When doves fly: World celebrates International Day of Peace

From the releasing of doves in Kabul, Afghanistan to a massive concert in Havana, people around the world are marking the special day.

Heng Sinith/ AP
Cambodian Buddhist monks and nuns, in white, sit to pray for peace during a ceremony to mark International Day of Peace, Monday, in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

Twenty-one white doves in Kabul? Hand-painted pinwheels in Texas? "Peace biking" in Phnom Penh? Massive concert in Havana?

In case you missed it, today is the United Nations' International Day of Peace.

The UN was so excited that it kicked off celebrations last week.

The Kabul headquarters of the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) marked the occasion by releasing 21 white doves into the sky last Wednesday.

Then UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon marked the day on Friday by ringing the "Peace Bell" at UN headquarters in New York. (The official commemoration of the day came on Friday, says the UN, because Monday is a public holiday in most regions around the world.)

Mr. Ban used the moment to call on nations to increase their efforts to reduce stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction (WMDs). "As long as such weapons exist, no one is safe," he said.

UN Messenger of Peace Michael Douglas and actor Rainn Wilson (you know, Dwight from NBC's hit show "The Office") have tried to raise awareness on the dangers and costs of nuclear weapons by using Twitter, Facebook, and MySpace, according to the UN.

After the ceremony, Ban spoke at a gathering of over 1,000 students and teachers at the UN Headquarters, explaining that the Twitter messages were attempts to involve everyone in the campaign against WMDs.

“Not just political leaders but citizens everywhere – including students like you…. You are the future leaders and owners of this planet earth,” he said. “Because the world is over-armed and peace is under-funded ... because disarmament contributes to development... and because nukes threaten humankind…. Let's get rid of them for good.”

How people are marking the occasion

From small events to massive ones, people around the world are marking the day.

In the spirit of Ban's call, students at the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor in Belton, Texas, made nearly 300 pinwheels and installed them in front of a campus library where the public was invited to pray for peace this morning. It's part of an effort called Pinwheels for Peace, which was started in 2005 by two teachers in Florida. "Since then, it has grown from 500,000 pinwheels planted the first year, to 2 million pinwheels in 2008 planted in many parts of the world including United States, Great Britain, South America, Australia, the Middle East, Canada, Africa, Europe and Asia," reports the local Killeen Daily Herald.

But perhaps the most massive celebration in connection with the International Day of Peace was in Havana, where an estimated 1 million people gathered to dance to the sounds of Latin pop idol Juanes as he and other stars performed a "peace concert." Will the concert make a difference in forging better ties between the US and Cuba? Check out this Monitor story.

The man behind the day

So how did the International Day of Peace start?

It all goes back to one man, Jeremy Gilley, whom the Monitor profiled recently.

In 2001, the UN adopted Mr. Gilley's resolution to designate Sept. 21 as the special day, reported the Monitor.

For 20 years, the UN had recognized such a day symbolically when opening its fall session. But now the day would be on a fixed date, accompanied by a call for a global cease-fire.
"There was a bit of skepticism about the man because he was young, ambitious, idealistic," says Ahmad Fawzi, UN director of news and media. "But those are the characteristics you need for success.... His passion was contagious."

Are you passionate about peace? What are your plans to commemorate the day?

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