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Encouraging Peace

Past International President Eberhard J, Wirfs, his wife Margit and a group of German Lions, visit the Peace Village in Germany.

Past International President Eberhard J, Wirfs, his wife Margit and a group of German Lions, visit the Peace Village in Germany.

Encouraging Peace

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Touchstone Story #41

On July 22, 2011, the calm of a normal day in Norway was shattered by an explosion in Oslo, the nation’s capital, just a few doors from the prime minister’s office. Hours later, as police were investigating the car bomb that killed eight and injured more than 200, the man responsible had already taken a ferry to the nearby island Utøya, killing 69 youth camp attendees, adult supervisors and camp employees.

The gunman was taken into custody by police, but in a country that hadn’t seen this kind of violence since World War II, it was an act of terrorism that most young people could not comprehend. One in four Norwegians knew someone who had been affected by the attack. Michelle Borgli of the Fredrikstad Sorgenfri Lions Club, a participant at a similar youth camp organized by the Lions, said that “the day before the bombings, we were in [Oslo] with the camp. It affected the students more when they realized how young the people were—and they were at a camp just like us.”

The Lions of Norway seized the opportunity to help youth camp participants understand this tragedy and spread peace as well.

Helle Soos, also of the Fredrikstad Sorgenfri Lions Club, said the aftermath of this tragedy “was a golden opportunity to get a new way of doing the camp,” encouraging camp participants to imagine peace.

For more than 60 years, the Lions Club Youth Camp and Exchange Program had attracted young people from all over the world to Norway. The Norway Imagine Peace Camp is one of more than 100 Lions camps around the world held each year. Camp activities include sports, a variety show and visits to locations of cultural interest, but at the Imagine Peace Camp there is a special focus on fostering discussions of peace and building international friendships.

“In my part of the world, I’ve never known peace,” said 2015 camp participant Milad Bisharat of Israel. “We face problems inside Israel and outside. . . . The traditions here are awesome. Nobody cares who you are or what you are—they’re just friends with you.”

Lions also promote peace across the North Sea in Germany. Since 1967, the Peace Village, a partnership between the Lions Club and Peace Village International, has helped more than 42,000 children heal together. Treating children who have been injured by sickness, accidents or war and who cannot receive adequate treatment in their home countries, Peace Village provides medical treatment, physical therapy and an environment of healing and hope.

Eberhard J. Wirfs of Kelkheim, Germany, who served as international president in 2009-10, said that hope is the most important thing that Peace Village offers. “Without hope, you really can’t exist.”

Hope—and peace—are offered by Lions around the world. Their goal is to help people understand, as an Imagine Peace camp participant said, that “we are different, maybe, but actually—we are all the same.”

Norwegian Lions facilitate group activities at a Lions Clubs International Youth Camp & Exchange.

Norwegian Lions facilitate group activities at a Lions Clubs International Youth Camp & Exchange.

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