MAPLEWOOD, NJ - Maplewood residents now have the unique opportunity to learn from Nobel Peace Laureates through a local residents' efforts with a grassroots organization PeaceJam. David Gilbert, a Maplewood resident of 17 years, has been steadily building a PeaceJam chapter in New Jersey for the past two years.
According to its website, “PeaceJam is an international education organization whose mission is to create young leaders committed to positive change in themselves, their communities and the world through the inspiration of Nobel Peace Laureates who pass on the spirit, skills, and wisdom they embody.”
PeaceJam started in Denver in 1993 with the idea of putting the lives and works of Nobel Peace Prize winners in connection with young people and evolved into a curriculum for kindergarten through college, said Gilbert.
Gilbert got involved after his granddaughter learned about the organization. After more research, Gilbert realized that no one was doing this in the area.
“I took the lead and fell into the role of trying to build the organization,” he said. “It really is a grassroots thing and needs to be done by the local communities with the support of PeaceJam.”
Anybody can start a group of PeaceJam kids by taking some training, getting the curriculum and meeting with the kids in schools, community centers or churches, he said.
PeaceJam focuses on high school level kids and gives them a chance to learn about the Nobel Laureates. It also teaches them about the global call to action, a group of ten items of concern to save the world.
These include everything from eliminating hunger and poverty, water availability and women's rights to environmental issues and nuclear proliferation. They also grow plants and vegetables in community gardens and launch anti-bullying campaigns.
“I've seen some of the results and I realized in this part of the country there are plenty of kids struggling with their own identities and what they want to be in the world,” said Gilbert. “They don't have a lot of role models or motivation to do anything beyond social media.”
“It's a great chance to get information into people's heads that doesn't often get to them through school curriculum like how to behave toward each other,” Gilbert added. “They end up creating a really safe environment for the kids where everyone's point of view is respected.”
“Once they start learning about the Laureates they get excited about their own projects,” he added.
Gilbert is now working on expanding PeaceJams throughout New Jersey and New York into a regional organization where they would be able to hold a youth conference with hundreds of kids at a university campus for the weekend.
“The Laureates come to these conferences, spend time with the kids, talk to them and present their inspiration, it's a very powerful program,” he said.
To get this program off the ground Gilbert will need people who want to take on the role of the youth advisor and start their own groups and after school programs.
“Then the kids take it on and the advisor just keeps it on the rails,” he said. “The other part of it is finding a non-profit partner that could work as a home base, but you have to have the kids first.”
To learn more about PeaceJam, watch the video below, visit peacejam.org or email David Gilbert at firstname.lastname@example.org.