the region on this blessed land as we fought to save it from the dumping of nuclear waste. My heart soared with joy and tears filled my eyes. It was a very long and difficult struggle but we were victorious. The land, once under nuclear threat is to become a City of Peace for children. How sweet is that!!
Before leaving Ireland I had heard of the plight of Tunisian people in what appeared to be prison-like camps in Manduria in the Region Taranto, Italy. The morning paper showed a photograph of police on horseback with batons bludgeoning young men trying to leave the camp while other police surrounding the camp pointed guns at the refugees.
I was enraged at such treatment of human beings fleeing tyranny only to be treated in such a tyrannical way by a supposedly Democratic country. I decided to visit Manduria.
The authorities refused to allow me access to the camp. Once more anger overwhelmed me. It took a while to pull it under control and be able to use that anger in a positive way; a way that would enable me to help ease the tension of the situation.
I did many interviews with Italian and world media and reminded the Italian people that they, like the Irish, were once the people fleeing their countries, although only for a while to become lesser citizens in America. How quickly we forget.
Anyway, perhaps the message reached the ears of the correct authorities. The camps were emptied within days as the Tunisians were released to join family members all over Europe. Most went to France.
Back from Italy, I addressed the annual Rotary lunch at the RDS in Dublin. Rotarians do such wonderful humanitarian work worldwide. It’s an honour to be asked to speak at any of their events.
A few days later I was in Atlanta for the presentation of the Gandhi-King-Ikeda Community Peace Builders Award at Morehouse College. This year it went to the Rev. Joseph Lowery and Mrs. Evelyn Lowery, two of the greatest freedom fighters in the United States. Again, as a recipient myself, I was honoured to be asked by Dr. Carter, Dean of the College, to be part of something so special and to be with my friends at SGI.
Then it was back to Italy, this time Northern Italy to Mantova where I attended the annual Gruppo Mauro Saviola employee luncheon and awards.
I love the work of the Saviola family. They save the lives of 300,000 trees a month by re-cycling wood. It’s a truly fabulous operation to watch how re-cycled wood can be turned into beautiful furniture, flooring, etc. We intend to have wood collection sites in Basilicata and one day a Saviola re-cycling plant. A visit is planned in late June for the head of the company to see our work in the Region.
Well, that’s about it for now. Next week I’m off to the Middle East then back to Italy. Will catch up somewhere in the future!!
“You’re an idealistic fool.” How often have I heard that remark? Or, “You’ll never be able to do it,” another defeatist utterance.
Am I an idealistic fool? Maybe, yet how can one be accused of being idealistic when dealing with the realities of this cruel world.
Is it not a fact beyond question that upwards of 40,000 children die in our world every day from conditions of malnutrition? There are hundreds of other facts to substantiate that there is nothing idealistic about the work of peace and justice.
The reality of the Middle East where Arab and Jew destroy each other rather than live together. The injustice of the Gaza strip screams for resolution.
The non-violent revolution happening on the African continent. Mankind’s inhumanity to women and men in Africa is obscene; Somalia, Ethiopia, Darfur, the Sudan, Nigeria, the Gold Coast and on and on.
In Afghanistan and Georgia hatred festers and religious fanaticism condones the destruction of the miracle of creation in the name of God, Allah, Buddha, Mohammed, the Great White Chief or whatever one chooses to call the creator. These are the realities we deal with every day in the work of peace and justice. Is it idealistic to think we can change all these horrors? Most certainly not. We can change anything we put our minds to.
The incredible events in Egypt; a non-violent protest that toppled a corrupt government, a protest so powerful in its intensity that we, in the outside world, held or breath and prayed no one would die as a result of such a huge swell of people gathering every day in Tahrir Square.
It was possible that Mubarak may have ordered the security forces to control and disburse the protesters using force if necessary. And indeed a couple of small attempts were made by his henchmen to do so. Twenty human beings died but this only heightened the will of the people to increase in numbers. WOW!
The army has said they will only keep power until a democratic election can be held. We pray this will happen and we will remember the twenty brave Egyptians who lost their lives in those prayers.
The stabilizing factor in Egypt at the moment is the leader of the opposition party and fellow Nobel Peace Laureate, Mohammad El-Baradei. He is a wise man and will help his people find a peaceful and honest transfer from corruption to democracy. (Well done, citizens of Egypt, well done.)
Italy, 13 February 2011. Another non-violent revolution! Two million people on the streets. The fact it was a women’s revolution against the terrible degradation of women by Berlusconi did not stop thousands of Italian men joining the women in their protest. It was fabulous to watch men supporting this protest.
And, it’s not over yet. Until the present leadership in Italy admits defeat and steps down, the women of Italy will keep on until they do.
The Region Basilicata in Italy. In November, 2003 Prime Minister Berlusconi had designated land in Scanzano Jonico to be used as a dumpsite for nuclear waste. The people of the Region took to the streets in their hundreds of thousands determined to save this beautiful land. I stood with them shoulder to shoulder and together we fought for justice. It was a long process. We jumped many hurdles and climbed many mountains never taking no for answer. We pushed and pushed. It was not easy. Anything worthy of fighting for never is. To see the results of our labours is beyond explanation.
We now own the land and are building the first City of Peace in the world for children.
So, you see to be told “you’ll never do it” is so so wrong. The greatest killer in our world is apathy. Thousands perish daily because people assume there is nothing they can do.
During his election campaign President Obama’s catchphrase was “Yes we can.” I am convinced that if we really want to and if we are prepared to work with dedication and commitment we can and will change our world.
Attached to this Blog is a report from the newest member of our team, Kevin Beck. (Well he’s really not our newest member.) He has been one of our legal counsels for 15 years pro bono but only came aboard full time to be our International Operations Manager and Legal Counsel. Welcome, Kevin, we really needed you.
