A pledge for peace in a turbulent world
by Aaron M. Vehling
I pledge to use my words to speak in a kind way.
I pledge to help others as I go throughout my day.
I pledge to care for our earth with my healing heart and hands.
I pledge to respect people in each and every land.
I pledge to join together as we unite the big and small.
I pledge to do my part to create peace for one and all.
Wise words, seemingly derived from the Golden Rule, we can all heed, especially during an election year defined by virulent mudslinging.
What makes them more powerful is that they are crafted by the children of Kids for Peace, an international organization founded in 2006 in California that has a chapter here in Lakeville. The group’s mission is “to cultivate every child’s innate ability to foster peace through cross-cultural experiences and hands-on arts, service and environmental projects.”
This week I met with chapter co-founder Brook Paquette and her daughter Ava at Mainstreet Coffee Cafe in downtown Lakeville.
They had just returned from a D.C. gathering of Kids for Peace members from around the nation called the “D.C. Peace Pledge Tour.” They marched to sites around the nation’s capital reciting the above pledge along the National Mall, the floor of the House of Representatives at the Capitol and at a meeting of Democratic members of the House.
“I really like giving and helping,” said 10-year-old Ava. “Doing this gives me a better chance (to do that).”
She also enjoys the social aspect of it.
“It allows you to work in a group and meet other kids… Help other kids,” Ava said.
The Paquettes originally became involved in the organization when they lived in San Diego. After they moved to Lakeville two years ago, Paquette helped open a chapter here. Her inspiration, she said, was her father.
“My dad was missing-in-action in Vietnam,” Brook said. “I never had a chance to know him, so I’ve always wanted to work for peace.”
Among their most important programs is what they call “Peace Packs.” The kids prepare packages of books and school supplies for impoverished children. The most recent recipients were in Guatemala.
Another recent effort was a visit to the Eagan women and children’s shelter, the Lewis House. The Kids for Peace children played with kids at the shelter, made sugar cookies and sewed felt blankets with message of “peace” in mind.
On their trip to D.C., the Kids merged those two programs together with a visit to the Covenant House, a safe-haven for homeless, orphaned and runaway youth. The group passed out Peace Packs to the resident kids, who took to their new friends – and supplies – instantly.
One orphan, who shares my first name, took custody of his new crayons instantly.
“He would not put the crayons down,” Brook said. When they were trying to take a photo of him, he said “cheese,” but “kept on coloring.”
Along the way in D.C., the Kids for Peace group also met with San Diego Congressman Bob Filner, a man who once shared a jail cell with the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.; had an audience with Elkanah Odembo, Kenya’s ambassador to the United States; and took part in a unique program of the United States Institute of Peace, an organization signed into law by President Ronald Reagan in 1984.
USIP typically works with teens, Brook said, but an 11-year-old girl from another Kids chapter wrote a letter to USIP President Richard Solomon describing the work of Kids for Peace. He was sold, and so he invited the kids to partake in a program tailor-made for their age group.
Ava enjoyed that part of the trip, too.
“We got to give (Solomon) a little peace banner, which a lot of kids helped to create, including me,” she said.
Ava’s group of nine- to 12-year-olds discussed how to resolve conflicts, focusing on the art of friendship.
Using a house as a metaphor for amity, the program taught the kids about “what materials are needed to build a house and how to use materials to build a friendship,” Ava said.
“What would the tools be when building a friendship? Honesty, fairness…” she continued.
They also did a case study involving cheating on a test that resulted in the group learning that sometimes situations are not a diametric matter of peace vs. conflict, but reside somewhere in the middle.
But in addition to spreading the message of peace, the trip hit home personally for the Paquettes on a visit to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall.
The national Kids for Peace cohort went to the wall to read their Peace Pledge, but Brook found her father’s name on the wall. Ava did a pencil etching.
“I wanted to find my grandpa’s name,” Ava said. “It was a neat experience.”
For Brook, it was made more meaningful when the co-founder of the international Kids for Peace organization let the group know Brook’s father’s name was on the wall.
“It was special,” Brook said.
Going forward, the Lakeville chapter wants to help more kids with its Peace Packs and continue to spread the ideals of the likes of King and Gandhi: that a peaceful existence is a better one.
At a time when every transgression – no matter how minute – becomes an issue for vitriol and the debasement of society, it is comforting to know that from the mouths of babes comes the prospect of a sweet, serene redemption.
Aaron M. Vehling is at firstname.lastname@example.org or www.facebook.com/sunthisweek.