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PeaceJam

Ivan Suvanjieff (left) and his wife, Dawn Engle, the founders of PeaceJam, are seen here in 2006 at their headquarters in Arvada, Colorado.

What is peace?

The absence of conflict?

Fairness for all?

“In my view the difference between peace-lover and peacemaker is the difference between loving money and making money -- we all have to work (at it),” said Chris Blake of Lincoln’s Interfaith Peacemaking Coalition.

Peacemaking “isn’t all doves and rainbows. It doesn’t just happen,” Blake said.

It takes work. It takes a conscious effort to right wrongs, level life’s playing field and ensure everyone reaps the benefits of basic human rights.

Which is why Lincoln’s Interfaith Peacemaking Coalition decided to mark its 30th anniversary by actually making peace -- and inviting people “to commit 10,000 acts of peace.”

Acts that promote education and community development, alleviate extreme poverty, protect the environment, end racism and hate, ensure clean water for all, bring an end to arms proliferation and protecting the rights, health and needs of women and children everywhere.

Individual drops that ultimately can fill millions of buckets.

Ten thousand acts of peace is Lincoln’s contribution to PeaceJam Foundation’s 10-year worldwide effort, One Billion Acts of Peace.

PeaceJam co-founder and executive director Dawn Engle will be the guest speaker at Lincoln’s April 3 peacemaking event in the Railyard. Engle said she hopes to inspire and be inspired by what is happening in Lincoln.

Engle and her husband, punk rock musician and artist Ivan Suvanjieff, founded PeaceJam in 1996 -- after Suvanjieff encountered some young men armed with guns walking the streets in his Denver neighborhood.

“He got in a conversation with them,” Engle recalled in an interview from her Colorado home. "They didn’t care about school. They didn’t know who the president was. They were disaffected and disenfranchised."

Suvanjieff, who was not yet her husband, worried about the boys, their future and the world. During his conversation with the high school dropouts, “they tripped over the subject of South Africa,” Engle said.

This they knew of. They had heard about the non-violent transfer of power from decades of apartheid. They knew of the two men behind it: Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela.

That’s when Suvanjieff got his “big idea” of bringing Nobel Peace Prize winners together with youth to help young people “become tremendous leaders and do great things in the world,” Engle said.

Suvanjieff shared his idea with Engle, who had previously met and worked with the Dalai Lama in Tibet. She arranged a meeting.

The Dalai Lama embraced Suvanjieff's idea -- with one caveat. Other Nobel Peace Prize winners needed to be part of it, too, providing “living examples of how anyone could work for peace, could make a difference,” she said.

“So we went back to Colorado and cold-called peace prize winners: ‘Hi we have this big idea and the Dalai Lama said yes,’” Engle recalled.

Eight Nobel laureates signed on to the cause including Tutu and the Dalai Lama. And PeaceJam was born -- replacing the feelings of helplessness, hopelessness and disaffection in youth with empowerment. Inspiring youth to be the change needed to end strife, war and oppression in their communities, states, countries and around the world.

Today 13 Nobel laureates provide educational outreach as well as serve as role models and take part in PeaceJam’s “Nobel Legacy Film Series,” which documents the life stories of peace prize winners.

On PeaceJam’s 10th anniversary, the group created One Billion Acts of Peace.

“We spent two years coming up with ideas -- asking laureates if you wanted to change the future of mankind, what are the 10 areas you would focus on,” Engle said.

They agreed on the following list:

* Human rights

* Poverty

* Environment

* Water and resources

* Conflict resolution

* Empowering women and children

* Health

* Slowing weapons proliferation

* Inclusion

* Education and community

In 2010, One Billion Acts of Peace launched. PeaceJam hopes to reach that goal by 2020.

To date, they have recorded 7 million acts of peace, with 2 million of them attributed to the work of the 1 million youth representing 39 countries who have participated in PeaceJam’s mentoring workshops.

Once geared toward teenagers, PeaceJam has expanded its reach, offering programming for youth in elementary school through college, as well as those in the juvenile justice system.

Engle and Suvanjieff have been nominated 15 times for the Nobel Peace Prize -- their One Billion Acts of Peace movement, nominated seven times.

Engle called Lincoln’s 10,000 Acts of Peace movement “bodacious-ly ambitious.”

“I am very inspired by Lincoln," she said. "They said 'We are going to do this.' And they decided to just go for it, the same way my husband and I went for it."

Blake said the One Billion Acts of Peace movement is built on the belief that average, ordinary youth and adults can tackle tough issues and make a difference.

“Lincoln has always been a city that supports peace, and we believe we can easily make a dent in the billion acts with our own 10,000 acts of peace,” he said.

Ideally, the coalition would like to tally many of those peace acts prior to the April 3 event. But supporters agree it should be a never-ending effort.

