“What is Peace?” – This was the question going through my mind as I flew to Malta for the International Leadership Conference (ILC) on the topic of building a culture of peace between Europe and Africa. In that moment, seeing the white clouds floating across the vividly blue sea below, in its perfect simplicity, was the closest definition I could find.
As this was my first ILC, my head was full of concepts, reinforced somewhat by the location of the first day – The Presidential Palace. Yet it didn’t take long for these concepts to be crushed. Whilst watching an impressive 3 gun salute before entering in to the conference, I got talking to a lady about university and what I was studying, which also happened to be her degree as well, albeit many years earlier. This lady turned out to be Baroness Hooper, deputy speaker of the House of Lords, an influential person in British politics, as well as being one of the event’s high-level panel speakers. This experienced highlighted to me how ‘normal’ these so called VIPs are, and actually how easy it is to engage in conversation with them.
There was such a variety of topics covered, from the Arab Spring, to the shifting of trade from the current leading countries to those in Africa and the middle east, to the place of women in building bridges of co-operation, it was impossible not to be engaged in the content, and then have something to talk about with other important delegates, ambassadors and leaders during the breaks. As a university student it is very easy to get caught in theory, debate, and have grand ideas, but unfortunately these never usually get much further than the classroom. But at this event, when talking to the president of UNESCO, or one of the academic experts at the Vienna World Conference on Human Rights (1993), I got the feeling that my ideas, my thoughts, my contributions can actually make a difference in the greater scheme of things. Yes, quite a grand, and possibly naïve, assumption, but you never know where these things can lead and I felt positively encouraged to get involved.
The schedule also gave us the opportunity to visit the ancient city of Mdina. This turned in to a great opportunity to learn about the incredible history behind the Island on which the conference was hosted, as well as a chance to relate to the other participants of the conference on a more informal level. At one point I found myself chatting about diving and sailing with one of the panellists, the UK’s “Strategist of the Year” from leading firm PriceWaterhouseCoopers LLP. What really amazed me on top of all this though was that all the people present shared a common vision; A vision of peace and co-operation. Even those who had never attended a UPF event before commented on how inspired they were about everything we are doing, as well as being excited about the potential we have to really make a change. The talk on the life course of the UPF’s founder, Rev. Moon, provided a good example to many what is possible when you commit absolutely and selflessly to a greater cause and vision, prompting some deep reflection in those present.
Throughout the whole event, I got a strong feeling about how important it is for young people to get involved in these kind of events. Many people I spoke to echoed the truth that we are the future, and if we really want to make a change, it is to get young people involved. Also, quite a few people were inspired by the fact that there were a number of young people actively getting involved in the conference, claiming it gave a sense of youthful energy to the proceedings.
On the last evening I was reminded of my original question “What is Peace?” After dinner, Dr. Hepburn (President of UNESCO) offered a song to those gathered, sparking what turned in to a joyful evening of singing and dancing, celebrating different nations, cultures and experiences. There was one moment, I looked around the room, everyone hand-in-hand, ignoring race, religion and political alignment, singing and dancing together, smiles shining from their faces. Simple, beautiful, and a true example of Peace.
– Daniel Pollitt