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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

9/11: A Call to Action

Students come together across the globe to help unite the world's nations.
By Diane Curtis

"What inspired me to draw this particular poster was my environment, the tribal discrimination in my country, the current events in the whole world, and children dying in battle. Peace unites the world." -- Jatto, 11, Nigeria

Credit: Lions Clubs International and Artsonia Kids Art Museum

Wilfredo Diaz is like millions of people around the world who consider September 11 a day of solemn remembrance and reflection in honor of the thousands who perished in the terrorist hijackings and attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Unlike many, however, the Manhattan teenager also considers 9/11 a call to action.

Wilfredo was joking with his friends in the lunchroom of his school in the Bronx on September 11, 2001, when the head of the school walked in and announced that two planes had hit the towers of the World Trade Center. "Everything went from being loud to being quiet," he remembers. "I didn't cry. I was just angry."

Fifteen students had parents or other relatives in the Twin Towers, and they stayed behind at school and met with counselors. The other students walked home. "I saw smoke," Wilfredo recalls. "I looked at it, and it looked like a movie."

But he soon understood that it was all too real. On that day two years ago, Wilfredo, now a 17-year-old junior at Manhattan's High School of International Business and Finance, determined to look beyond his alarm and indignation. "The first thing that came into my head was, 'We really have to do something about this. All countries have to work together,'" he recalls.

Wilfredo took his concern to his faculty adviser, who suggested he consider the Model United Nations program, in which students take on the mantle of U.N. countries and tackle world issues from their assigned country's point of view. (The United Nations also has an online resource for students called Cyberschoolbus.)

At a Model U.N. conference on terrorism last year, Wilfredo represented Guinea-Bissau. He scoured the Internet for information on the Western African republic with a recent history of civil war so that he accurately reflected the country's interests and international positions.

A resolution condemning terrorism was unanimously passed, but the young diplomats didn't stop there: They called for more humanitarian aid in the form of food, health care, and education so that terrorism was not considered the only way out of poverty and oppression and so that countries could look beyond survival and consider issues such as possible terrorists in their midst.

Wilfredo, who hopes to one day fight terrorism by working for the Central Intelligence Agency, is convinced a single country cannot stop networks of the disaffected who choose to target innocent civilians to make political points. "There really aren't terrorists in just one spot," he says. "If we really work together, we can fight it as one."

"Students absolutely have solutions that can be implemented," says Lauren Popkoff, who teaches history at Brooklyn College Academy, an alternative school for students -- mostly low-income and minority students -- who are deemed at risk of failing or dropping out of school. Those students also attended a different mock U.N. meeting and came up with the same condemnation of terrorism and the same emphasis on providing humanitarian aid.

"The victims and the horrible aftermath of September 11 inspired me. Everybody longs for world peace. Peace will prevail when love exists among people." -- Yu Chaoi, 12, Taiwan

Credit: Lions Club International and Artsonia Kids Art Museum

Learning from Each Other

Glenda Tesalona, national coordinator for global classrooms for the United Nations Association of the United States of America, thinks adults could learn a thing or two from young people. "Kids aren't so jaded as adults," she says. "They still believe that conflict can be resolved through communication. They come up with great ideas on issues that sometimes we adults are too close to."

Wilfredo, who will be secretary-general of his own Model U.N. conference this year, planned to spend September 11, 2003, spreading the word of the international student program and then forging deeper worldwide understanding in his own, one-to-one diplomacy.

Through the Model U.N., he says, he has made friends from Germany, Ghana, Korea, and Russia, as well as some in California and in Washington, DC, and they all have become frequent email correspondents. His Russian pal, he says, is "like a brother. We like the same music, the same movies. And we both love the Model U.N. It's the best thing that&'s ever happened to us."

The student artwork here is from the Lions Clubs International Peace Poster contest. To see more artwork, go to the organization's Peace Poster contest page.

Diane Curtis is a veteran education writer and a former editor for The George Lucas Educational Foundation.