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U.N. ambassador visits Ashland World Peace Flame

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United Nations Ambassador Anwarul Chowdhury visited the World Peace Flame in Ashland on Friday to personally thank the middle school students who take care of it.

“The culture of peace, as a concept, means that we need to practice peace and nonviolence in our daily lives,” Chowdhury said. “This world is the only planet we have. Humanity is one family.”

Chowdhury is the founder of the Global Movement of the Culture of Peace, and he doesn’t make special visits like this often.

“If I do anything negative, it has a negative affect somewhere else,” Chowdhury said as he addressed the bunch. “It’s as simple as turning off the light when you leave the room. That saves energy for a room that needs light somewhere else in the world.”

The World Peace Flame that lives in the Thaldon Pavilion across the street from the middle school is the second World Peace Flame in the country.

It was established a year ago on the International Day of Peace, Sept. 21, by Irene Kai, co-founder of the Ashland Culture of Peace Commission.

Kai and ACPC co-founder David Wick gave a presentation to the United Nations earlier this year to share the work they’ve accomplished in Ashland toward creating a culture of peace.

The youth engagement aspect caught Chowdhury’s attention, and he invited them for a private meeting where he asked to visit Ashland to see it firsthand.

So, ACPC arranged the first Global Peace Conference in Ashland around Chowdhury’s visit to showcase leaders in the community and to further collaborate toward a goal of community peace.

Saturday’s Peace Conference is not only the International Day of Peace and the first anniversary of the World Peace Flame, but also the fourth anniversary of ACPC.

Chowdhury said early childhood education about treating people with respect and equality is essential to creating a culture of peace.

“Boys and girls should learn to treat each other as equals and to respect each other,” Chowdhury said. “That needs to be taught at a young age.”

The Ashland Middle School Roots and Shoots class volunteered to be the keepers of the Peace Flame. Every Friday, rain or shine, they take turns tending to the flame and refilling the oil.

It stays lit 24/7 to represent an eternal effort to create a culture of peace.

“You are the only ones in the world doing this,” Wick said to the students.

Roots and Shoots teacher Kristina Healy said there are 23 World Peace Flames in the world, and Ashland’s is the only one tended by students.

“At this age, you’re really hyper focused on yourself as they’re trying to figure out what they want to become, and I think the more experience and information they have beyond just themselves will help them make those decisions,” Healy said.

She said the Roots and Shoots class is an elective at the middle school, an extension of the Jane Goodall Roots and Shoots global educational program.

Students in the class take on the role of caring for the Peace Flame for one or two trimesters, and then it’s handed off to another group of students.

Eighth-grade flame keeper Lucas Garcia said it’s an important job because it represents world peace for everyone.

“The World Peace Flame is a symbol of peace in the whole world,” Garcia said. “It symbolizes that peace never dies out. Peace is always there.”

Healy said the students are taught that peace starts with the individual. They’re taught to care for and have peace within themselves first, and then they’re taught to broaden that care to their friends and family, and eventually the outside world.

Chowdhury emphasized that at his speech to the students Friday.

“Peace should start with the individual,” Chowdhury said. “If 20,000 people believe in peace and nonviolence, they will be a powerful force.”

Eighth-grade flame keeper Clinton McDonald said it was an honor to meet Chowdhury. He said he wanted to join the Roots and Shoots class to make a difference.

“We get to do a lot of stuff to change the world, and I want to do that because I want to make it a better place,” McDonald said.

Ashland School District Superintendent Kelly Raymond said the ambassador’s visit to Ashland helps promote peace within the community.

“Safety and peace are paramount to student learning and for our community,” Raymond said.

Raymond is one of the Ashland leaders who have been asked to speak at the conference Saturday.

Chowdhury gave everyone who has been a flame keeper since its inception certificates for their work, which he signed.

He said he hopes the certificates will remind the students that they are an integral part of the creation of a culture of peace and always will be.

He said the United Nations was created on the foundation of establishing world peace after World War II.

“When the Cold War was ending, we thought that it was an opportunity,” Chowdhury said. “The active war was gone. The Cold War was a sort of war by proxy. We were not physically fighting with each other, but the tensions continued. So, we thought the end of the Cold War would give us an opportunity to think about peace, to be more sustainable and longer lasting, and that’s why we thought peace should start with the individual, and we thought of the culture of peace.

“We believe the more we make people understand that peace is important for our personal, community and national enhancement, we achieve our goals much more easily and quickly,” Chowdhury said. “Peace is not just the end of war. Peace has to mean that we have no prejudices, no discrimination, no poverty, no hunger. That will mean real cultural peace.”

Contact Tidings reporter Caitlin Fowlkes at cfowlkes@rosebudmedia.com or 541-776-4496. Follow her on Twitter @cfowlkes6.

Andy Atkinson / Ashland TidingsStudents refill the oil for the Peace Flame Friday afternoon.
Andy Atkinson / Ashland TidingsAmbassador Anwarul Chowdhury takes a photo with teachers and students honoring the peace flame at the Thaldon Pavilion Friday afternoon.
Andy Atkinson / Ashland TidingsAmbassador Anwarul Chowdhury speaks to students honoring the peace flame at the Thaldon Pavilion Friday afternoon.
Andy Atkinson / Ashland TidingsStudents arrive with a peace dove to the Thaldon Pavilion Friday afternoon.