He was on our latest trip to Basilicata and was amazed at our progress. Our first City of Peace is well under way.
My heart is full of joy as I bear witness to what WCCCI has achieved. Yet, I am under no illusion; there is still an enormous amount of work to be done and I know we can do it!
Kevin Beck – February 10, 2011
A synopsis of the recent trip to Basilicata
The foundation has proposed an alliance with a NGO from Matera, the Sycamoro Group, which specializes in providing education and training to individuals with mental, emotional and intellectual disabilities. The Sycamoro/Foundation alliance is awaiting approval by the Italian Minister of the Interior. Approval is anticipated within 40 days. The mayor of Matera, Salvatore Adduce, has approached WCCCI to assist its efforts to be named the European City of Culture for 2019. He proposes a cooperative effort between the city and WCCCI in development of a week of cultural activities, to be scheduled based upon availabilities. He’d like to focus on the role of women throughout history and has requested our assistance in drawing female laureates and other leaders to the region for his celebration. It is quite apparent that this gentleman is anxious to work with us so we need to think of other projects.
The City of Scanzano Jonico and the Mayor, Salvatore Iacobellis, welcomed us with a press conference focused on cooperation between the City, the City of Peace and the other NGOs from the region. We toured the site where the City of Peace is being built and saw the foundation of a €2,000,000 administrative building that will provide office space, laboratories and possibly housing for interns, staffers and other employees. It’s an extraordinary facility and absolutely green. The mayor has proposed a new private/municipal arrangement that will allow expedited development, including the construction of the refugee homes.
The refurbishment and renovation of the monastery in Sant’Arcangelo is nearly complete. The houses are being renovated and a city center is also under construction in Sant’Arcangelo. The office and museum space dedicated to WCCCI within the monastery is a beautiful marriage of new and old. No expense has been withheld in the process and when finished, it will be the rival of any facility.
We also met with the President of Basilicata, Vito de Filippo, and representatives of other regions in Potenza. During the meeting we were approached by head of the local Rotary Club that is proposing a joint project. A meeting with Father Julio in Fiuggi opens the possibility of future cooperation, both media and financial with the Vatican.
There are many opportunities and tasks in front of us. We must join with corporate entities to complete the small tasks of furnishing and equipping the homes and in full-scale projects designing and developing other facilities; health, recreational, cultural, etc.
It’s blog time again! Bobby Kalsi (our director and operations guru, keep it all together guy) has been asking me for weeks to write my bits of news. However, I only like to do blogs when I’ve got some good stuff to write about. And a lot of very good things have been happening recently.
“It is not enough to know what you want; you must also know how to achieve it with integrity. I say this not to patronise, I say from experience that no matter what the goal, if the path is without integrity it will lose its way and be destroyed.”
Upon her release these words were spoken by a true heroine, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the democratically elected leader of Burma. Tears filled my eyes as I watched the news and saw the tiny frame and beautiful face of my sister Laureate, Suu Kyi, surrounded by hundreds of thousands of suffering Burmese people who love her and have waited so long for this moment. Her freedom will become their freedom from the brutal illegally elected junta who have committed acts so heinous, unjust and foul they defy description. In the past Suu Kyi has been released for short periods and knowing from the junta’s actions of the past her freedom is fragile. Her popularity and the love for her people and country are like acid to the junta’s ever eroding power base.
Suu Kyi’s only weapon is love of her people and commitment to non-violence. This commitment has caused her to be confined for 15 years. Our commitment is to ensure she stays free. Every leader in all democracies worldwide must support Suu Kyi and put pressure on the strongman and leader of the Junta, General Than Shwe, to allow the truly elected leader of Burma to do her job without threat or malice. I ask you, whatever religious denomination you may be, to pray for Suu Kyi.
Things are really beginning to move forward in Basilicata. Three refurbished houses in Sant Arcangelo are complete and ready to house families. The Foundation Board meeting in Potenza November 19 agreed on how the Board would proceed and now that all legalities are formalized and amendments passed, work can be done at a much faster pace. Already we have a delegation planned for January 2011.
At the end of September in Toronto, Canada I had the honour to address 20,000 young people at We Day. We Day’s are held all over Canada by a wonderful organization, Free the Children. I encourage those reading this blog to visit the Free the Children website: www.freethechildren.com
The story of Free the Children is powerful. It began in 1995 when Craig Kielburger, then only 12 years old read a story of a Pakistani child of slave labour who was murdered fighting back.
I tell you this because part of the work of WCCCI will be to begin a lobby of young people asking for a percentage of military budgets to be used to alleviate some of the suffering of children caught up in wars they don’t declare yet suffer grievously in. With the help of the young people involved with Free the Children we will build a mighty lobby.
Rusti (my super extraordinary executive assistant / best friend), Kevin Beck (our International Operations Manager) and I recently returned from a very successful trip to Austria, organized by Georg Kindel, a great supporter of ours. We met with top CEO’s and government ministers. At a private lunch with the President, Dr. Heinz Fischer, I connected once again with Peace Laureates President Jose Ramos Horta of East Timor and Mohammad El-Baradei from Egypt. It was lovely to see them again, especially President Horta who was shot and seriously injured in his own country four years ago. He’s a very special man. I mean, how many Presidents of countries would say “our non-violent struggle for freedom, democracy, justice and peace continues and we are winning.”
The Austrians take global warming seriously and are working very hard to implement a green culture. We stayed in the Boutique Hotel Stadthalle which was completely self-sufficient and used nothing but organic. From food to soaps no chemicals were used at all. It was fabulous. We now have a model if we ever decide to build a hotel. Ha, ha. Seriously the technological green know-how of Austria, we hope, will be able to be copied when building houses in the City of Peace for children.
