By Vicki Garlock
CHILDREN OF THE EARTH
If there is to be a new leadership model for building a better global society
it must have spirituality as its base.
– Nina Meyerhof
Nina Meyerhof, founder and president of Children of the Earth, has been described as an educator, a visionary, an inspiration, and a peace activist. But I think Nina is best described as a gardener – a gardener who plants the seeds of compassion, insight, authenticity, and inspiration in young people all over the world and watches them grow.
Dr. Meyerhof believes that global peace starts with inner wisdom and that the process of discovering that inner wisdom should begin during childhood. Young people must be given the tools to discern what their purpose is and to recognize that we are all grounded in common humanity. As she put it, “One of our primary goals is to help young people go inside their faith – to find what is spiritual, to find what is common across the human experience.” While that knowledge is empowering, it will lead to a more peaceful world only if that inner wisdom is actively used to galvanize others. In this way, personal transformation leads to global transformation.
Meyerhof’s term for this process is spiritual activism. Her model revolves around three interrelated practices: reflection, connection, and action. During reflection, prayer, guided visualization, and various forms of meditation are used to discover the loving being that resides deep within each of us. The next step, connection, involves finding and relating to others who are on the same path. Active listening, non-violent communication, and conflict transcendence are all ways of truly hearing the inner heart of others and promoting harmony among all people. Reflection and connection then provide the powerful platform necessary for action. That action should go beyond traditional methods of conflict resolution and mediation by recognizing that we are all part of the whole. Using this approach, spiritual activists can work together as they find ways to live sustainably, to serve as society’s change agents, and to foster socially-conscious initiatives.
Planting Seeds Around the Globe
Meyerhof’s work regularly focuses on kids helping other kids as they grow into their roles as global peace leaders. Through Children of the Earth (COE), founded in 1990, Meyerhof has been able to plant seeds of peace across the continents for decades. With chapters in Europe, Asia, Africa, North America, and the Middle East, COE and its partners have amassed an extensive list of diverse and impressive accomplishments. They include specific events – like free hugs in Switzerland, a conference presentation in Iceland, and the distribution of over 100 pounds of clothing in India – as well as ongoing initiatives. These efforts, a few of them described below, enable COE to deepen the lives of young people while continuing to connect future leaders.
In 2002, Meyerhof and COE partnered with Nana Apeadu, spiritual leader of her community, to establish Apeadu Children’s Peace Center, an NGO dedicated to creating a peaceful, multi-ethnic society in Ghana. International youth leadership programs were held each year so young people could explore medical treatment and conflict transformation as paths to peace. Attendees were then able to share peace-building skills learned at the center with other peace ambassadors back home.
The Youth to Youth Bear Hugs Project arose from Meyerhof’s personal experience following the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center. In the midst of the chaos, she saw children (and adults) holding small teddy bears with hand-written notes that had been sent by schoolchildren from Oklahoma. With that image in mind, COE spearheaded a similar program in New Orleans in 2005, following Hurricane Katrina. Students in 16 schools wrote personal messages to elementary kids affected by the disaster. A year later, in 2006, Meyerhof visited Thailand and delivered another set of teddy bears with hand-written notes from American school children to be given to Thai children affected by the tsunamis.
The World Spirit Youth Council (WSYC), another initiative of COE, grew out of the World Spirit Forum in Switzerland in 2005. Youth council members from around the world advocate for the disadvantaged, offer peer leadership training, promote human rights, and facilitate workshops in conflict transformation. Oran Cohen, an attendee at the World Spirit Forum and now a Board member for Children of the Earth says, “Our work is to send facilitators who go out into the world and create sparks of inspiration and passion.”
As anyone in the peace-making business can tell you, the work is never finished. COE makes a substantial contribution to the cause by bringing peace to the world one spiritually motivated youth at a time. In 2013, Meyerhof accompanied about 50 teenaged resettlement refugees to the United Nations for the International Day of Peace. There, they participated in training programs and served as ceremonial flag-bearers. COE continues to pave the way for young people to present at peace conferences around the world, and they are currently working closely with the One Peaceful Africa initiative. Meyerhof also promotes her “lateral leadership” model of spiritual activism, which envisions groups that function as a team where all members are given a voice in decision-making, where everyone is viewed as a collaborator, and where the whole becomes greater than the sum of its parts.
“We want to encourage our young people to burn off the external layers, so they can find who they are and tap into the essence of what makes us all human. We are one species, one humanity. We need to transcend categories that have been created.” Making every young person on the planet a potential piece of the peace puzzle was Meyerhof’s goal decades ago when she founded Children of the Earth, and it’s a vision that continues to inspire and motivate her today.
Meyerhof and several youth from COE will offer a workshop for emerging youth leaders at the 2015 Salt Lake City Parliament of the World’s Religions. Their workshop is entitled “Pioneering Spiritual Activism.”
Go here for a number of Children of the Earth videos.