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Kids Making A Difference For Peace
May 27, 1992, was a beautiful day in Sarajevo, Bosnia. It was the kind of spring day that kids want to enjoy by playing outside. But there were no carefree kids playing in the streets this day. The few children visible in the streets were running between buildings carrying containers which they hoped to fill with safe drinking water or hugging the exterior walls of buildings as they made their way to the black market in hopes of food. Since April, Sarajevo had been a city under siege mourning the death of its Bosnian-Muslims, Bosnian-Croats, and Bosnian-Serbs... mourning the death of diversity and peace.
At 4:00 in the afternoon on this particular warm day, Vedran Smailovic, principal cellist with the Sarajevo Opera Orchestra, watched as his starving friends and neighbors -- Muslims, Serbs, and Croats-- formed a long line outside a make-shift bakery which had received a shipment of flour. As he looked on, a mortar shell fell into their midst killing 22 men, women, and children and injuring over 160 more. He ran to the scene and began helping the wounded. When at last the ambulance arrived, Smailovic was exhausted, yet he knew he had to do something more.
The very next day at 4:00, he went to the crater left by the blast and opened fire... with his cello. His "retaliation" nearly cost him his life while he played in the bullet-riddled streets for 22 consecutive days, to honor each of the victims of the massacre. His peaceful protest and mournful music gained him fame as the Cellist of Sarajevo and brought international media attention to the ethnic cleansing in Bosnia.
I first heard of the Cellist of Sarajevo in 1997 at age 10 when Laura Freese Whaley, from the Center for Gifted Studies at Western Kentucky University, sent me an article to read. In my mind, the cellist's musical harmony represented social harmony. Something very powerful swept over me and I knew in my spirit that I had to keep this message alive and convince the world that harmony is the only possible answer to war!
I began by organizing local events and writing about Bosnia, Kosovo, truth-force, human rights, peace, etc. in the newspaper that I have published since I was nine which has local, national, and international readership. But I had one more dream: I want to send a peace statue to Bosnia from the children of the world as a symbol of our desire for peace and our willingness to work to bring it about. Through my newspaper, the Internet, and my participation in MIT's International Junior Summit, I was already in contact with many kids. I soon noticed that when I shared the story of the Cellist of Sarajevo with other youth, they were very touched and wanted to know how they could help.
When I was 11, I commissioned Children's Peace and Harmony Statue and founded The Cello Cries On, Inc. (a 501c3 tax exempt organization) to provide a way for us to work together for peace and raise money for the statue. The following year, I organized Youth for Peace in the Year 2000. The members of Y4PYK2 are Statue Ambassadors from around the world who want to study about peace and conflict resolution and go to Bosnia at the time of the unveiling of the statue for a summit with Bosnian youth to see how we might help them rebuild into a harmonious society.
Today kids across the US and in different parts of the world are making a difference for peace as they gather signatures on petitions and raise funds for the statue. Twelve-year- old Michael Munds is a Statue Ambassador. He suffers from birth defects and has had several surgeries yet he has the courage to reach out to alleviate other people's pain by raising tens of thousands of dollars for victims of natural disasters and war and for charities. Michael has signed on as the fundraising director for The Children's International Peace-and-Harmony Statue. Sixteen -year-old Emily Kumpel started when she was 11 to make a difference in the lives of kids on the other side of the world. Today at Andover Academy she continues to send hundreds of thousands of books to Africa and is also a Statue Ambassador planning a fundraiser for the statue. It is very important that kids everywhere have the opportunity to become involved in making a difference for peace. When kids work together for good and light, it is easier for us to bear the evil and darkness that weight our souls down. Working together for peace, we become empowered, and empowered we become a force for change.
Thus, I would like to invite all the kids and their parents and teachers reading this message to get involved with the statue and become a part of the growing movement for peace led by youth across the planet who are bringing about global change and a culture of peace. Youth can become Statue Partners in Peace by sending a donation or buying a T-shirt, sweat shirt, or mug from our online store www.cafepress.com/cellocries. But even better, a young person can become a Statue Ambassador by spreading the story of the cellist and the message of harmony and by organizing a fundraiser.
Teachers can help kids get involved in understanding and working for peace. The statue project with its accompanying inspirational story of the Cellist of Sarajevo lends itself really well for classroom involvement if the teacher is doing a unit on the Balkans, a unit on the Holocaust, or a unit on violence and conflict resolution. One project which is fun and very successful is the Chain of Hope. This idea originated with Dr. James Delisle and his wife Deb in their book entitled Growing Good Kids (Free Spirit Publishing Co.), and it was adapted and used by gifted classes in two different schools in Ohio. The students went classroom to classroom telling the story of the cellist and spreading the message of harmony as the answer to discord. They also spoke at a parent/teacher meeting and to people in their neighborhoods. They contacted businessmen and even wrote the editor of the newspaper to express their ideas on peace. And, of course, they sold paper links! When a student or an adult bought a link his/her name was written on it. There was no limit on the number of links one person could buy. The students created chains that encircled the gyms of their schools!
In addition, we (the Statue Ambassadors and members of Youth for Peace in the Year 2000) need everyone's help for an event we are planning on May 27, the anniversary of the Breadline Massacre in Sarajevo in 1992. We want communities all across America to sponsor "Harmony in the Park" as a fundraising event for the peace statue. On this Sunday in May, musicians, artists, poets, dancers, and peace-loving humanitarians of all races, religions, ethnicities, etc. will come together to display their creative energy in their local parks to show the world that creative energy, not destructive energy, is the only viable answer to war. We want to involve as many kids, families, schools, churches, interfaith organizations, neighborhoods, etc. as possible.
Each local group will plan its own "Harmony in the Park" with the only requisites being to spread the message of peace and harmony through the story of the cellist of Sarajevo in some way, to invite artists/musicians/poets, etc. to display their creative energy in the park, and to use the day as a fundraiser for the statue. Various methods, up to the discretion of each community, can be used to accomplish these 3 goals for the day.
A combination of the Chain of Hope idea and Harmony in the Park is also a possibility. Paper links could be sold ahead of the park date (in schools, churches, youth groups, and/or neighborhoods), and they could be sold at the park also. The chain could be displayed at the park. I am sure that there are gifted kids out there who could think up really cool ways to do "Harmony in the Park" and to raise money.
Finally, the peace statue has become a catalyst empowering kids worldwide to work together to decry war and genocide and to promote multiculturalism and peace in their communities. The statue is no longer *my* dream; it is *our* dream. And it is giving us kids a way to be heard-- a voice to shout the message, "We don't want more war, genocide, ethnic cleansing, and holocausts. We stand united for multicultural, multiracial, multiethnic, and multi-religious harmony. We insist that "Never again" must mean "NEVER again!!"