Peace must be a deliberate act.
Like reading and writing, it must be taught at every level of schooling.
And the world must champion peace as a brand. It must be made and sold to all and by all.
So said a community-center leader from Kenya, whose vocation is rescuing children living in the streets of Nairobi from bring pulled in by terrorists, sex traffickers, weapons traffickers and drug traffickers.
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“Let’s agree to disagree,” he told a rapt audience of more than 200 students at Pope John Paul II Catholic School in Okatie Monday afternoon.
Phares Nyaga Mithamo will speak to Hilton Head Island High School students Tuesday, as well as the Lowcountry Presbyterian Church at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday and First Presbyterian Church of Hilton Head at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday.
He is one of 16 international peacekeepers visiting the U.S. for a month under the auspices of the Presbyterian Church (USA).
He comes from a place of harsh poverty, sparse opportunity and a great divide between Muslims and Christians.
“We have to learn that we are not only looking out for our own interests, but that different people have different needs, different challenges and different aspirations,” he said in a strongly accented English, one of the four languages he speaks. “We have to learn to look at ‘them,’ ‘those’ and ‘these’ and not just ‘me.’ ”
He said peacekeeping skills must be built into school curricula in every grade worldwide so that graduates will be champions of peace rather than recruits for terrorists.
Mithamo said vocational training is a must. Peace requires educated minds, he said, but also busy hands. It requires jobs.
His greatest frustration is to see the cream of the crop in Kenya get an education, even advanced degrees, but still have no job. They often turn to crime and terrorism, he said, just like the street kids.
Peace requires the social, economic and political empowerment of the vulnerable, such as refugees, women and children.
It requires “interfaith approaches in all spheres of life.”
It requires ambassadors of peace to create partnerships and safety nets.
It requires youth to say “no” to radicalization and violent extremism.
Mithamo brought with him a quotation from Mahatma Gandhi, a great champion of peace:
“When I despair, I remember that all through history the way of truth and love has always won. There have been murderers and tyrants and, for a time, they can seem invincible, but in the end they always fall. Think of it — always.”
But Mithamo left the Lowcountry students with a question: “What do we do?”