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UN Day of Peace: sustainable peace for a sustainable future

Raquel Ireifey, one of many students from around the world who attended the International Day of Peace celebration on 21 September at the United Nations, told MediaGlobal that making a commitment to peace means making a commitment to sustainable living. For her,“knowing that there will be a future for the next generation…brings peace to mind,” Ireifey says.

As a high school student and member of the National Youth Leadership Council, Ireifey has a unique perspective on the relationship the environment has to peace. According to her, worrying about maintaining a healthy planet is itself a disruption to peace.

Goodwill Ambassador Forest Whitaker observes the noon “Minute of Silence – Moment of Peace” at the student observance of the International Day of Peace, September 21, 2012. Photo credit: Matt Richter

“I’ve been through points when I’m like: there’s no way that this is going to get better, the environment is not going to get better…that right there is not a peaceful mindset,” says Ireifey.

Shawn Sweeney, NGO representative for the Jane Goodall Institute, invited Ireifey and other students to attend the event because he believes involving youth leaders is key to securing a sustainable future.

“Obviously we talk about how young people are the leaders of the future…but I think the real important thing about having students involved is that…they are a majority stakeholder in this world,” Sweeney tells MediaGlobal.

These youth leaders had another reason for attending UN Peace Day. Accepting Sweeny’s invitation to come to the event also meant getting the opportunity to meet one of the world’s most celebrated environmentalists.

UN peace messenger Jane Goodall found herself surrounded by a crowd of students all day who were eager to be in her presence.  “Jane Goodall is an inspiration to us, so it’s a great opportunity to see her speak,” said student Junseung Lee.

Chimpanzee in hand, Goodall greeted the youth leaders around her with a smile. Her chimpanzee companion was a reminder of her dedication to protecting animal welfare and her famous 45-year study on the social and family interactions of wild chimpanzees.

United Nations Messengers of Peace Jane Goodall and Michael Douglas speak to students at the student observance of the International Day of Peace. Photo credit: Matt Richter

Goodall is not the only familiar face at the UN Peace Day who is working to better the world. Among the crowd was the Oscar-winning actor and goodwill Ambassador for UNESCO, Forest Whitaker. He took the International Day of Peace as an opportunity to launch his international non-profit organization Peace Earth.

The idea behind the project is to create peace-building initiatives in conflict areas, mainly in Africa, to empower youth and others to promote peace.  At a debate sponsored by UNESCO on “Contemporary challenges and approaches to building a lasting culture of peace,” Whitaker spoke about why sustainable peace is a shared goal.

“There are nips and tears in the fabric of our being. We must always see the face of ourselves in others to recognize that we are all vibrating together in the mass we call earth,” Whitaker shared. “How can we heal those tears and torn parts of ourselves? So that we can be whole; whole enough to help heal the planet?”

The answer, according to Whitaker, is to recognize that “peace begins within ourselves.”

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize Winner and international symbol for promoting peace from within, was also at the UN for the International Day of Peace.

Aung San Suu Kyi attends a press conference to speak on the International Day of Peace. Photo credit: Matt Richter

Detained for nearly two decades by the Burmese government for spearheading a movement to bring democracy into her country, during that time Suu Kyi was unable to see her children or her husband. Nevertheless, she refused to let her situation foster hatred within her.

The Nobel Peace Prize winner’s advice for how to obtain sustainable peace resonated with the audience. “I think peace begins in the hearts of people.” Suu Kyi declared. “So, if we want peace, we’ve got to remove hatred…you’ve got to try to do your best in every way possible to remove hatred from the hearts of human beings.”

© 2012 UNEARTH News

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