Activist celebrates peace day in Spain

October 23, 2010 

Millions of people have seen the photograph over the years. It's of a teenage girl presenting a flower to U.S. soldiers at a Vietnam War protest in Washington, D.C.

The girl in the photo is 17-year-old Jan Rose Kasmir, who now lives on Hilton Head Island. More than 40 years later, she still gets recognized from the photo and she still gets called on to promote its message -- peace.

Late last month, Kasmir was invited to participate in the International Day of Peace ceremonies in Seville, Spain. She spoke in front of thousands, giving a message of peace on a small and large scale.

"The idea was that I was an ordinary person who became a symbol of peace -- anyone can be that," she said. "If your journey doesn't take you to bigger things, do the little things. Be kind. Help others in need. It's the droplets of water that can form a river."

Kasmir has always been passionate about volunteerism and promoting world peace ever since she was young, volunteering for the Red Cross at the age of 15. She joined a Vietnam War protest Oct. 21, 1967, at first thinking she'd be just one of a crowd. But when she presented a chrysanthemum to the young troops, French photographer Marc Riboud captured the gesture. The photo quickly gained fame as it spread through publications worldwide.

The shot caught on in particular in Europe, and Kasmir didn't realize how popular it had gotten until about 20 years ago when her father saw a copy in a magazine and sent it to her. She has since met up with the photographer several times. And she marched in a protest against the Iraq War in London with a poster of her photo.

She lived on Hilton Head from 1987 until 1991 and returned in 2002, raising a daughter here and becoming a massage therapist.

The Avalon Project, a Spanish organization that holds events to promote peace, called her several months ago to see if she'd come to Seville on Peace Day to speak and be honored.

She participated in several days' worth of events, including the forming of a human peace sign with nearly 3,000 others. She met the mayor of Seville, Alfredo Sanchez Monteseirin, who told her he had a poster of the Riboud photo hanging on his wall growing up. She also met and became close with an Iraqi doctor. She brought her new friend on stage when she spoke, and one of the fellow speakers noted the resonance of a Muslim and Jew standing on one stage promoting peace.

Kasmir returned to Hilton Head energized from her experiences. She is searching for a publisher for an autobiography and is seeking volunteers to start a peace iniative with the Iraqi doctor. She has hopes of becoming a rabbi and possibly moving to Israel.

She's found that her "real goal in life is to serve God and man." It's about promoting peace and inspiring others to live a life of good.

"People feel helpless up against the world," she said. "But we can't give up or the wolves will take over."

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