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Difference Maker

People making a difference: Jeremy Gilley

This actor and filmmaker envisions that world peace begins with just one day of peace.

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But without any actual cease-fires, the day was still not living up to its promise.

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Finally, in 2007, proof of what was possible came in the most unlikely of places – a remote part of Afghanistan. UNICEF and the World Health Organization agreed to help Gilley's group reach out to people on all sides of the fighting there to set up a cease-fire Sept. 21 so that aid workers could vaccinate children.

Gilley and actor Jude Law, one of several well-known celebrities who have become avid supporters of the cause, traveled to Afghanistan in the summer of 2007 to garner support for the idea. Back in London, shortly before Sept. 21, Gilley received a copy of a letter from Taliban leaders agreeing to allow safe passage to the vaccination team. About 1.4 million children received polio vaccinations as a result.

In Boston, the students welcome Gilley as they might a rock star, whooping and waving peace signs with their fingers. But their questions for him are probing. One asks whether a specific experience motivated him.

The wiry, fast-talking Gilley tells of being "horribly shocked" by the conditions at a refugee camp in Somalia. The emotions are still fresh as he recalls picking up a baby who was barely alive: "It just absolutely totally blew my mind that this little tiny thing was suffering in this way.... That is why every single day I do my best to make a difference and keep on going."

Despite the suffering he's seen as he's visited more than 50 countries, Gilley tells the students he still has hope. "I've seen the most beautiful human beings ... be courageous beyond courageous.... I do believe that humanity can change things.... I don't believe that we're fundamentally evil, and I don't believe that the destruction of the world is inevitable.... You and I, us together, we can make a massive impact."

Students crowd around him after the talk, wanting to get involved. He urges them to promote Peace Day and to post poetry, videos, or art on the website, www.peaceoneday.org.

Gilley's film "was beautiful because it shows ... how he really wants to change our world," says student Kayla Williams. It inspired her to start writing poetry again, she says. She already has one poem she wants to post.

"I'm now learning more about the world and the genocides going on," she says. "I'm learning how it's not just me in the world and my community, but everybody else has problems, and I can really help."

Gilley says he encounters that kind of ebullient, creative response every time he visits a school. "As artists, the greatest thing we can accomplish is that somebody feels empowered or inspired by our work," he says.

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