It’s almost the end of November. Where did this year go! Christmas will be here before we know it. So Rusti and I must get a start on this very special time of the year, presents, cards, food, etc. As we do this we will remember how blessed we are and how grateful for the hard work of all those who support us.
It was a week to remember forever. A week where the world was reminded at a very high level the plight of the people of Gaza. It was also a week that made me even more proud to be Irish.
For years, Mairead Maguire, my co-recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, has worked diligently to help the people imprisoned in the Gaza strip. She has been injured by a plastic bullet, suffered the effects of tear gas. She has been held in custody for days by the Israeli authorities, an unthinkable thing to have done to a Peace Laureate who strives only to help end the misery and injustice she has witnessed in Gaza.
When the Flotilla set out, I prayed all the ships could get their desperately needed supplies directly into Gaza. Yet, deep down I knew the Israeli’s were not prepared to allow this to happen. Their grip, by military force, on the 1 ½ million human beings packed into that small strip of land is vice-like. The outcome of that inhuman military grip caused pain and suffering that are beyond words. Those who have witnessed the pain and misery of the Palestinian people are deeply affected and want desperately to alleviate some of the suffering.
And so the Flotilla of hope, their cargo of building materials, educational and medical supplies, etc. with crews and peaceful volunteers crossed oceans. No one on the ships could possibly have known or been prepared for the carnage ahead.
The possibility of being boarded, yes. Israel had boarded other vessels and forced them to Israeli ports (illegally by the way, as the ships were in international waters).
However, when they boarded the Mavi Marmara and opened fire on defenceless people the Israeli’s with all their brutality in the past crossed the line badly; the international community reeled in revulsion; nine people dead on a ship of peace. One of our Irish newspapers referred to the incident as Israel’s ‘Bloody Sunday’. Oh Israel, what have you done?
Shimon Perez commented that Israel is held to a higher standard, quite rightly pointing out how countries worldwide do deals with China, the country with the worst human rights violations on the planet.
I say to Shimon, yes, Israel and the Jewish Nation should be held to a higher standard; you who have known suffering beyond imagination – 6 million innocents slaughtered in Nazi Germany. You should understand suffering at such a deep level that surely you would not want to perpetrate such horrors on others.
And then I am reminded of the Irish, who immigrated to America in the last century, one would have thought that after hundreds of years being subjected to the barbaric enslavement and cruelty of British rule, the Irish would never do that to others. Not so. In the southern United States while many worked to free slaves others took slaves. Perhaps it is the old adage, violence begets violence. The Irish had certainly learned from the British.
Mairead called what Israel is doing a ‘slow genocide’ of the Palestinian people and she’s right. Israel says she will not work with Hamas. However, the Palestinian people elected Hamas. They helped the people so they took the popular vote. No peace worker in the world would side with Hamas or condone the rocket shelling of innocent Israeli civilians. No peace worker I know would agree with suicide bombers. None of us are anti-Semitic. On the contrary even when we don’t like them, we love all humankind. But we are appalled at the Israeli government’s behaviour.
How well I remember in 2002 when, after months of trying, we at WCCCI busted the embargo imposed on innocent Iraqi citizens by the U.S. and the U.N. Some of the list of supplies sanctioned were insane – sanitary napkins, shrouds to bury the dead, disinfectants, soap, children’s toys, the list was endless and terribly cruel. The second Gulf war was looming and I naively hoped maybe busting the embargo we could perhaps help prevent the inevitable.
Rusti, my executive assistant, and I were in Rome for three weeks, moving from one donated hotel room to another while working with members of the Italian government and the Italian Ambassador to the U.N., H.E. Marcello Spatafora, to gain permission to enter Iraqi air space and deliver 15 tons of desperately needed supplies.
How well I remember walking into the head office of Alitalia to meet with Mr. Mangottsi, the then CEO of the airline. “We need a plane to deliver goods to Iraq,” I said looking directly at him while filling him in on why it was so urgent to get his help.
His expression never changed as he got up and walked across to another desk at the other side of the room. As he picked up a telephone I’m thinking he was probably calling security to have this crazy Irish woman and the people with her, Enzo Cursio, Livia Malcangio and Rusti Findley, removed from the premises. Mr. Mangottsi replaced the receiver and looked directly at me. “Would a Boeing 747 be all right?” he asked. “Maybe something a little smaller,” I said as I jumped out of the chair and gave him a big hug.
Meanwhile at the U.N. H. E. Marcello Spatafora was working round the clock to obtain permission for us to be allowed to deliver humanitarian aid into Iraq. Hours seemed like days as we prayed he would succeed. It took almost five weeks before we obtained permission.
And so Alitalia became the first commercial airline in years to fly into Iraq. On December 20, 2002 our flight took off from Leonardo da Vinci Airport bound for Baghdad. I can identify totally with what the volunteers on the Flotilla to Gaza felt. We literally did not know what to expect.
As we were approaching Baghdad the Captain’s voice came through on the intercom. “We still have not had clearance to land.” I looked through the window and saw fighter aircraft on our right wing. Another fighter was on the left wing; another flew above and one below. “God please,” I prayed, “don’t let me have brought the people on this flight of mercy to their death in Iraq.”
Several agonizing minutes passed before the Captain announced we had been given permission to land. The escort fighter aircraft vanished and we landed.
Everyone aboard applauded. We had busted the embargo.
The short time spent in Baghdad will live with me forever. We met with some warm and loving Iraqi people as we distributed our precious cargo. We witnessed the carnage left behind by the first Gulf War. We visited a hospital full of children suffering from various cancers and not enough drugs to treat them. We learned that over half the population of Iraq was under the age of fifteen. One young man told me his wife was pregnant and that if the baby was a girl he would name her after me. Tears fell as we said our goodbyes. It was as if the people had resigned themselves to the fact the United States, led by George Bush, was not finished with them yet.
