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ISSUE 119 VOL 14 PUBLISHED 3/17/2006

Peace prize awarded to Maathai

By Magdalena Wells
Contributing Writers

Friday, March 17, 2006

Dignitaries, college presidents and faculty, community members and students, 1,500 people in total, gathered in Decorah, Iowa, March 10-11 for the 18th annual Nobel Peace Prize Forum. Luther College hosted the prestigious event and exhibited the school's warm hospitality and student and faculty talent.

The forum's theme, “Striving for Peace: Sustaining the Planet,” referenced the work of the keynote speaker and Nobel laureate, Dr. Wangari Maathai. Passion for peace and environmental issues energized the attendees who hailed from as far away as Korea, Norway and Kenya.

“As a whole the event was an extremely informative and motivating force,” Pete Williams '08 said.

The forum included plenary lectures, breakout sessions, an ethnic arts festival and a worship service. The first speaker, Maathai received the Novel Peace Prize in 2004 for her leadership on environmental issues as they affect the daily and political life of Kenya. She was the first woman in East and Central Africa to earn a doctorate degree.

Maathai expressed deep gratitude to her brother for insisting that she continue her education beyond primary school. Thirty years ago Maathai began the Green Belt Movement, a grassroots organization that mobilizes women to plant trees and take action in their communities.

Maathai currently serves as Kenya's assistant minister for environmental and national resources.

Her speech explored what she calls the “three legged stool,” a symbolic representation of the interdependence of peace, democracy and sustainable development. In closing, Maathai urged students to dedicate themselves to their studies in preparation for a life of meaningful work.

On Friday evening Christine Todd Whitman, former administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, addressed the Forum participants. She spoke on the importance of civic engagement and the power of citizens to influence environmental policy by writing to their elected officials.

Dr. Michael Osterholm delivered the final plenary address. As director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, Dr. Osterholm focused on the connection between environmental issues and human health. He offered grim reflections on the threat of new worldwide epidemics. “Failure is not an option,” Osterholm said.

Five Midwestern host colleges, each affiliated with the ELCA and Norwegian in heritage, rotate the responsibility of hosting the Peace Prize Forum. The Norwegian Nobel Institute co-sponsors the forum.

The Institute is not associated with any other program or academic institution outside Norway. St. Olaf last hosted the Forum in 2004; former president and Nobel Laureate Jimmy Carter spoke.

St. Olaf College sent a fair number of students to the event; President Christopher Thomforde attended as well. Professor of Physics Bob Jacobel and student Ishanaa Rambachan '08 each led break out sessions. A bus full of Oles attended the forum and stayed in the dorms with Luther College students.

The partnership between the forum and St. Olaf will also touch campus life. Student leaders from Peace and Justice, Environmental Coalition and Progressive Christian Fellowship plan to use what they learned to strengthen their campus organizations.

Next year, Augustana College in Sioux Falls, S.D., will host the Peace Prize Forum and 2005 Laureate Mohamed ElBaradei.

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