Fighting gun violence after shooting gives teens purpose

Angelina Lazo, 18, center, a senior at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, holds a sign with other students and parents at an intersection near the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, Sunday, Feb. 18, 2018, where 17 people were killed in a mass shooting on Wednesday. Nikolas Cruz, a former student, was charged with 17 counts of premeditated murder. (AP/Gerald Herbert)
Updated 20 February 2018
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Fighting gun violence after shooting gives teens purpose

PARKLAND, Florida: Chris Grady was a theater kid counting down the days until he reported for duty in the US Army this summer, when a gunman opened fire at his school. As he huddled in his classroom at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School last Wednesday listening to shots ring out nearby, what he felt wasn’t fear, but anger.
“Full-on anger,” the thin, curly haired 19-year-old said.
Grady’s anger deepened the day after the shooting, when he heard news that the FBI had failed to follow up on a tip about the former student who police say gunned down 14 students and three staff members with an AR-15 styled rifle. News also emerged that Nikolas Cruz had legally purchased the gun despite a documented history of mental health issues.
The FBI received a tip last month that Cruz had a “desire to kill” and access to guns and could be plotting an attack, but agents failed to investigate, the agency acknowledged Friday. Others had received warnings as well: Records show the Florida Department of Children and Families investigated, but concluded Cruz wasn’t a danger to himself or others.
On Friday, as gun-control debates raged anew on social media, one of Grady’s close friends created a Twitter account, @NeverAgainMSD, to channel the students’ anger and frustration.
“The Never Again movement started formulating, and we got to work,” Grady said.
Grady and his friend are among about 100 Stoneman Douglas students who are heading to Florida’s capital, Tallahassee, to push lawmakers to do something to stop gun violence. They also plan to maintain the momentum by attending what they hope will be a massive march on Washington next month.
The efforts have offered students a way to channel their anger and sadness into action. Grady’s life was upended by the shooting. But now, as one of the organizers behind the students’ call for stricter gun-control laws, he is laser-focused on planning and media interviews.
On Tuesday, he will ride a bus to Tallahassee. On Wednesday, he and a small group of Never Again organizers will fly back to Parkland for a televised Town Hall meeting about the shooting. Then their focus will turn to the planned March for Life on the nation’s capital on March 24.
That doesn’t leave a lot of time for school.
“If we’ve got to take some extra days off, that’s fine to continue the movement,” he said. “Academics have been put on the back burner.”
Prior to the shooting, Chris’ time was spent studying theater and working out to get his body in shape for the Army, where he wants to pursue a career in information technology. The second-oldest of four kids, he moved to Parkland from Massachusetts when he was 6. His mother is a property manager, and his step-father is an electrician.
Given his interest in a military career, Chris said he is not anti-gun and supports the Second Amendment. But he believes assault rifles such as the AR-15 styled rifle that authorities say Cruz used should be reserved for the military.
“They’re weapons of war made to kill as many people as possible in as short a time as possible,” he said.
Grady said he’s ready to work as much as it takes to keep the gun-control movement’s momentum going until he ships out.
“The kids in Newtown were too young to understand what happened and were too young to have their own voice,” he said, referring to the 20 first-graders killed in the 2012 Connecticut school shooting. “We want to be the voice for those kids and thousands of others who have been affected by tragedies like this.”



Rohingya refugee children in Bangladesh get doves of peace from the Middle East

Updated 20 September 2018
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Rohingya refugee children in Bangladesh get doves of peace from the Middle East

  • A Dubai NGO has paired up with one in the UK to distribute toys made from upcycled refugee blankets
  • It’s one initiative marking the UN’s International Day of Peace on Friday, at a time when the world is in conflict

DUBAI: Eight-year-old Anjuman, living in Camp 7 at Kutupalong refugee camp in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, has received the most beautiful gift. “I am very happy to have received this dove. I like it so much,” she said.

She is among 150 children in the camp who have received “peace doves” from Dubai after winning an art competition organized in the camp.

To celebrate the UN-declared International Day of Peace on Friday, a Dubai-based NGO, NRS International, and a UK-based NGO, Empathy Action, have given wings to a message of hope, peace and reconciliation. 

