Reflections on the United Nations International Day of Peace

October 5, 2016

6:00 in the morning and the sun rises over the towering glass and steel structures of New York City. The anticipation of the day to come was enough to somewhat revive a group of groggy, sleep deprived and well dressed youth. Steadily a crowd gathered outside the gates of the United Nations as the 193 flags of the UN were raised. People from around the world gathered for international peace day. During my senior year, I applied to be one of the few from my school to celebrate International Peace Day at the United Nations in New York City. I got accepted. It spawned so many great thoughts in my mind; notions of kinship, understanding, and a better idea of peace. This reflection will share my experience as well as what it gave to me.

It was 11 p.m. on September 15, and we weren’t tired at all. Our plan was to drive the 7 hours that it takes to get to the United Nations, all the way from our small city of Burlington, Vermont. Our plan could be considered reckless, but we knew the journey would prove worthy. It was a bold decision to commence the sojourn at night, as we would have to sleep on the bus. This journey was to be executed by leaving Burlington at 11 pm, and arriving to the Big Apple around 6 am, where we would enter the United Nations to celebrate the International Day of Peace. The bus wasn’t too bad, though nobody got much sleep, hardly enough to be talking to very important people the next morning. But a night of no sleep was worth what we were going to see the next day.

We arrived at 6, and waited in a line to enter until 8. I’m not one to get seriously excited; I permanently wear a pair of monotone glasses. But I was excited. In the words of a friend of mine, we Vermonters were simply sardined into a “tin can” and were shipped to the UN to talk to big shots about Peace.

However the idea of us provincial Vermonters talking to big shots in NYC was left behind because when we got there, we realized that our status was irrelevant because where you were from didn’t seem to matter, what mattered was that you supported peace. The notion of peace had the power to bring many people from many places with different social statuses, onto one level plane, where we were all equal.

UN Peace DayIn the General Assembly we listened to very inspiring people help us understand the meaning of Peace. I really enjoyed hearing the stories of the nobel prize laureates: Tawakkol Karmen, Leymah Gbowee, and Shirin Ebadi; not only was it interesting, but I got a better sense of what they stood for. This part was my favorite part of the day because everything that they had said had meaning to all the listeners and many others worldwide. Hearing their struggles and how they overcame them really gives me a perspective that not enough people have. We often take all that we have in our developed country for granted, and hearing a first-person account helped me understand that many, many, other people live very different lives than we do, and not all of these lives are good. We need more people my age to understand this, and that is when we can make progress. My friends and I gained so much insight to how we can actually make a difference, and the fact that this happens is fantastic. One of the most potent ways that we can achieve peace is by educating people my age and showing us.

One of the many powerful parts of the day was the flag ceremony. Taking part in the UN chapel, 196 flags of the world were held up and met with the wish “may peace prevail,” while the world peace violin was played. There is a great deal of conflict in the world that seems to be caused by conflicting ideologies. To be in a chapel in which one's faith didn't matter and the hope for peace was sent out to everyone was truly incredible.

I had great ideas of peace before visiting, however when I left I had even more thoughts and ideas about what peace is. This was mostly taught by a woman named Tawakkol Karmen, a Yemeni journalist, politician, feminist, human rights activist, and a nobel laureate. She taught me that Peace is not only the notion of acceptance, or ending world hunger (though those two I’ve listed are very important) but rather that Peace is comprised of many many parts that when achieved will all work in conjunction to create a peaceful world. These things have been named the Sustainable Development Goals. Every one of these 17 goals are essential to attaining world peace.  She taught me that in order for things to happen, we all need to be very resistant in combating our problems, otherwise, they won’t be solved. Not only should we pursue them, but we should immerse ourselves in them so we can understand each and every aspect about them, and this way, we can solve our problem.

I feel a new motivation to do as much as I can, that wasn’t there before. When the VT students returned home, we decided that we should have a reflection on the trip that we took. Not everybody could make it, so it was a fairly small group. It was there where we talked to the founder and president of Children of the Earth, Nina Meyerhof. It was very refreshing to talk to the person who made all of this happen, and I would love to thank her in person. However the story doesn’t end there. She brought up the idea of a teddy bear drive, where we give teddy bears to refugee children who don’t have much. It’s such a great idea because the small act yields a large outcome and response. Our small group talked a lot about how we can coordinate these things, and future dates. Personally, I really want to do more drives, perhaps for educational materials because education is extremely important. One of my goals now is to make a notebook drive. I know how much I like writing, and I want to do as much as I can to help other young writers get the utensils that they need.

The whole experience is still kind of percolating. It was so refreshing to be with a group of people from diverse backgrounds working towards this common goal of peace. At the United Nations it was very clear that many were working towards this goal. However, International Peace Day received minimal coverage, making it clear the work that must be done.While I had that incredible moving experience, unfortunately for many others this sentiment of peace was not present.

I’m really proud to say that we are trying to meet again so we can plan more events, and help more people. I love that I was accepted into all of this; I loved the trip, I love the people, I love peace.

Johnny Strek & Aidan Lodge    
Sept. 28th, 2016

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