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Irish Nobel Laureate to lead PeaceJam events

April 12, 2010

KALAMAZOO--Great Lakes PeaceJam will welcome Nobel Peace Prize winner Betty Williams of Northern Ireland to the eighth annual Great Lakes PeaceJam Youth Conference April 17-18 on the Western Michigan University campus.

As part of the weekend events, Williams will make a public presentation on "Community Based Solutions to the Issue of Violence" at 7:30 p.m. Friday, April 16, in the East Ballroom of WMU's Bernhard Center. Her talk will be followed by a question and answer session. The address is open to the public with a suggested donation of $10 or $5 for students.

In addition, Great Lakes PeaceJam is opening its traditionally closed reception honoring the visiting Nobel Laureate to the general public. The reception will be held prior to the public address at 5:30 p.m. in the President’s Dining Room of the Bernhard Center. Admission is $50 per person and includes hors d'oeuvres and a beverage ticket. Proceeds from the event will benefit the PeaceJam program. Those who wish to attend must reserve their spot by Friday, April 9, by contacting the office of Seeding Change at greatlakespeacejam.org or (269) 492-7750.

Betty Williams, long affected by the violence in Northern Ireland, was finally stirred to action after witnessing the deaths of three children resulting from a car chase involving the Irish Republican Army and a British Patrol. Williams immediately began to circulate petitions against the violence and, in less than 48 hours, had more than 6,000 signatures. When Mairead Corrigan, the children's aunt, heard what Betty Williams had done, she invited her to the children's funeral.

On August 13, 1976, the day of the Maguire children's funeral, Betty Williams and Mairead Corrigan met with journalist Ciaran McKeown, who joined the two women in co-founding Peace People, an organization dedicated to nonviolence in Northern Ireland and throughout the world. In recognition of their work, Betty Williams and Mairead Corrigan were jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1976.

Although Williams won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1976, her recent work has expanded to address related issues, including the welfare of children. Betty Williams serves as the president of World Centers of Compassion for Children, the mission of which is to provide a strong political voice for children in areas afflicted by war, hunger, social, economic or political upheaval. The aim of the centers is to respond to the material and emotional needs of children by creating safe and nurturing environments.

The WCCC recently announced that it will build its first "City of Compassion" in southern Italy. This city will be a safe haven for children who are most at risk to the horrors of war, hunger, disease and abuse, and is meant to serve as a model for others that can provide health and healing to suffering children throughout the world.

Following the Friday evening private reception and public talk, hundreds of high school students throughout the four-state region of Michigan, Illinois, Indiana and Ohio will spend two days with Betty Williams during the PeaceJam Youth Conference. The event is part of a year-round program that began in October 2009, when adult club advisors were trained on the PeaceJam curriculum. Since that time those advisors have led club meetings with young people, exploring issues of violence and prejudice and studying the life and work of Betty Williams as a role model for becoming civically engaged.

In addition to participating in the curriculum and attending the conference, PeaceJam participants are charged with identifying a local or global need and creating a service project to make a difference. During the conference, each PeaceJam club will present its work to Betty Williams, stating its commitment to inspiring change in the world. Further information on examples of service projects is available to the media upon request.

PeaceJam is an international education program built around 11 Nobel Peace Prize winners, including Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Mairead Corrigan Maguire and the Dalai Lama, who work personally with young people to inspire a new generation of peacemakers. Since 1996, more than 500,000 teenagers worldwide have participated in PeaceJam, developing more than 300,000 community service and peace projects.

Great Lakes PeaceJam, based in Kalamazoo, is a program of Seeding Change and serves the youth of Indiana, Illinois, Ohio, and Michigan. More than 2,500 young people have participated in Great Lakes PeaceJam programs since its inception in 2002. Funders of Great Lakes PeaceJam include the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, Kalamazoo Community Foundation, Irving S. Gilmore Foundation and private donors.

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Media contact: Cheryl Roland, (269) 387-8400, cheryl.roland@wmich.edu

WMU News
Office of University Relations
Western Michigan University
Kalamazoo MI 49008-5433 USA
(269) 387-8400