Did our journey help anyone? I believe it did in that if only for a few hours the people we met knew the outside world cared about their plight. Since then approximately 655,000 civilians have been killed in Iraq and I can see the face of the young man who wanted to name his unborn child after me. I wonder if they survived and if there is a little Muslim girl somewhere in Baghdad called Betty.
Mairead said she felt they had let the people of Gaza down; that they had created hope and then had not been able to deliver.
What has actually happened has been incredible. The amount of people worldwide who took to the streets protesting Israel’s actions was awe-inspiring. And the plight of the people of Palestine has never been more publicised.
God bless all on that voyage of peace for you are mighty. And we will remember those who lost their lives and their families in our prayers.
And as you have stipulated you will run the gauntlet on the high seas with another Flotilla. As you head for Gaza one more time, every right-thinking person on Earth sails with you. Allah and God’s speed.
Couldn’t think of which one to use so I used them all!
Sometimes when we are working very close to a situation we are inclined to miss, or should I say, not look closely enough at exactly what is happening. Well, that very thing just happened to me!
It has taken six years of constant hard work to insure our vision of creating the first City of Peace in the world for children in the Basilicata Region of Italy, and it was on track. By on track I mean we have crossed every ‘T’ and dotted every ‘I’ within the legal framework of Italian law (which at times has been quite baffling). However all the legalities have been finalized and WCCCI is now a Foundation. And it’s up and functioning.
My daughter, Deborah, and I have just returned from another working visit to Basilicata. I believe it is imperative that we are seen by the people of the Region frequently. Besides I love going there. It’s becoming a second home. We are in fact going to have a permanent home there in which I intend to live one week out of every month. I have therefore cut back considerably on international travel to facilitate being available on the ground where my work truly belongs. This vision, this enormous drive within me to create a model of how the world’s children should be treated overwhelms me at times. Yet, when I witnessed what six years of working for peace in only one small region of our world can do, I am in awe.
Our flight out of Dublin was delayed considerably because of snow in Milan. Naturally we missed our connection to Bari and were terribly late arriving in Matera, thereby missing a meeting with President De Filippo. The Region Basilicata was in the throes of an election campaign and a friend from our first tentative days of introducing the concept of a City of Peace to the political hierarchy, Adeltina, was once again running for office. She had dropped out of politics for a few years. It is so good to see her back; she was the one who opened the political doors initially for us. Thank you Adeltina; we look forward to many happy years with you on the regional council.
We had a very successful meeting with the President of the Province, Franco Stella. He will be working with us on one of our top priorities, education.
Laura Kiss, our Italian representative, has been working with Rosaria Briamonte and has done an incredible job with the schools. The auditorium at the brand new school in Sant’Arcangelo was packed to capacity as 400 school children from all over the area and as far away as Sicily joined together in a two-day peace conference. There were competitions for peace, art, videos, peace projects, etc. and there were celebrity judges. The quality of the work was almost spiritual in its depth.
One film addressed the horror of land mines produced by arms manufacturers made to look like butterflies. A little boy played the silent role of a child who picked up such a device and died as a result. When he came on stage at the prize-giving ceremony and when he looked at me with huge hazel eyes, it was all I could do not to weep. Somewhere deep in that little boy he understands the suffering of our world’s children. He could not have played such a role without deep knowledge. (In Ireland he would be known as an ‘old soul’). The director won first prize. The other films were mighty and it must have been very difficult for the judges to choose the winner, and it was exactly the same with the art exhibits.
The night before the event began we met with an artist of our progressive era. He paints while skateboarding! No, I do not jest, and when I first heard of him I thought he must be kind of strange. Then I saw his work. HE’S AWESOME and the youngs adore him. Over dinner he donned a red clown’s nose. I asked to borrow it and we had a good old giggle as we passed it back and forth. Then he gave it to me. I immediately thought of wearing it when meeting with President De Filippo the following day (which I did and he cracked up laughing). Politicians should never be afraid to become child-like. What am I saying? Some of the politicians in our world were never, or don’t remember ever being, children. Otherwise they would never make the awful mistakes they seem to repeat over and over. But I digress. One piece of art, beautifully painted, showed a huge bomber aircraft. But the little 9 year olds who created this gentle art did not paint bombs falling from the sky. Instead they painted cakes, balloons and stuffed fluffy toys, cats and dogs and elephants falling from the open bomb doors of a weapon of destruction, children supplying other children with gifts of love. Not governments dropping the finality of death or groups screaming for justice while using the injustice of terrorist attacks on the innocent. Yes indeed, many children are wiser than so called ‘learned men.’ Sorry for the pontificating but when I left the children’s peace conference I was like the stuffed toys in the children’s painting, full of hope for the world’s future.
The Mayor of Sant’Arcangelo, Domenico Esposito, has been working endless hours to restore houses in the town. This will enable WCCCI to house families very quickly, thereby relieving a little of the suffering of those refugees in camps all over Italy. As Deborah and I learned every restored house in the ancient town will tell its own story and have its own history.
We went to inspect one of the houses under renovation. As we stood in what was to be the living room Deborah noticed two ancient pictures still hanging on the wall. One was of a beautiful elderly couple; the other of a handsome young man in the uniform of the Italian Navy. How proud he looked with his head held high, large dark eyes looking directly into the lens. Our eyes filled with tears as we were introduced to the man who had donated the house to WCCCI. He told us of having been born in this house and the sweet old couple were his grandparents, the handsome young man, his father, who also had been born in the house. “There was much love and happiness within these walls,” he told us as tears filled his eyes. “I hope the family whose home this will be can find the peace they need to heal within these walls.” I had to walk away. I did not trust myself to keep in check the deep emotion I felt, the kind of emotion if not controlled would have me sobbing.