Although the Lincoln coalition announced 10,000 Acts of Peace in January, people have been slow to register their peace acts at lincolnpeacemakers.com (Click on "Make it Count.”)

Martha Gadberry, co-chair of Lincoln Peacemakers, attributes it to that old Nebraska ethic: thou shall not brag.

Even Blake, who can rattle off numerous acts of peace committed in the past week alone, confessed that he, too, has been slow to register those actions.

Chagrined, he promises to heed his own advice: Registering acts is not about braggadocio -- it’s about inspiration.

One person’s peaceful effort can spark another and another like a line of dominoes falling up a mountain.

“It’s not bragging," said the Rev. Larry Moffet, pastor of First United Methodist Church, the originating sponsor of Lincoln’s Interfaith Peacemaking Coalition. "It’s saying I want to participate with lots of people doing acts of peace all over the world."

Noted Blake, “One of the purposes is to act in collaboration with other peacemakers. … So we are intentional in our actions of helping one another instead of running on separate hamster wheels.”

Peace acts can be large scale or intimate.

Gadberry invited a Muslim man to coffee. Misha Darcy, who helped develop the Peacemaker website, spoke of getting to know her new Haitian neighbors.

Members of Moffet's church purchased livestock -- “a whole ark of hope” -- through Heifer International which provides impoverish people with livestock to earn money for their families. They also bought 100 books for an El Paso, Texas, school library, inscribing each book with a personal message.

Members of Studio 4:8 Yoga filled gift bags with snacks, toiletries and other items, which were handed out to clients at Matt Talbot Kitchen & Outreach and the People’s City Mission.

Union College and University of Nebraska-Lincoln dedicated a day to service, helping out wherever there was a need.

Beattie Elementary School fourth-graders created the Charlie Brown Project in which they decorated and then filled gift bags with gloves, hats, toothbrushes, toothpaste, toys and small games, pencils, notebooks, travel size shampoo/conditioner, to children living at the mission. In all, the effort of the students and their teachers added up to 66 acts of peace.

Students continued the effort by learning about hunger and encouraging their families to volunteer and donate in the Food Bank of Lincoln’s BackPack program, which provides food for the weekends to low-income families.

Recently 13 Nebraska Wesleyan University students joined three students from Mexico and their mothers in cooking an authentic Mexican meal.

“It was an eye-opening experience for the Nebraska students,” said Moffet. "Through the act of cooking and eating food, the students learned an awful lot about Mexican culture and had a great time.”

Groups that perform random acts of kindness are performing acts of peace, Moffet said.

But not all acts of peace necessarily qualify as acts of kindness.

“The lines can get blurry between peace and kindness,” Blake said. "Sometimes peacemakers have to take a stand and say ‘no more.' Sometimes peacemakers have to be visionary and say ‘what if?’ That goes beyond kindness.”

Peacemaking is about taking “thoughtful action to get traction on key issues facing the community or the world,” Engle said.

“Everything counts," she said. "Prayer and meditation. Saying hello and smiling. It’s all about empowering people, average citizens, to be agents of change.

“Everybody starts out by thinking: 'I can’t do anything. It’s just me. I’m just one person. What difference could I make?’

“Then we show them how, and help them take steps along the continuum.”

Engle compared it to a first-time tourist, dipping a toe into a new experience. As the tourist becomes more confident, he becomes an experienced traveler, and, as he does more and more, he transforms into a travel guide or leader.

“It is not about doing it one time and stopping,” she said. “You do small things to get started.”

Once started, the feelings of helplessness and hopelessness fade away.

“If everybody does something you add it up together and create a wave of change,” Engle said. “You are not by yourself, but part of a movement.”

And if there was ever a time where a movement was needed -- that time is now, Engle and Blake said.

“Governments are paralyzed and polarized," Engle said. "There are a lot of big issues not being dealt with in the way we want to see.”

One Billion Acts of Peace and 10,000 Acts of Peace allow people to stop waiting for leaders to do the right thing.

It empowers everyday people to be the difference, “and maybe our leaders can follow us,” Engle said.

Blake described peace in this way:

“Peace is proactive. It’s more than the absence of violence, just as light is more than the absence of darkness. To be a peacemaker means to make waves in loving ways."

And small acts can have huge impacts, Moffet and Darcy said.

“Lincoln is a refugee center, we get people from war zones all over the world to emigrate and resettle here,” Darcy said. “We have a very diverse population. If you don’t think you are impacting Syria by doing a little peace act here in Lincoln, you are wrong.

“It all starts at home and with one individual making their drop in the bucket toward global peace. It’s the butterfly effect."

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Reach the writer at 402-473-7217 or eandersen@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @LJSerinandersen.

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