By Rachel Bergen
Superheroes can fly, they have super strength, they can shoot webs from their hands, and they fight bad guys. These characters are out of this world. Hollywood superhero movies can raise a lot of money at the box office, but these characters aren’t real.
In real life heroes are somewhat less awe-inspiring, and have fewer tricks up their sleeves. They don’t beat up bad guys, but they promote change at the grassroots level. They are regular people who stand up against injustice, work for peace, and use words instead of weapons.
This week at School of Peace, students are presenting on their peace heroes. The goal, according to SOP coordinator Max Ediger, is to groom the next generation of peace heroes.
“Our goal is to draw inspiration and motivation from people who have made a difference,” he explains. Some peace heroes have done something small — just saying “no” to injustice, while others have led large movements.
“They don’t have to be a Martin Luther King Junior or a Nelson Mandela, they just have to take a step.” – Max Ediger
“What we want the students to learn is that they don’t have to be a Martin Luther King Junior or a Nelson Mandela, they just have to take a step,” Ediger explains.
These are just a few of the people SOP students admire as heroes of peace.
Ashang Afdal comes from the Philippines and presented on Rosa Parks.
Afdal explains that Parks grew up in Alabama and faced systemic racism on a regular basis. She attended segregated schools, was bullied by white neighbours, and witnessed the violent presence of the Ku Klux Klan in her neighbourhood.
But these difficulties contributed to her strength. She began working with the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NAACP) and became involved in the civil rights movement in 1943.
Years later in 1955, Parks was living in Montgomery, Alabama and still faced persecution. Buses in the city were segregated, and African-American people had to sit in the back of the bus. One day Parks was told to leave her seat for a white person, but she refused to move. She was arrested and convicted for not following laws. Her refusal to acquiesce to injustice led to the Montgomery Bus Boycott. African-American folks walked long distance rather than give in to the injustice. For months, buses in the city sat empty.
For Afdal, Parks’ story hit home.
“No is a simple word. It’s only two letters, but it changed a lot,” she explains.
During her presentation, Afdal asked, “How can I apply or how can I do something like her? Maybe I can just be true to myself.”
Afdal comes from a Muslim family and her father is an imam. She wears her hijab at home, but when she goes to school she takes it off because she wants to fit in with the group.
“We get looked at, sometimes I wonder if anyone will trust us at school (if we wear our hijab).” Afdal says she hopes to learn more about her religion so when she encounters persecution, she can address it intelligently.
Maria Lourdes Martins Cruz “Mana Lu”
Maxi Maia shared about a peace hero from his home country of Timor Leste (also known as East Timor), Sister Maria Lourdes Martins Crus, or “Mana Lu.”
Mana Lu was only 11-years-old when Indonesia invaded Timor Leste — only nine days after the tiny nation became independent of Portugal. Her family was fairly well off because they owned a coffee plantation near the capital of Dili, but she witnessed a great deal of poverty and conflict in her country while the country fought for independence.
From a young age Mana Lu decided she wanted to be part of the solution. She established a school, two orphanages, a boarding house, and a small hospital on her family’s plantation.
For Maia, Mana Lu is a peace hero and is especially inspiring because she’s so strong in the face of violence.
“She is a woman, but she try to fight for freedom and social justice,” Maia explains. “She has a power like that.”
Mana Lu is often referred to as the Mother Teresa of East Timor.
Rene Bundozan is an indigenous man from the Philippines and presented on his peace hero — one who is much younger than him.
Malala Yousafzai was outspoken on the topic of equal access to education for boys, girls, women and men. She wrote a blog about her thoughts and experiences about being forbidden from going to school.
Extremists warned her, attacked schools, and even tried to assassinate her. In 2012 she was shot through the face, neck and shoulder by the Taliban, who took issue with her views.
Even so, Yousafzai and her father have become global advocates for education. Malala won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2014 and has received many accolades recently.
Bundozan is inspired by her strength that’s evident at such a young age.
“She is so young and can do this kind of protest to the government,” he says.
Abdurazaq “Raz” Madale shared about a peace hero who helped liberate his home country of the Philippines from the colonial rule of the Spanish.
José Rizal was an opthalmologist by profession, but became a key member of the Filipino Propaganda Movement which advocated for political reforms for the colony. Rizal took a non-violent stand against the colony and used his writing to fight the injustice. He said peaceful resistance was the best way to avoid further suffering in the country and loss of Filipino lives.
Rizal was later arrested, sentenced to death, and killed by firing squad for his role in the revolution.
Madale says he looks up to Rizal for making sacrifices in his own life for the sake of the country.