Planning for peace

THE WEDGE Its a testament to diversity at the Lehmann Education Center that, when trying to send a simple message to its students, not even 16 languages will cut it.

Sixteen doesnt cover it, but we tried to pick languages that will get to most of the students or most of the neighborhood, said Daniel Hertz, a school counselor at the center.

The message sent by Hertz and his students at Wellstone International High School is a one-sentence wish: May peace prevail on earth.

In English, Spanish, Swahili, Tibetan and a dozen other languages, that message will adorn a peace pole, to be planted this month in front of the center at 1006 W. Lake St. The pole is a symbol of the centers new status as an International Peace Site, and will be joined this spring by a peace garden.

Students from the center which houses the Wellstone school for recent immigrants as well as programs for native-born students came together May 3 to dedicate the peace pole with song, dance and the reading of student poems and essays on peace.

Leading the ceremony was Asha Mohamed, a senior at Wellstone and the driving force behind making the center a peace site. It was Mohameds experience of war that made her a passionate promoter of peace.

Mohamed, 18, was born in Somalia, but conflict drove her family to a refugee camp in Kenya when she was still a child. She spent most of her life in Kenya, where she lived from 1991 until her family immigrated to the U.S. in 2005.

I was still hearing the bad news of the war, she said of her time in the camp. Some relatives and some close people to me died in the war.

Those memories remain strong for Mohamed, so much so that when conflict cropped up at her school, she felt compelled to

intervene.

She said Wellstone students squabbled with their peers at another program in the building, the Uptown Academy. The academy is an alternative high school program for students who are behind in credits or havent performed well in a larger high school setting.

Rasheedah Ali, principal of both programs, said the disputes were typical teenage stuff sparked by language barriers and a lack of understanding between the groups.

To bridge the divide between the schools, Mohamed and Ramadan Mussa, 19, a Wellstone junior, visited Uptown Academy social studies classes to share their stories. Mussas family, too, fled to Kenya when conflict broke out in their homeland, Ethiopia.

Their experiences put the petty fighting between students in perspective, Mohamed said.

We now live in peace together, and theyre working with us on the peace site, she said.

Hertz said the peace pole and garden were funded by a $3,000 service-learning grant from Thrivent Financial for Lutherans and Achieve Minneapolis, an educational foundation that supports Minneapolis Public Schools. French Meadow Bakery also contributed to the project.

The International Peace Site program is sponsored by World Citizen, a St. Paul-based nonprofit dedicated to supporting peace education. Twin Cities schools have long been a part of the peace site movement.

The first-ever international peace site was dedicated in 1988 at what is now Longfellow Humanities Magnet School in St. Paul. Since then, several public schools in Minneapolis have also become peace sites, including Anwatin and Anthony middle schools and Barton Open School in Southwest.

Watching the May 3 ceremony, Ravi Ney, 19, a student in the Adult Basic Education program at the Lehmann center, said he hoped it would bring students together.

Put all the bad things away, Ney said.

Dechen Chontso, 19, a Wellstone senior and Tibetan immigrant, said the peace pole and garden would be a strong visual reminder of the students wish for their community.

If you have peace in your mind, then you will not have war or conflict, Chontso said.

As for Mohamed, her push for peace will not end at the Lehmann center.

In my mind, it is not to stop even in our community, Minneapolis Mohamed said but keep going to the United States and the whole world.

Reach Dylan Thomas at dthomas @mnpubs.com or 4365-4391.