Sunday, January 13, 2008
Fight for a Nobel cause
Participants at the Nobel Peace Laureates Summit in Rome, Italy, in December included Mikhail Gorbachev, Lech Walesa, the Dalai Lama - and David T. Ives of Rhinebeck.
Following one of Ives' two speeches, Gorbachev - who helped end the Cold War as the last leader of the former Soviet Union - stood up, shook Ives' hand and clapped him on the back.
"I got a standing ovation from Gorbachev," Ives said. "I told my wife I could have died and gone to heaven right then."
Ives, who has no Nobel Peace Prize unlike Gorbachev, Walesa of Poland and the Dalai Lama, head of Tibetan Buddhism, nevertheless has a longtime commitment to global peace. As executive director of the Albert Schweitzer Institute at Quinnipiac University in Hamden, Conn., he was invited to take part in the summit. He also attended in 2005.
Ives noted, however, that he does not have the name recognition as the Nobel laureates, including Schweitzer, who won the prestigious award in 1952.
"People were coming up to me saying, 'Who are you, again?," he said with a smile.
Last year was the 50th anniversary of Schweitzer's famous radio address that called for the elimination of nuclear weapons. In fact, both Ives and Gorbachev, co-chairman of the conference, spoke about the issue at the peace summit titled "The Next Generation: Charter For a World Without Violence".
A large number of youths from the United States and Europe attended, people who had not lived through the World War II years when Hiroshima and Nagasaki were devastated by atomic bombs. Ives told them about the instant death such weapons can cause as well as delayed effects, including blood oozing from orifices of bodies and the development of cancer.
"I was pretty graphic about that to the young people in the audience," he said. "I thought this is something the students should understand."
As for the former Soviet leader, he talked about his 1986 meeting with the late President Reagan in Reykjavik, Iceland, where the two agreed to drastically reduce the number of nuclear warheads.
"It was like a graduate seminar listening to him talk about his interaction with Reagan," Ives said.
Gorbachev, a vibrant, intellectually astute 77-year-old statesman, Ives said, also showed great skill in facilitating the summit.
"He is very personable. He is very pragmatic. He is the only one who can control all the laureates. If they start going in different directions, he'll take his pen and go ... " Ives said, vigorously tapping a writing instrument on an end-table in the living room of his home.
In another part of the proceedings, American actors George Clooney and Don Cheadle received the "Peace Summit Award 2007" for their continued efforts to help the people of war-torn Darfur in Western Sudan. The two actors requested 24 helicopters to assist in a United Nations-African Union peace-keeping effort.
"That's all that it would take to set up enough security for these women and children, but nothing's been done," Ives said. "They've been calling for intervention for years.
"Literally, there are hundreds of thousands dead and hundreds of thousands in refugee camps also."
Others in attendance at the conference included Nobel laureates Betty Williams and Mairead Corrigan Maguire, co-founders of the Northern Ireland Peace Movement (later named the Community of Peace People); Muhammad Yunus, a Bangladeshi banker and economist who won the Nobel award in 2006; and representatives from various peace and humanitarian organizations.
Ives' own participation came through a circuitous but steady route. His father was a Presbyterian minister in the tiny Ohio community of Pierpont, where Ives' existence could have been parochial. At the age of 16, however, with money from an inheritance, the family went on a mission to South America, and his world opened wide. Ives, now 57, remembers particularly vividly a visit to Rio de Janeiro, in Brazil.
"I saw real poverty," he said. "I really never got over it."
He saw people living in shacks made from corn stalks, he saw streams of drinking water polluted by sewage, and he saw people struggling to make a living. One man, whom he had met at a church, he refers to as a "human mule." He loaded 55-gallon drums onto docked ships, a daily job that earned him the sum of $400 by year's end.