The family lucky enough to be given the gift of such a home would surely find peace and happiness. And I thought of the other people in the town who had donated houses and my heart filled with gratitude. Thanks go to each and every one.
Leaving the house, as we descended the steps onto the street, we were greeting warmly by the next door neighbours. “We will help the new family in any way we can,” they told us, smiling broadly.
Another tiny lady joined us. “I’m a grandmother,” she told us. “But my family are all in Naples and Rome. It will be wonderful to hear children’s laughter again.” Her name is Maria Teresa, she is 83 years old. God bless her, the children will have a sweet grandmother who will hug, kiss and spoil them.
At our next stop Domenico and I stood on the balcony of the house and he pointed across a sports area to a bright lemon building. “That’s the old hotel we purchased to renovate and turn into a cultural center. It’s ready now and that’s the sports facility for the children.”
In Sant’Arcangelo the people have thought of every way possible to welcome their new citizens. They understand the refugees need to be accepted and they will continue to work hard to help them settle and find some happiness after the nightmare so many have lived through.
Next stop, the monastery, Santa Maria d’Orsoleo. It truly is not an exaggeration to say the beauty of the monastery always touches me, or perhaps it’s the feeling of peace and tranquillity I feel wrap around me as I walk through it hallowed halls. The workmen who have restored this once crumbling ruin obviously loved their work. To do such a magnificent restoration required more than skill; it required, in the words of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, “Soul Force.”
The glass cabinets within the monastery’s museum stand ready. Now I must begin shipping the things to fill them. (But first I have to pack them up.) Groan.
One of the highlights of the visit to Sant’Arcangelo was meeting the Mayor’s newborn son, Gabrielle. He is a beautiful baby with a full head of dark hair. As I held him and breathed in the lovely baby smell, you know, the worldwide Johnson’s baby powder smell. I thought of other children I have held who were not as fortunate as Gabrielle. Children who would never smell of Johnson’s Baby powder, children who would only know starvation and disease and eventual painful death and I thank God for the father and mother of this child. One day Gabrielle will know just how much his father did to help other children and his chest will swell with pride.
Once again I met with the people of Scanzano Jonico in the community building. Over the six years working on the legalities I have been there many times. How familiar their faces are becoming, how warm the hugs I receive as I walk among them. They are my friends and I feel extremely blessed to know each and every one of them.
After the meeting I gave awards. A further star in our education program is the training of future journalists. A new era is being born. As well as training students to become deep-thinking human beings who write well, the two journalists, Emanuele Giordana and Igor Uboldi, who are running the program, are determined to teach responsible, ethical behaviour to their students. If you wish to read more they should be online soon, NTNN, “The News Not in the News.” I know it is going to be a huge success. Imagine ethical journalism! Wow. As I gave each student their certificate confirming they had passed the course I noted there were many more girls than boys receiving their awards.
The mayor of Scanzano Jonico, Salvatore Iacobellis has become like a young brother. His English, however, is like my Italian – small. Yet we communicate beautifully. It is in Scanzano where our precious land lies. The land where a mighty city will rise and set a new precedent for our world’s children. Salvatore has worked ceaselessly to help us reach this goal. We’ll never be able to repay his deep commitment to WCCCI.
Another beautiful thing happened in Scanzano. My Italian godchild is born. Her name is Luisa and she is simply gorgeous. The christening will take place on June 20. Check our photo gallery for her pictures. I look forward to a good old Italian hooley.
This has been a very tough few years in many ways or maybe it’s just me growing older. As Mark Twain put it, “Growing old ain’t for sissies.” Rusti, my beloved Executive Assistant, developed a heart condition (nothing huge) but very scary all the same. She won’t be able to travel with me until we are sure her needs are sorted. And then for a while just short journeys. No more, “Tuesday, this must be Taiwan” kind of travel.
The Saviola Group continue to support our work. (You know those lovely people who recycle wood thereby saving the lives of 10,000 trees a day). They supplied the furniture for our school of journalism. Thank you Milena and all the members of the Saviola family. I will see you in Mantova in May when I attend the annual celebration of your extended family, your work force. Why can’t all companies behave like you?
Anyway, as I finish the Blog, I look forward to bringing you more great stories and pictures from the region.
My love always,
How would we know what world peace is? We have never had it. This world is a cruel place indeed, especially for children, and so, people like myself strive to create that peaceful world we all long for.
In my heart world peace is loving every living human being enough to ensure they have good food, the best education, decent housing and the right to live without the threat of war or any other type of violence.
It is neither utopian nor unrealistic to know there could be world peace. The greatest destructive force in our world is not war, its apathy. Only when humans decide country by country, religion by religion, culture by culture and that by the very fact that they are human they have more in common than they will ever have to divide them. And that armies and countries that practice militarism must be persuaded by the people to cease and desist. Let’s all help God (whatever we believe our creator’s name to be) to turn those arsenals of weapons into plough shares. It is our responsibility to work for a just and peaceful world.
The horror of the Middle Eastern situation must be addressed. As a Catholic Irish citizen, born in Belfast, Northern Ireland and living under British rule I can honestly tell you it was impossible not to see the British soldiers as ‘the Enemy’. The Irish Catholic Northern people viewed the British as invaders which of course they were. And as Catholics had no political voice and were treated like second-class citizens in their own country eventually they did rebel against what they knew to be unjust. Unfortunately it led to a bloody war which lasted over thirty years.
The Iraqi people and Muslims all over the Middle East and the world are angry. The situation in the Gaza Strip festers and the people of Palestine and in particular the brutalized people of Gaza are incensed by what has been happening to them. If there is such a thing as righteous anger then they have every right to be angry.
