Young New Yorkers take up the fight for world peace
Friends jettisoned the kid stuff when they were selecting a birthday present for 12-year-old Monique Grodzki, president and founder of the Children's Peace Committee.
They passed up hamsters and roller skates and, instead, adopted a child from Mexico through the Save the Children Federation.
The gift was a bull's-eye for Monique, whose fervor to help children around the world has not waned since the day she founded the Children's Peace Committee , a group of young New Yorkers bent on making children a dynamic force in the world.
The idea for a peace committee developed in 1979 after Monique saw a television documentary that brought the desperate plight of Cambodian refugees into her suburban New York home.
''I found it amazing that they were still singing and had the hope and strength to go on,'' Monique says. ''After I saw that, I actually cried. I really had to do something about it.''
So she and a group of concerned friends hatched a rare bird, a peace organization run solely by children.
''All the ideas are ours,'' Monique explains. ''It's completely run by kids.''
News of the committee spread through classroom chatter. Today the New York-based operation boasts a growing membership of 200, with ages ranging from 10 to 13.
Adults don't always know at first how to take Monique's grandiose plans. But she makes a persuasive case for her committee and the involvement of children in planning the future.
''Children are involved in wars, and they suffer the most,'' she explains. ''They should have a say about them in government. They should have a say about things in general, about things that affect them.''
A 1980 United Nations population statistic shows one-third of the 4.5 billion people in the world are under age 15, and one-half of all refugees are children.
''We're putting millions and billions of dollars into nuclear armaments,'' Monique says, while children are starving all over the world. She pauses to ask with candor, ''Wouldn't it be better to have a 'stop world hunger' race than a nuclear armament race?''
Is this dreamy rhetoric, or a genuine message? And does the committee have a practical way to put its philosophy into practice? Certainly the committee has taken on an enormous task: to ''help abolish world hunger and promote world peace.''
With bullhorns blaring in the Dag Hammarskjold Plaza at the United Nations Building, committee members inform passers-by of current peace issues, nuclear armaments, and world hunger. Petitions are circulated at their rallies, and the last petition was dispersed to world leaders with a plea for peace.
Some days after school Monique's living room is filled with the hum of young voices discussing world hunger. Committee members file through publications and determine which aid organizations make the best use of funds - those that give the biggest part of their money directly to the cause and not to administration costs. Three years ago committee donations aided ailing Cambodians, and today Somalian refugees receive a sizable portion of the organization's efforts.
World peace is not forgotten in their own city. One small-scale, home-based peace project helped buy bulletproof vests for New York policemen. And for the family of a policeman killed in duty, the committee supplied a trip to Disney World.
The success of the committee can be attributed to its no-nonsense leadership - a crew devoted to the task of spreading the organization worldwide. While other children busy themselves with TV and tree forts, Monique and her four vice-presidents read four daily newspapers, research hunger issues, and organize projects. Their time is often too valuable for frivolous activity or squabbles, since they sometimes meet three or four times a week.
The consensus among the vice-presidents is that it's not difficult to work for the organization, do homework, and have fun too.
Twelve-year-old Richard Lugo says he likes being a vice-president of the peace committee because ''it's very fun, and it makes you feel good to be a part of it.'' Committee members claim their parents support the endeavor, and Richard says his parents ''think it's a good thing.''
The Children's Peace Committee resolved a long unanswered question for co-vice-president Rommel Wilson: How can a concerned young person help solve world problems?
''I didn't know how to go about it because it's mostly adult humanitarian groups,'' she explains, lamenting years of inactivity. Now the committee gives Rommel the opportunity to work with other children to ''help people, mostly children around the world.''
Joining the committee is not for the capricious, nor is it meant to be a fad. Every applicant is screened, and motives are scrutinized to determine how serious a commitment is intended.
''They're not just joining for this to be a game, because it's not,'' Monique says. ''If they're qualified, we take them in.'' The most important qualification of any applicant is a willingness to promote peace, love, and brotherhood throughout the world.
For more information on the Children's Peace Committee contact Monique Grodzki, 3430 78th Street, Jackson Heights, N.Y., 11372.