Texas High School Students Gather at UH for Peace

Leadership Program for High School Students is Based on Laureates' Lives, Work

More than 200 high school students from Houston and across Texas will come to the University of Houston in search of peace and inspiration.

The Greater Texas PeaceJam 2009 Youth Conference is planned for Saturday and Sunday March 28 and 29 on the campus of the University of Houston.  The annual conference, sponsored by the UH Graduate College of Social Work, is the culmination of the students' year long leadership training program based on nonviolent social strategies and the lives and work of Nobel laureates.  The PeaceJam conference brings students together to consider ways of implementing positive change in their lives, community and world, aided by the experience and guidance of a Nobel laureate.

"This year, the Houston PeaceJam conference is honored to welcome Nobel laureate Rigoberta Menchú Tum from Guatemala, who will meet with students and tell them about her incredible life," said Jamie Parker, UH PeaceJam coordinator.
Menchu Tum won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1992 in recognition of her efforts to support human rights for Indian peasants in Guatemala and the Western Hemisphere.  As members of her family were arrested, tortured and raped under the suspicion of anti-government acts, Menchú Tum drew nearer to her indigenous countrymen and women.  Her autobiography, "I, Rigoberta Menchu," details her life as an organizer and the struggle of indigenous Guatemalans to resist oppression.
As part of PeaceJam activities, students will pose questions to Menchu Tum about their ideas for making positive changes in their communities, participate in the Holocaust Museum Houston's Butterfly Project that collects handmade butterflies for a large-scale collage in remembrance of children killed during the Holocaust, and assemble hygiene packets to be used for medical missions to Guatemala by the group Faith In Practice and attend workshops led by the Center for the Healing of Racism, the Institute of Interfaith Dialog and Houston Rescue and Restore Coalition.

A poignant moment comes on the second day of the conference as Menchu Tum and students, in a candlelit room, share their thoughts on inspiration.
"Students in the past have sung hymns in their native language, recited poetry or simply told the entire conference what inspires them," Parker said.  "It's always a moving moment to see teenagers open up about what inspires them and gives them hope."

Menchu Tum also is a founding member of the Nobel Women's Initiative (NWI), together with her sister laureates Jody Williams, Shirin Ebadi, Wangari Maathai, Betty Williams and Mairead Corrigan Maguire. Housed in the UH Graduate College of Social Work, the NWI is an international organization that advocates for human and women's rights around the world. 
"Ms. Menchu is a living example of the good that can happen when one chooses to stand up and tell the world about the injustices they are experiencing," Parker said.  ""It is exciting to think that seeds we are planting with these students could produce a future Nobel Peace Prize Winner."
Menchu Tum also will have a public speaking engagement at 6 p.m., Friday, March 27 at the Rothko Chapel.  The event is free, but seating is limited and available on a first-come, first-served basis.  
For more information on registering your class or school to participate in PeaceJam, or to sponsor a student, contact Jamie Parker at pjam@central.uh.edu or 713-743-8039.

For more information on the Graduate College of Social Work and PeaceJam, visit www.sw.uh.edu/peacejam/events.php.

About the University of Houston

The University of Houston, Texas' premier metropolitan research and teaching institution, is home to more than 40 research centers and institutes and sponsors more than 300 partnerships with corporate, civic and governmental entities. UH, the most diverse research university in the country, stands at the forefront of education, research and service with more than 36,000 students.

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