Clippings: Small steps toward peace add up

The planet probably needs the United Nations’ International Day of Peace for the same reasons we need Mother’s Day and Father’s Day.
In the latter case, as any parent will tell you, all the other days are children’s days.
In the case of the International Day of Peace — which occurs every year on Sept. 21 — it sure seems like the people of Earth devote the other 364 days to violence and war.
I’m not here this time to debate the merits of our current military adventures, just as the students and staff at Vergennes Union High School were not at their annual student-organized Sept. 21 celebration last week.
Listen, nobody doesn’t “Support Our Troops.” Suggestions along those lines are deliberate distractions from the real issues of whether our politicians are deploying our military personnel properly. We all hope for the safe and healthy returns of our troops, and for the honor and fair treatment from our government they deserve for their sacrifice on our behalf.
No, it’s just that every now and then — or once a year, in the case of the International Day of Peace — all of us should look at the bigger picture, including what is in the mirror:
Are we ourselves treating the people around us in a positive, peaceful manner?
Are our friends and acquaintances doing so?
Are our schools and communities doing what they could to promote harmony?
Is our nation doing all it can to work for peace?
And if the answer to those questions is anything but yes, what should we do about it?
In the six years VUHS has been celebrating the International Day of Peace, the focus has remained largely local. Organizers have made it clear they are not protesting the nation’s wars. They have sold baked goods to benefit area soldiers serving abroad, invited National Guard members based across the street to participate, and, this year, asked two young Afghanistan War veterans and VUHS graduates dressed in their military fatigues, Leigh Higbee and Anthony Porter, to speak to the gathering.
A little background: The International Day of Peace began in 1981, when the UN General Assembly founded it for “commemorating and strengthening the ideals of peace within and among all nations and people.” In 2001, the General Assembly amended the day in hopes that Sept. 21 would become a “day of global ceasefire and non-violence.” By 2007, according to one source, 100 million people in 100 countries celebrated the International Day of Peace.
Since then, the parties in Afghanistan have adopted Sept. 21 as a cease-fire. One year, the medical group Star Syringes administered 1.4 million polio vaccines to Afghani children on that date.
VUHS staff member Lee Shorey, who has helped the student organizers over the years, said Higbee and Porter directly benefited from the peace day while stationed in Kabul. Shorey said the two VUHS alumni said they told her, “This is a day we get to rest. This is a day we get to sit at the computer and write our loved ones.”
A Sept. 21 centerpiece this year at VUHS came when teacher Becca Coffey spoke about her young daughter’s so far successful fight with cancer — she’s in remission — and the incredible support from the community she received.
Coffey said her family felt compelled to repay the kindness. At the Tuesday gathering, she and student organizers announced an appropriate challenge. For every student or community member who reads the inspirational novel “Pay It Forward,” an anonymous local donor will give $1 to a charity picked by Coffey’s family. Hundreds of copies were supplied at the gathering.
Readers will be asked to log onto the VUHS website when finished and respond to a couple of questions, both to prove they have read the book and to provoke more thought, Shorey said. In that way, Coffey is paying forward the kindness shown to her family.
Most of the speakers at the VUHS gathering last week, as in the past five years, were students. Students have sung or read poems or essays about what peace means to them, and more often than not just focused on accepting each other as they are and treating each other well every day, not just on Sept. 21. Students, if they chose, at the end of each gathering signed banners pledging to act peacefully in their lives.
The VUHS gatherings for peace started six years ago when a small group of students were inspired by a documentary movie on the International Day of Peace to act, and came up with the idea for the Sept. 21 assembly. An even smaller group of teachers encouraged them to meet with the VUHS principal. He backed their plan.
Out of those small actions came something positive that is still growing.
It’s just one day … or is it?
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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