ABU DHABI // More than 200 million people are expected to take part today in 10,000 events around the world marking the International Day of Peace, and they will be joined for the first time by a group from the UAE. Peace Day is an annual observance that began in 2001, thanks to the advocacy of Jeremy Gilley, a British filmmaker and peace campaigner.
As a result of his efforts, the UK and Costa Rica introduced a UN resolution proposing that September 21 be observed as a day of global ceasefire and non-violence. The General Assembly adopted the resolution unanimously. The story of how Mr Gilley took his vision of an annual day of non-violence to the UN so gripped a group of young UAE professionals that they made it their mission to spread his message.
In May, Chiara Maioni, a Dubai-based film producer, received an internet link to a video made by Mr Gilley about his efforts. She was so inspired that she decided to form an organisation - In Support of Peace One Day - to promote the day in the Emirates. "I was so captured by his charisma that I had to know more," said Ms Maioni. "He really makes you think that if everyone did something, then you could really make a difference. Thanks to his determination, he got the UN to sign a resolution to make September 21 a day of peace. I thought that was quite amazing."
The UAE group is asking people to visit the Mall of the Emirates today to sign a pledge wall in the shape of a candle. It hopes to inspire people in other communities around the country to hold their own Peace Day events and plans to hold bigger events next year. The UAE organisation has also produced three short films that will run on television and in cinemas, and is also launching a print campaign to spread the message.
"This year we just want people to come down and pledge. If we can get the message across this year then next year we can do a lot more, it's a domino effect," said Oliver Roskill, who worked as producer on the films. Mr Gilley's campaign began 10 years ago when he made a documentary that began his "Peace One Day" mission - that for one day every year, those in conflict would down their weapons, families would take the opportunity to be kinder and individuals would pledge their commitment to peace in whatever way they can.
There was no active support of Peace Day in the Emirates, so Ms Maioni, and a group of friends began to come up with ideas of how to help Mr Gilley in his latest objective - to introduce three billion people to Peace Day by 2012. Since it was adopted, Peace Day has had some tangible results. Last year the UN claimed that the guns fell silent over much of Afghanistan on September 21 as the US, Nato, the Afghan government and the Taliban all pledged to halt attacks.
Aid workers try to take advantage of the brief lull in violence to vaccinate children against preventable diseases such as polio. This year, to coincide with the day, the UN has mounted a campaign to raise awareness of the need for nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation. "It's something quite easy to do, talking about peace is something that starts with family and friends. For one day, for 24 hours, you decide to be nice to your family, stop fighting, forgive someone," Ms Maioni said.
The message has started gaining support from the leadership after Nayla al Khaja, a young Emirati filmmaker who runs The Scene Club in Dubai, raised it with Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, the Vice President of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai. Princess Haya Bint al Hussein, wife of Sheikh Mohammed, yesterday pledged her support for the campaign. "Peace Day is an occasion to remember the vitally important work of the UN, its humanitarian agencies, organisations and individuals in creating a more peaceful, just and sustainable world," she said, urging people of all backgrounds to focus on what they, as individuals, could do.
For more information on UAE Peace Day visit the website at www.peaceday.ae firstname.lastname@example.org