Since my inaugural peacemaking trip to the former Soviet Union in 1982--during which a delegation of children I assembled became the first children to be officially received in the Kremlin and address high-ranking officials there during the Cold War--I have spent my life in a very special kind of service: promoting peace, in all its many forms, in the company of brave, brilliant, pioneering children.
In the past thirty years delegations of children have accompanied me on thirty-seven international trips, and together we have had substantive meetings with such world leaders and luminaries as Russia's President Mikhail Gorbachev, Premier Zhao Ziyang of China, Chancellor Helmut Kohl of West Germany, Pope John Paul II, the late Indira Gandhi of India, Madam Jehan Sadat, and various Ambassadors in North Korea and South Korea. We've walked along the DMZ, been in African famine camps, and consoled victims of wars across the globe.
The premise of these difficult journeys has always been the same: that the adults with the power to wage war need to hear what the children so helplessly impacted by their actions have to say. During the Cold War, when the threat of nuclear annihilation hung above us, our message carried a particularly urgent immediacy. In January of 2005, when we traveled to Beslan, Russia to remember the young students who were terrorized and murdered in their school auditorium just months before, we stood on the glass strewn school grounds holding the hands of bereaved mothers and grandmothers, and felt the universal power of grief.
Today, in the wake of the massacre at Virginia Tech, we find ourselves in a new kind of violent paradigm. During the Cold War, we hungered for peace. Terrorism abroad -especially when committed against children--made us feel ripples of fear for our own children and grandchildren. Nonetheless, we felt safe here at home. But now we know there is no hiding place.
I am grateful that my twenty-five-plus years in the peace movement render me some wisdom on this point--and to quote a fellow Huffington Post blogger, "the hardest thing to learn was the least complicated." We must listen to each other. We must create forums for discussion in which the idea of the hope for peace--peace in our schools and our universities, peace between our governments--can be given a fairer chance. And we must be as innovative about those discussions as the industries and interests that promote violence have innovated against peace.
Mahatma Gandhi said, "If we are to reach real peace in this world, and if we are to carry on a real war against war, we shall have to begin with the children." My lifetime of work with children on all sides of conflict - with those who live in peace, and with those who have seen war - has shown me the hopeful truth of that statement.