Yet, as soon as one mentions Israel and the terrible injustice being wrought on Palestine by Israel, the Israelis yell ‘anti-Semitism’. Not so for I am anti no human regardless of country, creed or colour. I am a humanist and I am committed to justice. One can never say one works for peace without adding justice. These two words are ultra important, they are twins. If we are smart enough we will work diligently to resolve the Middle Eastern conflict thereby avoiding a bloody terrorist retaliation for what the Muslim people believe the Western world has done to them..
It is very difficult to gauge your own work. So many things have happened since 1976. I know deep in my heart the peace movement in the seventies was the catalyst to many wonderful events. When the women of Northern Ireland stood together Catholic and Protestant shoulder to shoulder, heart to hear they forever changed the climate and the real work of peace began.
My work has developed over the years. It has b become worldwide. My biggest project is happening as I write this. The building of the first City of Peace in the world for children is underway in the Basilicata Region of Italy. If you go to our website, www.wccci.org, you can read all about it. The beauty of the City is the fact that we rescued the land from being designated as a nuclear waste dump.
In 2004 when Prime Minister Berlusconi designated the land in Scanzano Jonico for the dumpng of nuclear wast the people took to the streets in their hundreds of thousands. I joined them and we fought non-violently to keep the land. It took six long years, but we won. The City will become a model and it is our intention once we have created the model and ironed out all the glitches we are sure to have, we will build Cities of Peace worldwide for children.
Worldwide all young people have the God-given right to live in peace. They long for a more peaceful world. In many countries they die from starvation, disease, many are boy soldiers forced to kill and die before they even know the beauty of life. The young people from ‘free societies’ can do so much to change our world and help their suffering brothers and sisters.
Imagine a world lobby of young people contesting military budgets, demanding percentages of the budgets to help those who suffer. Don’t laugh; this too shall come to pass if we work for it., In our City of Peace our school will begin the work of training our young people to create that lobby.
Anything and all things are possible if you work for them.
Nobel Peace Laureate
23 March 2010
What a few months this has been. It makes me feel dizzy just thinking about it! Dizzy and grateful, content in the knowledge that the first City of Peace is now, if you’ll pardon the quip, “Set in Stone.” All the legalities, all the heart-stopping moments brought on by bureaucracy are finally behind us. Our Foundation is signed into law. We will hold the first video conference meeting of the Foundation on July 16 and from then on it’s all systems go, and the real work begins.
Our goal is not simply to build housing, schools, medical facilities, sports arenas, farms, everything a child needs. Of course we intend to meet all of these needs. It’s how we do it that counts. And we intend to supply the very best of everything, quality housing, premier education and instil a love of Mother Earth that will teach future generations to nourish and care for her. We have clear and concise objectives; to love our children and Mother Earth. And to teach and practice non-violence, justice and peace.
This week I had the great good fortune to meet up again with George Clooney. He truly is dedicated to helping the brutalized people of Darfur. This man is not simply one of the best-known faces in the world. Yes, he’s handsome all right and a fine actor, but there’s more to George Clooney than the outer facade. As we walked around the wreckage of what was beautiful medieval architecture in the sleepy area of L’Aquila where an earthquake struck so cruelly in April of this year, I could see George was deeply affected by the suffering and destruction. Accompanying George was Bill Murray, a talented comedic genius who lifted the spirits of the people by doing what he’s best at, having them roar with laughter. God knows they needed to laugh. We were there also to open the Nobel for Peace Hall at the San Demetrio Camp. God bless those in the field of entertainment, those who are known worldwide, like George Clooney and Bill Murray, for shining a light on suffering.
Slowly, the people of L’Aquila are trying to recover from the loss of 300 people, many children. They are rebuilding schools. At the moment the school children and people are in tents and it’s blistering hot inside their temporary accommodation. As L’Aquila is high in the Italian Alps, in winter it is bitterly cold. Proper housing is desperately needed. Hopefully before the winter the people will at least have wood or porta cabins. The children told me their greatest need is books. God willing some of you reading this blog can send a donation, however small, to http://www.sandemetrionv.com/Donazioni/donazioni.htm.
I began this update at the end of my travels so far this year. However, there’s more. In March I did a PeaceJam in Tallassee, Florida. 500 young people attended. It was absolutely fabulous! These youngs involved in PeaceJam are sure of one thing. They want to change the world; they are sick of wars, violence and social injustice and leaders who involve countries in all of the aforementioned. As PeaceJam goes from strength to strength new leaders are being formed. Someday soon the result of PeaceJam teaching will become evident at the ballot box and the change we all long for will become a reality. Hundreds if not thousands of PeaceJammers worked on President Obama’s campaign. And a new day began for America and the world when he was elected.
My visit to Nigeria taught me much. Driving from the airport with armed guards waving submachine guns at people who got in the way of our convoy was to say the least distasteful to me. And apart from attending the conference organized by the Oceanic Bank, Rusti and I were totally confined to our rooms at the hotel for three days. We were not allowed to move without armed guards accompanying us. I found that very sad and would have loved to have mingled with the people of Lagos. But they say we may have been captured and held for ransom. I told our hosts that if I were to be captured they would soon be glad to give me back; in fact my jailors would pay someone to take me back!
However, the conference itself was a resounding success. It was attended by Professor Derek Walcott, Professor Finn Kydland, Dr. Noel Brown, Professor Wole Soyinka and Professor Eric Maskin. With these wonderful people working, Nigeria can look forward to a brighter future.
May found us in Palermo, invited by the Minister of Education. As you are probably aware, Sicily and many other areas of Italy and the world suffer from Mafia violence. Those in office who dare to challenge the Mafia are targets and many have died, especially those involved in the Law. Brave judges have been murdered. Once such judge, Giovanni Falcone, was a target and was killed in a bomb blast May 23, 1992. Thousands gathered, mostly young people, at the annual event to tell the Mafia their old ways of corruption, death and destruction were no longer acceptable to the people of Italy. Sicily particularly has turned her back on the Don Corleone types and their henchmen. Again it was a wonderful exercise in the power of people to change things and for the thousands who showed up, it highlights the power of non-violent action.