The visit informed Ives' life, including his later education. He earned a bachelor's degree in social work and a master's degree in student personnel and counseling, both at Ohio State University. Before he joined the Albert Schweitzer Institute, now in his seventh year, Ives took various positions that included international-, poverty- and peace-related issues. His work included a stint in Central America with the Peace Corps as well as setting up worldwide conferences about peace issues for the service organization Rotary International. In the latter position, he visited 45 countries on every continent except Antarctica.
Travel plans this year, through the Albert Schweitzer Institute, include a humanitarian trip to Nicaragua in March, a visit to France for a meeting of the International Albert Schweitzer Association in May and travels to Guatemala in July.
In fact Ives and his wife, Barbara, a nurse at the Astor Home for Children, headquartered in Rhinebeck, left Thursday for Lambarene, in Gabon, Africa, site of the still-functioning hospital Schweitzer founded in 1913. They will join students from Quinnipiac University, where Ives is an adjunct professor of political science, philosophy, international business (and culture) and Latin American studies. Their daughters also take part in campus life. Taylor is a senior and Kelsey is a sophomore. Both were adopted from the Philippines.
Ives said coming into the leadership of the Schweitzer institute has been his "extremely good fortune." The position allows him to advance the ideas of Schweitzer with the help of world and national leaders. Honorary board members, for instance, include Nobel Peace Prize winners Betty Williams, Oscar Arias Sanchez, the former president of Costa Rica; Desmond Tutu, South African cleric and activist; Jodi Williams, a U.S. citizen known for the banning and clearing of anti-personnel mines; Rigoberta Menchu Tum of Guatemala, recognized for the promotion of social justice and ethno-cultural reconciliation; and former U.S. president Jimmy Carter.
Carter and Ives served together as election monitors in Nicaragua and Venezuela.
Ives called the connections "kind of a confluence of nice karma." He hopes Al Gore, last year's winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, will join the roster.
"I've asked him to be on our honorary board," Ives said, "but he's been a bit busy lately."
Meanwhile, Ives continues his work, and a portion of it is to help the Nobel laureates, including Williams, with whom he served on a panel at the peace summit. Williams, founder of World Centers of Compassion for Children, wants the organization to establish a presence in Africa where there are millions of orphans, Ives said, many whose parents have died of AIDS.
"Schweitzer's ideas and philosophies are consistent with what she wants to do," he said. "He thought his most important contribution was reverence for life."
In fact, Ives is co-editor of the new book "Reverence for Life Revisited: Albert Schweitzer's Relevance Today," recently released by Cambridge Scholars Publishing.
Ives said he wants to help assist Tibetan refugees in India, too, starting through discussions next year with the sister of the Dalai Lama, the latter whom Ives met for the first time at the summit in December.
"That's what got me tongue-tied," he said. "(Finally) I handed him one of the brochures for our organization."
The meetings ended with approval of the "Charter for the World without Violence," Ives said, even though the leaders are realistic enough to know their work and words will not change the world overnight.
Leaders offered optimism backed by great accomplishment, however. Gorbachev spoke about the end of apartheid in Africa and the collapse of the Berlin Wall. Williams remarked about reconciliation efforts by Northern Ireland Protestant leader Ian Paisley, who shook hands for the first time with the head of state of the Irish Republic, President Mary McAleese, a Catholic, last September.
"Every time I go to one of these things, I come back with my idealism renewed," Ives said.
Even the U.S. presidential race has given Ives hope.
In his position as executive director of the Albert Schweitzer Institute, he cannot endorse a candidate, he said, but he does admire Barack Obama's stress on unity - that there are no blue states or red states, "only the United States." Ives said he likes to apply that idea to the world, which is what participants at the summit were working to achieve.
"I like to celebrate the differences and enjoy the differences," he said, "but we're mostly one."
His position at the Albert Schweitzer Institute allows him to guide students to the values he shares with the Nobel laureate.
"I'm trying to do the same thing for them that happened to me when I was 16," he said, "hit them in the head about the meaning of poverty."
But there's more.
"It is an unbelievable job, and I pinch myself," Ives said, "especially when I'm sitting next to Gorbachev."
Forget yourself for others, and others will never forget you.