Both these organizations have come together to make dove toys (symbolizing peace) to distribute among children, who are among the first victims of conflict in any part of the world.

And while peace isn’t something the world often associates with the Middle East, there are plenty of ways in which countries in the region are trying to make the world a better place, from smaller initiatives such as the doves in Bangladesh to major efforts such as the peace deal brokered this week by Saudi Arabia between Ethiopia and Eritrea. 

The peace doves were handmade by women at NRS International’s factory in Pakistan. As many as 650 dove toys have been stitched and handcrafted from upcycled offcuts of refugee blankets and tarpaulins.

“Each dove, made from excess blanket material that normally keeps refugees warm, is a symbol of peace,” said Wieke de Vries, head of corporate social responsibility at NRS International. It is the leading supplier of humanitarian relief items such as fleece blankets to UN agencies and international aid organizations.

Sandy Glanfield, innovations manager at Empathy Action, said the doves will carry a reminder that for 68.5 million displaced people worldwide, a blanket or tarpaulin is a basic necessity to survive. “The passionate and skillful women who made the doves add the love into this story,” said Glanfield.

About 150 larger versions of peace doves have been distributed to Rohingya refugee children in Bangladesh camps, with the support of the Danish Refugee Council. 

S.M. Atiqur Reza, who is a child protection assistant at the council, said that the peace doves have put smiles on the faces of the children in the refugee camp. 

“The children were so excited, and they loved these doves and making plans to take it back home (whenever they go back home).” 

But in a world of conflicts, there is still much to be done. Anjuman is just one of nearly 25.4 million refugees in the world, over half of whom are under the age of 18.

Dr. Hadia Aslam, who sets up health care systems for refugees in Europe and the Middle East, is not hopeful about world peace in the near future.

“I feel we have desensitized entirely to any atrocity that happens now. Nothing shocks us. I do not see a future for peace, but I do see conflict. Our systems are geared to hosting this,” said the young doctor, who is the founder of a charity that has treated thousands of refugees in Europe. 

For her, human rights violations by Israel are a major threat to world peace. “I don’t know a lot about politics, but I can categorically raise concerns about Israel’s human rights track record being astounding and the world silently watching. Their only motive is occupation and apartheid. There is no space for peace in such a place.”

Vidya Bhushan Rawat, a leading peace activist based in New Delhi, said that the biggest threat to peace is injustice and growing inequalities.” I don’t think that the world has become a peaceful place at the moment. There is a steady growth of right-wing politics the world over, where minorities and immigrants are considered a threat to the nation.

“To protect the only planet we have we need to eradicate poverty, illiteracy, hunger, malnutrition, gender disparity and superstition from our societies.”

Dr. Kamran Bokhari, director of strategy and programs at the Center for Global Policy in Washington, does not see peace becoming the norm any time soon.

 “We constantly hear about peace talks. But seldom do these efforts produce actual peace. The rise of nationalism is undoing the internationalist order that we thought would gain ground after the end of the Cold War a quarter of a century ago. Meanwhile, non-state actors are filling the vacuums left behind by weakening states, which suggests greater, not less, global conflict.”

Dr. Shehab Al-Makehleh also believes that the world is less peaceful now than it has been in a long time. “Right now, peacefulness is at the worst level of any time since 2012. By the end of 2017, 1 percent of the world population had been refugees and displaced,” said the executive director of Geostrategic media in Washington, DC.

He does not expect things to improve unless decision-makers in the international community give this matter attention as the world will be witnessing new economic and financial crises that could turn major countries into enemies.

“Unless the UN takes necessary measures that the world does not fall into anarchy due to populism and nationalism, the domino effect will cross borders, causing insecurity at all levels, toppling some regimes and changing borders with hundreds of thousands of people dying of poverty and terrorism,” Dr. Al-Makehleh said.

All the more reason to bring hope to children such as Anjuman. As Reza said of the Rohingya children in the camp: “They want peace. They say they want to go back home. They want to go to their schools and study. They find the camp is a very small place to live. They are really sad here.”