Next week we’re off to Vienna and I don’t want to think about the rest of the travel before the end of the year. However, it must be done.
Till we meet again.
Love & Peace,
Well, it’s over; the season to be jolly has come and gone. The New Year is born and we are all feeling what? Exhausted, that’s what. We need a holiday to get over the Christmas holiday. I love to cook, but, these past few weeks I’ve cooked myself to a standstill.
The New Year always makes me think a little deeper, hope a little harder and re-commit to the work of changing the world for the children.
When I say re-commit, I don’t want anyone to think I’m some kind of goody, goody, holy roller. (Far from it) It’s simply an understanding I have of myself and just how difficult this challenge is that forces me to look at the reality of the job ahead and be prepared to handle the problems that surely will arise.
Cities of Peace, wow, now doesn’t sound like something ethereal? What silly fool came up with such an idea? Cities of Peace where our future generations will learn that non-violence is the weapon of the strong and that peace and justice should go hand-in-hand.
Within our City will be a school where the children will be given the best academic curriculum possible but more than that and perhaps more importantly, our children will be taught how to live in peace and harmony with their fellow humans.
The next phase of WCCCI will be a huge undertaking and we will be on the receiving end of the usual disbelief and phrases like ‘you must be joking’ or ‘you’ll never be able to do that,’ and my favorite American expression, ‘you’re kidding, right?’
How often I heard those words as we set out to build the first City of Peace in the world for children. The belief in my heart that it can and must be done was the only thing that kept me going through those tough days of disbelief. And now that we are all but ready to build our City we must move very quickly to the next phase. Because, once our model city is complete in the Basilicata Region of Italy, we must be able to replicate such cities across the globe. It’s how we insure such cities can be built. And that’s the tough part, begin.
As Scott Ritter, one of my advisors and former Chief Weapons Inspector in Iraq tells the young people wherever he goes, “Be audacious.”
Well, that’s exactly what we will be. Our next step will be to educate children on how to approach governments for percentages of their military budgets.
I’m not going to get all academic and say we will figure out how much defense costs our world. Those figures are well documented and running at about one trillion dollars per year. Our children are going to demand some of that money.
And, as the first week of the brand New Year passes I look at the Middle East and cannot help but wonder how many little innocent children have died. I am not particularly interested in who’s right and who’s wrong because the truth is its all wrong. Death and destruction can never be the answer for Palestinians or Jews. Rocket attacks on Israel by Hamas are barbaric. However, the response by the Israeli government is even more barbaric. In the name of whatever God both sides believe in, on behalf of the children, I beg you to stop.
There are answers to the Middle East conflict. However the answers are not bombs and bullets; the answers are laying in wait to happen if only both sides are open to dialog. You’re probably thinking, there she goes being crazy again.
I can assure you I’m quite sane and have proof that dialog WORKS. All you have to do is look at recent history in Ireland. Men, once enemies, are now jointly governing in Northern Ireland. And although there have been several hitches, by and large it’s working well. Reason! They communicate. Dialog saves lives. So, come on, Middle East, come on Muslim and Jew, for the sake of your children TALK.
In the Christian faith we say, “This is the day the Lord has given, praise be to thee oh Lord.”
And what a day it is! The day the people of America took their country back!!! The day America changed thereby affecting the rest of the world.
This man, President-elect Barack Obama is a man of our time. A man of exceptional intellect, sound common sense and he has a deep spiritual force which is almost palpable. This, I believe, is what reached not just the American people, but people worldwide.
We in Ireland rejoice and yet we know how hard the road ahead is for this fine man. May the American people see this gift of change and work to help President Obama rebuild a nation once loved and now destroyed by the lies of the past. I think the words of George Orwell describe the courage of Barack Obama. “Telling the truth in times of deceit is a revolutionary act.” President Obama certainly did that.
Last week Rusti and I were in Boston. I gave talks at two fine schools, Boston College High School and St. Mark’s School; the youngs were fabulous. It is truly amazing how deep and concerned the youth of our world really can be. Many requests have been made to help WCCCI. And as I write Bobby Kalsi, Vice President Operations Lead, WCCC-US, is doing a follow up with the teachers at the schools. Thank you teachers and to the students march on remembering, ‘THERE IS NO WAY, PEACE IS THE WAY,’ and you can cause peace.
On October 30 Rusti, David Ives and his gorgeous daughter, Kelsey, sat in a box at the Cutler Majestic Theatre in Boston. What a night! What a concert!! Mario Frangoulis, our Ambassador for Peace, and a tenor with a gift so pure it makes one weep and be joyous all at the same time; the soul force of his voice causes beautiful emotions to surge and you never want him to leave the stage. Thank you Mario for bringing joy to so many people.
Mario will be on tour for three months with Sara Brightman. The tour will take them across the United States and Canada – 30 concerts in three months starting November 12. It’s a heavy schedule. Thousands of people will be touched by Mario’s magic as he sings and spreads the word about his dedication to WCCCI and our pledge to change the world for the children. We love you Mario.
In closing I once again congratulate the people of the United States of America. Your new President will surely give you back your country.
Love & Peace,
Well, here it is, my second blog and I’m probably in trouble with Tony because it’s three weeks late.
I do, however, have a good excuse; it’s called travel! And oh how I hate it. The trouble, you see, I’m old enough to remember when flying was a nice experience and one could actually enjoy it.
However, what with security and people being herded like cattle, I find the whole thing exhausting. For some unknown reason when I go through the metal detector in some airports I set off the beeper and in other airports I don’t.
