A Nobel Calling

In just two months, change starts here. In Denver. No joke.

Engle is puzzling over "how to make this an international event and involve a rock star but still keep it true," she admits. "The Nobels are the rock stars. We keep resisting the standard celebrity-driven formula."

In November, when they went to Rome to accept the 2005 Joseph Rotblat Special Man for Peace Award from Mikhail Gorbachev, during the sixth Nobel for Peace World Summit ("A Peace of the Action," November 10, 2005), the awards ceremony kept getting pushed back. Sting had shown up. "It was surreal, and a big lesson from the universe," Engle says. "Be careful with celebrity."

"I started signing autographs as Sting," Suvanjieff says.

Ivan Suvanjieff and Dawn Engle are bringing the world 
to Denver.
Brett Amole
Ivan Suvanjieff and Dawn Engle are bringing the world to Denver.

"I signed as Mrs. Sting," Engle says.

From there, they traveled to England three times, to Taiwan, to India, to Costa Rica.

"Were we in Kenya this year?" Suvanjieff asks.

To Minnesota, to Michigan.

"Were we in Argentina?"

"We've been on the go for six full months," Engle says. But now they're back at their Arvada office -- an 1899 bungalow that was the home of Arvada's first mayor and now houses a half-dozen savvy staffers, several of whom signed on to PeaceJam when they were kids -- finalizing details for the September celebration. (For those details, go to www.peacejam.org.) The star power isn't their only concern. There's the challenge of providing security for the Nobels, several of whom are accorded head-of-state treatment. "PeaceJam is an incredible, warm exchange with the Nobel Laureates, and how do you do that with all the security?" Engle asks. "We want to stay true to what we are and what we do. We don't want to lose what really works about this program. You don't want the Nobels used up. You want them there for the kids."

"Before they win the Nobel Peace Price, they're screaming to get their voice heard," Suvanjieff says. "Afterwards, they say one small thing and it's front-page news."

So far, the PeaceJam celebration hasn't made front-page news in Denver, which has exacerbated another challenge: paying for everything. PeaceJam operates on a wing and a prayer and a lot of goodwill, but good could get expensive in mid-September, when Denver is also hosting its largest trade show ever, a consumer electronics show. "I'm thinking, oh, yeah, I'll get free stuff," Engle says. "Then all of a sudden, there's a big convention, and it's a money-making weekend. So everything's hard, logistically." Finding buses to transport the kids is hard. Finding companies willing to help feed them is hard. It'll help if they get that rock star. And next week, a crew from BBC World will be in Denver to start filming a PeaceJam series that will be shown around the world next year.

Tomorrow the world. Today, Denver.

"It's a blessed life, but it is difficult," Suvanjieff says. "Everything's in relationships after ten years of diligent hard work. Putting up, shutting up. We've built the relationships, and there's trust."

Some of those relationships have been harder to build than others. Ten years ago, Suvanjieff went to Burma, taking letters of support from other Nobel winners to Aung San Suu Kyi, and taped their talks. "I spent three days with her, and right after I left, her chief of staff was put in prison and killed," he remembers. Suvanjieff himself was searched and beaten, but he managed to smuggle out the video.

And just last week, he says, "The foreign minister of East Timor asked me to lobby for his country with the president of Costa Rica."

But right now, France scores, and wins.

"Betty owes me another ten bucks," Suvanjieff says.

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