Nobel Peace Prize recipient Rigoberta Menchú’s 1983 memoir, I Rigoberta Menchú, opened the eyes of the world to the atrocities committed against the indigenous Mayan population of Guatemala at the hands of its U.S.-backed right-wing government.
The prolonged civil war ended in 1996, but Menchú’s efforts to spread peace have not, and she is coming to Eugene for the 2015 PeaceJam Northwest Conference, a program that connects Nobel Peace Prize winners with teenagers.
Although her family perished, Menchú — a Quiche Mayan — survived and became a target after working to organize indigenous resistance, eventually going into a self-imposed exile, according to PeaceJam’s website.
Menchú received the 1992 Nobel Peace Prize for encouraging peace and reconciliation between the leftist guerrillas and the right-wing government, becoming the first indigenous person awarded the prize.
Menchú will work directly with the kids at PeaceJam and give them feedback on their projects. PeaceJam started in 1994 in an effort to bring Nobel laureates and kids together. The kids design a service project pertaining to a key problem and then address the issue on a local level, says Darren Reiley, regional coordinator for PeaceJam.
“The key [to] it all is that the students come up with it. It’s not adults telling them, ‘Here’s what you need to do,’” Reiley says. “It’s the students who study these issues and [then] get excited about something — they create the project.” Examples of past PeaceJam projects include creating sustainable water infrastructure for villages in Central America as well as Tibet.
The conference is April 18-19 at the UO campus; $100 for kids aged 14-18 and their teachers or adult advisors. Menchú will also give a public lecture at 6:30 pm Friday, April 17, at UO’s Beall Concert Hall; free. Register at peacejam.org. — Mike Bivins