In each of us
A dream can burn like the sun
Let’s try it all one more time
To get this lesson learned
~ Peter Gabriel, Make tomorrow
These lyrics by Peter Gabriel resonated in my mind with hope and inspiration as I stood applauding among an audience that included international dignitaries, ambassadors, artists, students all united with the shared goal of working towards making the world a peaceful place. Gabriel, along with entrepreneur Richard Branson thought of forming a committee with a group of experienced people that could provide communities all over the world with guidance to tackle major issues. In July 2007, Nelson Mandela with the help of Desmond Tutu and Graca Machal turned their idea into reality, forming a committee of global ‘elders’ to use their collective experience and influence as an attempt to solve major issues affecting the world.
To celebrate its 10th anniversary, The Elders have launched a global #WalkTogether campaign with the motto of ‘Continuing Mandela’s Long Walk to Freedom’. An evening of discussions, poetry, demonstrations was organized by The Elders in association with the British Council at the dreamily beautiful Assembly Hall at the Church House, Dean’s Yard, an interesting choice of location since it was in the same room that the House of Commons had gathered post World War II to discuss rebuilding a peaceful world. The evening started with a march inaugurated by Kofi Annan (Former UN Secretary General) and Graca Machal (Founder of The Elders and wife of Nelson Mandela) to honour Sparks of Hope at Trafalgar Square. The entire crowd was bursting with energy and enthusiasm. Revoking the memory of Mandela. Mr. Annan said:
All over the globe, there are men and women who fight injustice. They have a vision and are prepared to suffer for it. Today let us re-affirm our own determination, fight injustice and stand in solidarity with the victims of war, abuse and discrimination
The marchers ended their walk at Mandela’s statue at Parliament square and paid their respects. David Nussbaum, Chief Executive of The Elders, opened the program with a brief explanation of the Elders Foundation and the British Council with a short video about the #WalkTogether campaign. The video showed an unity among people walking for peace regardless of massive differences, stressing on how walking with someone you find different is the way towards global peace.
The British Council ‘Future Leaders Connect’ program was introduced to the audience as a global network of emerging leaders, emphasising that 50% of selected Future Leaders are women. The Future Leaders Connect program draws upon Kofi Annan’s idea ‘You’re never too young to lead, never too old to learn’. Calling up young leaders from all over the globe, it provides a platform to share and generate new ideas to deal with problems – both local and global through discussion, innovation, technology and providing skills to these future leaders.
Two panel discussions followed the dialogue between The Elders and members of the Future Leaders Connect program. This conversation between generations was especially insightful bringing forth possible solutions and collaboration with the common goal of freedom: achieving peace, health, justice, equality for all. The first panel featuring Lakhdar Brahini (Former Foreign Minister of Algeria), Martti Ahtisaari (Former President of Finland and Nobel Peace Laureate) engaged in conversation with Future Leaders from Pakistan, US and Nigeria on ‘Building peace and bridging fault lines’. All of them drew upon their regional experiences to conclude with the emphasis on importance of dialogue to build a sustainable international community. Mr. Ahtisaari called upon the audience ‘Let’s put our planet first’ reiterating Mandela’s speech while the young leaders stressed on the necessity of looking for solutions after accepting our differences. Women’s centrality in rebuilding societies, especially in developing countries was also touched upon.
Two brilliant pieces of spoken word poetry addressing racism, sexism, history, religion, addiction and abuse, encouraging young people to speak out and voice their thoughts were performed by Anthony Anaxagorou, a British poet. Every person in the hall, some in tears, gave a standing applause to Anthony when he ended with:
We are made up of all things that broke us, Just to keep us alive
Ban ki-Moon (Former UN Secretary General) and Ernesto Zedillo (Former President of Mexico) engaged in conversation with young leaders from Mexico and Morocco to discuss the skills required for modern day leadership and how to use technology for global peace. While both the young leaders stressed the urgent need for equal access to education, they also discussed the internet revolution and how it can be used to raise awareness and boost actions. Issues like corruption and Trump’s erratic behaviour were also addressed with the panel stressing the need for conversation and global pressure being the only ways to bring change.
Karl Lokko, a former gang member who became poet and community worker touched the audience with a poem that circled around his life, retelling his heart-breaking experience and mind-boggling transformation to the person he is today, running his own charity and an active community worker and activist. Continuing with the theme, the evening ended with inspirational stories of young leaders from Indonesia, Scotland, Egypt, Palestine running projects that aimed to end religious strife, provide safe foster homes, a means to access alternate cinema and fight occupation.
The event was inspiring for every member in the audience to walk together, engage and take action. Walking Together is the only way possible to achieve global peace while taking care of everyone’s aspirations and this event was just the beginning of a long journey of cooperation and conversation to achieve our aim of peace, justice, health and light, regardless the obstacles, together.
By Annapurna Menon – MA student / University of Westminster