"Wherever violence continues, everyone is the loser. It takes very little to turn the peace of one day into the violence of the next. It is also true that individuals can make a difference in the favor of peace," says Oscar Arias S´nchez, one of the Nobel Peace Prize laureates featured in PeaceJam: How Young People Can Make Peace in Their Schools and Communities, a new book by Darcy Gifford. "The strength of forgiveness and dialogue can silence the guns and put everyone to work for real solutions. Our destiny is not carved in stone. It is our responsibility to create a different future."
PeaceJam, a local organization that encourages teenagers around the world to become the next generation of peacemakers, is celebrated in the book by the Michigan-based Gifford, who will be in town for two readings/book signings this week.
"I've always been very moved by PeaceJam's basic message, which is that teenagers can take an active role and do things to make their own lives and communities better," says the author, who is the sister of PeaceJam co-founder Dawn Engle. "It's a very inspirational and motivational program that helps teenagers realize they have the power within themselves."
Founded in 1996, the highly acclaimed educational-action program has enabled nearly 100,000 high-school-aged youths to learn from the wisdom of eleven Nobel Peace laureates, including the Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu, during a year-long leadership training program.
"The struggles for teenagers are really universal," says Engle, who co-founded the Arvada-based nonprofit along with Ivan Suvanjieff. "This is a completely unique and powerful organization, and this book will definitely help to spread our message."
A companion piece to a recent documentary produced by PeaceJam, the book focuses on the lives of five Colorado teens: a homeless child raised by an alcoholic mother, a full-fledged gang member, a Columbine shooting victim and twins born of an interracial marriage.
"It deals with the struggles they've had," explains Gifford. "And while their experiences might be different from yours, these stories will really resonate. They are amazing, brave, funny and inspiring."
The book also highlights the personal stories of the participating laureates, including Rigoberta Menchú Tum, Jody Williams, José Ramos-Horta, Betty Williams, Aung San Suu Kyi, Bishop Carlos Belo, Adolfo Pérez Esquivel and M´iread Corrigan Maguire.
"One of my favorite parts of the book is the highlighted quotes from the laureates," says Gifford. "You get a chance to see how real and how human they are. I think that is why they're so successful in relating to teenagers. They are amazing people."
Designed as a practical guide for teachers and youth-group leaders, PeaceJam features thought-provoking questions and exercises at the end of every chapter.
"These are practical lessons from the PeaceJam curriculum that you can use in working with teens or even in your own life," says Gifford. "Or you can just read it and enjoy the stories. The overall message of the book is basically PeaceJam's slogan -- that one person really can make a difference."
That is exactly how Williams, winner of the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize for her work with the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, feels.
"Don't wait for somebody else to do something for you," she says. "Do it for yourself, because you are worth it. Each one of us is a manifestation of glory."