I hate the degradation I feel as some young lady asks me to spread my arms as she very intimately runs her hands over my poor old body. But, I digress, that’s a whole other subject (a ten page blog).
The Los Angeles PeaceJam was an enormous success. Archbishop Tutu, Adolfo Perez Esquivel, Shirin Ebadi, Jody Williams, Rigoberta Menchu Tum and myself had the privilege of addressing and working with 3,000 young people from all around the globe.
What a joy it is to watch and hear what they say. These are the youngs dedicated to making a difference. They don’t just talk about how violent our world is, or how injustice wraps its miserable arms around a vast majority of the world’s citizens, depriving them of the most basic human rights. No, these youngs are determined to work to change this world with the ten year plan of the Global Call to Action.
Keep it up, PeaceJammers, you have the courage to win, and you will. P.S. I love you all.
Next stop London to meet up with Tony and Linda Dunkel, Erofili Gonou and Demetra Anagnostopoulos to attend a concert by our Ambassador of Peace, the famous Greek tenor, Mario Frangoulis, in the Royal Albert Hall. And what a concert it was. Rusti and I were joined by our beloved friends, Lady Fiona Montagu of Beaulieu and Gill Wright. We each listened in awe as Mario captivated the audience with his incredible talent. He was joined on stage by Justin Hayward, Steve Balsamo, Natasha Marsh and Lara Fabian, another incredible talent whose purity of voice is moving and inspiring. Lara left the audience wanting more.
The morning after (very early) Rusti and I flew to Rotterdam to be with KidsRights for their annual fundraiser. It was a beautiful evening held in a historic church. The ladies looked quite lovely in their gowns. The men weren’t bad either, but I jest. KidsRights does enormous good for children. Just visit their website: www.kidsrights.info. You’ll see.
Overnight in Rotterdam then next morning (very early) off to Athens for Mario’s concert for WCCCI.
The program in Athens was busy but superb. The Mayor of the city, Nikitas Kaklamanis, welcomed us warmly as Athens and her people opened their hearts in support of the first City of Peace in the world for children. My daughter, Deborah, who is dating a Greek captain, joined Rusti, me and the rest of the gang and immediately pointed out the fact that the small flags bedecking almost every lamppost were Irish and Greek. What a lovely thing to see. Thank you for such a sweet compliment, Mayor Kaklamanis.
Erofili Gonou worked like a Trojan putting together a program of people we should meet as well as organizing Mario’s concert. What a star. Thank you, Erofili. Panicos Schinis, Mario’s Greek manager, pulled out all the stops and created a magical evening for all who attended. The concert was held in a historic outdoor theater dating back to 161 AD.
When the lights dimmed and Mario and Lara sang their way onto the stage the atmosphere was electric. The audience was enthralled by the talent and obvious soul force of two gifted and committed people whose only payment for such fabulous entertainment was knowing it was for the children and a City of Peace. The children shall remember Mario Frangoulis and call him blessed.
Our next stop was Italy (another early flight). What is this thing called sleep? We flew to Rome then connected to Bari where Laura Kiss, our Italian director, met us at the airport. As we rode in the minibus to Matera, about an hour from Bari, Laura briefed us as to how the conference and blessing of the land, where our city is to be built, was coming along.
Laura Kiss is what I call a phenomena. This lady gets things done and she had pulled together an amazing event attended by over 400 young people.
The President of the Region Basilicata, Vito de Filippo, the Mayor of Scanzano Jonico, Salvatore Iacobellis, and Sant’Arcangelo, Domenico Esposito, along with Rigoberta Menchu Tum, David Ives, Executive Director of the Albert Schweitzer Institute, and Scott Ritter, our non-proliferation expert opened the first session of the conference.
I sat in wonder as I remembered how five years ago Maria Sachs, our international legal counsel, and I sat in President de Filippo’s office begging for the land that was under threat to be used for the dumping of nuclear waste. He sat across his desk looking at this crazy Irish woman and I knew he really didn’t take me seriously.
And here we were five years later and with enormous amounts of work and stick-to-itiveness now, not only have we saved this beautiful land from the horrors of nuclear waste, we have turned the tables completely and are building a City of Peace! How god is that?
Scott Ritter, one of my advisors, was as usual his wonderful truthful self. He laid it right on the line when he told a rapt audience the possibility of an attack on Iran by the American regime was not out of the question.; He told the youngs to be audacious. Protesting a war for one or two days (as was the case before America’s pre-emptive strike on Iraq) when the vast majority of Italians took to the streets and peace banners hung from almost every window did not accomplish very much. “Those protests should have remained on the streets every day,” said Scott.
And he’s right. Working for peace is a 24/7 job. To achieve the peace we all so desperately long for we must be a committed as any government, Army, Navy or Air Force, is to war.
The conference was a resounding success and very soon we will begin a program of peace education in the Region Basilicata.
By far the most moving and spiritual moments of this journey was the blessing of the land in Scanzano Jonico where the City of Peace is to be built.
S.E. Rev.ma Monsignor Salvatore Ligorio, who began the blessing represented the Holy Father. His Holiness the Dalai Lama sent a representative, Ven. Thamthog Rinpoche Geshe Larampa. It was the Jewish Sabbath and the Rabbi was very busy but he sent a lovely blessing. Rigoberta Menchu Tum brought two Mayan Spiritual Guide who performed a centuries-old Mayan blessing. “The children will always be safe on this land,” the Mayan holy man told me. “Today, according to our Mayan calendar the eagle soars; it is a very good omen.”
So, may our children soar as we build a city like to other, a City of Peace.
Rusti and I are off to Boston for Mario’s concert for the Greek Institute. We’ll catch up with another blog when we get back.
Love & Peace,
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