Lion September 2012 : Page 24

The 2006-07 winner of the peace poster contest, Min-Ji “Mindy” Yi has strove for peace for North Korean refugees in Los Angeles.

Let Peace Begin With Them

Cliff Terry

When Mostapha El Tawokji, 35, won the grand prize in the Lions International Peace Poster Contest in 1988-89, he remembers, “I was just a child who didn’t know the meaning of peace.”

“I was living in a country [Lebanon] where there was war,” adds the current resident of Beirut. “That’s why I was very happy because I won the award without knowing the meaning. I drew the poster to send a message how much we needed peace, how much it was vital to have it in the Middle East and my country especially.

“The meaning of peace changed a lot for me, especially in my country. Just after I won, peace prevailed over Lebanon and I felt that I was now living in peace. Winning it made a lot of changes in me. It made me more ambitious. It set for me higher goals and new ones, especially relating to peace in the world. My ambition now is to one day become an ambassador of peace to spread it all over the world.”

For 25 years, children from nearly 100 countries have taken part in the annual contest that encourages young people to express their visions of peace. More than 350,000 youths worldwide have participated. Each year, 24 finalists are selected, from whom one grand prize winner is chosen to receive $5,000 and a trip to the United Nations.

On this 25th anniversary, several past grand prize winners were asked to reflect on their past and present experiences.

“Participating in the contest—wow!—was really just a great experience,” says Min-Ji “Mindy” Yi , who won in 2006-07 and is now a 19-year-old Los Angeles resident and a sophomore at Harvard University.

“For me to be able to go to the United Nations and talk to people from all over the world was really an eye-opening experience. I actually wrote about it in my college admissions essay. And that could have been what got me in! It was an experience that’s really shaped who I am today.”

Did the contest change your life? “Going to the U.N. was my first time traveling for an extended period of time outside of California. I think it’s made me a more worldly person.”

“After winning the contest I had the honor of designing a badge for the 4th Lions All Africa Conference,” says Andre De Villiers of South Africa, the 1998-99 winner. “I also was flown to Johannesburg for the unveiling of 1 million phone cards with my poster printed on them.

“Being awarded the grand prize was certainly a great honor and an accomplishment that is hard to top. It even granted me the humbling experience of receiving a congratulatory phone call from South Africa’s president at the time, Nelson Mandela.”

“I think the Lions Club peace posters are important ways for kids to express themselves when often they don’t have the words or another way to do so,” says Barbara Schaffer, lecturer in English and women’s and gender studies at DePaul University in Chicago.

“And since they’re surrounded by so much conflict and violence, it’s important for them to focus on peace and the possibilities for envisioning an alternative way of life,” adds Schaffer, who takes students on study abroad programs in Morocco, Vietnam and Ireland, where they interact with families for cultural understanding and awareness.

“Winning the contest in 2001-02 was one of the biggest milestones of my life, and gave me some kind of drive, and sometimes pressure, to make me go much further, as people had high expectations of me,” says Hei Man Lau, a social media specialist in Hong Kong. “I also want to challenge myself to be better every day. The contest also reminds me that one shouldn’t underestimate dreams and efforts. The experience gave me confidence that led me to my master’s degree, another milestone.

“I’m now 24, and last year in London finished my master’s degree in what is called applied imagination in the creative industries. The course aims to engage with a group of people from diverse countries and industries to help make the world a better place. I’ve never been in a real war, but I saw serious riots and violence in London. I never imagined it would happen there. Also, I’ve done a lot of research on virtual violence and bullying for my project.”

Has she promoted peace in any way since the contest? “Yes. Three years later, I made another poster promoting peace.”

Yi answers the same question: “I definitely feel I have promoted peace, doing the work I did this summer. You don’t have to be involved in government or whatever. It’s just something you do in everyday life, just your attitude, the way you deal with people.

“I worked for a nonprofit organization called the Korean American Coalition. We did a lot of community building projects and worked on some redistricting efforts to have their voice heard in government. We also worked on passing a bill called the North Korean Refugee Act. A lot of refugee orphans are defecting from North Korea, and because they’re stateless they face the risk of being sent back to their countries, which is something we obviously don’t want. It’s really difficult. So we were trying to pass this bill in order to make the adoption process a lot quicker and a lot easier so that these kids can live in a place where they don’t have to worry about disease and starvation.”

So what were these winners’ views on peace then, and what are they now? Have they changed at all?

Yi: “I don’t think my views of peace have changed. I think they’ve stayed pretty consistent. But now I have a less naive feel. Because I was involved in those [summer] projects that promote peace. I feel it’s really hard to get people to actually care about these causes. While peace is something we should all strive for, it’s really difficult to actually get to a place where we can achieve it.”

De Villiers: “My views on peace were quite simple and pure then. “The ‘seeds of peace’ I depicted in my poster were my idea of what peace in our societies should look like—celebrating diversity and accepting our different cultural beliefs and religions, having a quality education for all, sharing our resources to benefit all humanity and protection of all species of life on this beautiful planet.”

And what did they learn from participating in the poster contest?

Lau: “Think big! Everybody can make a change!”

DeVilliers: “The recognition I received for creating the winning poster definitely influenced me to pursue a career in the creative field. I studied at The Animation School in Cape Town for three years and am an animator at Black Ginger, an animation studio in Cape Town.”

El Tawokji: “This contest is very important for the whole world because the participating children are our new generation. They have to plan for the future. I would like to thank the Lions Clubs for giving children all over the opportunity to ask for peace that the whole world needs nowadays.

“I still remember all the details of winning the contest, but the most important one was standing on the podium of the United Nations, holding my poster and showing to the whole world that someone from Lebanon, this small country that didn’t know anything about peace, could win this prize and put our country on the world map for peace.

“I have learned patience from this contest and have more ambition, because after winning I had a project: to make the poster into a stamp and send it all over, reaching far destinations. It has the peace pigeon on it. I think it reminds people about peace through a Lebanese child who won this award.

“Adults should learn from children the meaning of peace, because children are honest and know what real peace is. Personally, if I had the power to help spread peace the first thing I would do would be to ban the production of nuclear weapons.

“It’s very normal for a person who has won this prize to experience a lifechanging event. That’s why I studied architecture and decoration, which needs a lot of drawings and colors. Because I did not want to end my goal to spread my message all over. ”

Yi: “How often do you get to feel involved in something like the poster contest? It wasn’t like a one-time sort of deal. It’s connected me a lot with the Lions clubs in general. I was a Leo club member in high school and participated in the Lions Student Speaker Contest. Talking to the club members for extended periods of time helped me build long-lasting friendships as well as gave me the opportunity to expand my world view. ”

As to what she’d say to the Lions today: “Thank you so much for the opportunity. The contest has opened up so many doors for me in my life. I just want to say to the Lions: Keep at it, keep providing this opportunity for a lot of deserving students and just keep up the good work.”

Watch a video of the Peace Poster Contest at

Peace Poster Deadline Nears

Celebrate the 25th year of the Lions International Peace Poster Contest by participating in the 2012-13 competition. Kits are now on sale at Lions Clubs International. Lions clubs can sponsor the art contest for children ages 11 to 13 as of Nov. 15 in local schools and youth groups. The art contest encourages youths to express their visions of peace. More than 4 million children from nearly 100 countries have participated. The grand prize winner will receive a trip to Lions Day with the United Nations and a cash prize of $5,000. Each of the 23 merit award winners will receive $500. For information, visit (search: Peace Poster), call 630-571-5466 or email

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