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Mixing with the other side, hope for the future and no bombs ... what peace means to us

With the Inspirational Awards in Belfast today and World Peace Day on Sunday, Stephanie Bell asks well-known faces what defines the concept for them

By Stephanie Bell

As Northern Ireland prepares to mark World Peace Day this weekend with its annual Inspirational Awards in Belfast City Hall today, local personalities share their vision for a peaceful world.

Northern Ireland's new world boxing champion Carl Frampton is among a host of well-known and not-so-well-known names nominated to pick up a gong at today's event.

Since 2010 the province has marked this special day, which falls on September 21 – this Sunday – with the gala awards, which aim to honour positive role models in our community and their inspirational influence on others.

The event is organised by local charity Springboard Opportunities Limited which works to support the positive development of people, communities and society within a local and global platform.

It was on September 7, 2001, that the UN General Assembly Resolution 55/282 agreed to permanently fix the date of the International Day of Peace to September 21.

They invited people and nations across the world to jointly commemorate this day of non-violence through education and public awareness.

Angila Chady of Springboard Opportunities says: "Driven by our ongoing desire to ensure and celebrate peace as a cornerstone of our society, Springboard's Peace Day Campaign encourages all citizens, organisations and government bodies to privately or publicly mark UN International Day of Peace and rededicate an ongoing commitment to non-violence where we live, work, learn and play.

"As UN Peace Day falls on a Sunday this year, Springboard is celebrating and marking the day in Belfast City Hall today with our official observance of Peace Day and the presentation of our Inspiration Awards," she adds.

The theme for the awards, hosted by sports personality Denise Watson, is Sporting Heroes.

Lord Mayor Nichola Mallon will join millions around the world in leading the official observance of the International Day of Peace in City Hall with a minute's silence at midday.

She will present awards in four categories – The Youth Inspiration Award, Community Inspiration Award, the Celebrity Inspiration Award and The Special Inspiration Award.

Lord Mayor Nichola Mallon says: "It is an honour to help celebrate and showcase the achievements of four very worthy award recipients.

"Their work, and especially their approach to giving back to their communities, is truly inspiring. They are Belfast's true first citizens, our heroes, and above all, an inspiration to us all.

"While we celebrate, it is important that we take the time to reflect and commit to peaceful actions on Peace Day, and beyond, by asking ourselves what it means to us and how we can make this a reality in our everyday lives."

Here, some local personalities share their idea of what they believe a peaceful society should be.

Dame Mary Peters (75), from Dunmurry, won a gold medal at the 1972 Olympics in Munich. She says:

"I came to Northern Ireland as a young child in the 1940s. I had an idyllic childhood growing up in Ballymena and then Portadown. The people were amazing, the countryside breathtaking and everyone was in harmony.

Unfortunately, as we are all aware, this beautiful province became almost a war zone not too many years later.

While training for competition, I had to travel through streets strewn with debris from shootings, riots and bombings.

On numerous occasions, my bus trip was halted, diverted or cancelled because of bomb scares and explosions. I witnessed acts of violence that no one should ever have to see.

Within hours of winning my Olympic Gold medal in Munich in 1972, the world watched as yet another atrocity took place and 11 members of the Israeli Olympic squad were massacred.

Peace is therefore something which means so much to me.

Peace is living together with mutual respect, understanding and justice. If we have those first, then we can have peace.

Peace means living together in brotherhood, harmony, and equal opportunity.

Peace is stability and security and an end to our history of fighting and inclusion of all of our people in one country. Peace is freedom."

TV sports journalist Denise Watson (42) is married to Dr David Scott (45), an academic, and lives in Lisburn with their children Samantha (9) and Elizabeth (6). She says:

"I grew up in the 1970s and remember clearly being caught in a bomb scare in Marks & Spencer's in Belfast with my mum. Everyone panicked and I could sense how anxious my mum was.

I asked her what a bomb was and she just said it's something bad people who don't want peace leave in places to frighten people. It was a scary, confusing time and I thank God that my daughters and I won't have to be caught in a similar situation.

Compromise and negotiation are far preferable to those days in the 1970s when my parents were afraid to venture into the city centre, when handbags were checked by the Army and we had to go through turnstiles to go shopping.

The Woodlands Hotel in Lisburn was near where I lived and the eerie boom and windows shaking when it was bombed in 1980 really scared me.

Why can't we all get along? I hope and pray that our politicians move forward and don't look back. The past won't be forgotten, but the bad old days mustn't be allowed to spoil a future for our children."

Angila Chada, of Springboard Opportunities, says:

"Peace is extremely important to me as it is something I strive for everyday through my work as executive director of Springboard

Opportunities. Our aim is to achieve peace through programmes that support the development of people, communities and society.

Our recent pilot programme Headstart, for 18 to 24-year-olds from across all Belfast communities, delivered on behalf of OFMDFM, is testament to the fact that working together to understand what makes us different, yet so similar, can help to create peaceful communities.

We also mark the UN International Day of Peace by encouraging everyone in Northern Ireland to commit to non-violence.

We will be raising the awareness of Peace Day at our annual Inspiration Awards which celebrates and showcases those people in our country who help to bridge our communities together and to this end are helping to move us towards a peaceful society."

Belfast Lord Mayor Nichola Mallon (35) is married to Brendan Scott and lives in Belfast. She says:

"Growing up in Ardoyne, seeing convoys of Army jeeps with armed soldiers peering out of the top, was a normal backdrop to our street games. It was normality.

The one time I distinctly remember feeling fear was at the time of the horrific Shankill bombing. The bombers came from our street.

Despite being largely hushed, the adults' talk of fear and reprisals inevitably reached our little ears. It was a very frightening time. When I look at my young nephews I am so relieved that they won't have similar memories.

We are in a much better place now, but in terms of peace in its fullest sense, we have further to travel.

Will we get there? Yes. When we always treat others as we wish to be treated ourselves, we encourage a positive appreciation of cultural and religious diversity and cultivate an informed empathy with the suffering of all human beings – even those regarded as enemies."

West End singing star Peter Corry (49) is a father of three grown-up children. He says:

"Growing up in Northern Ireland during the Troubles, it became normal on a daily basis to deal with things you really shouldn't have to in any normal society.

Since those dark days ended it has become more obvious to me what normal life should be.

And although things aren't perfect, it is good to see Northern Ireland striving to be a tolerant and understanding society.

For my own children and future generations, this is something that we all should want to work towards."

Gemma Garrett (32) is a model from Belfast. She says:

"I grew up in the Eighties and I remember going out to the city centre with my friends to the Apartment Bar which was such a normal thing for us to do – but my mum and dad were horrified that I was socialising in a bar in the centre of town.

They couldn't understand how there was a bar which was not catering for one side or the other and where it didn't matter where you came from.

In their day that would never have happened and it give me a bit of an insight into how bad it must have been for them during the Troubles.

I'm glad I didn't see any of that.

We have moved on so much and it's great now that people don't want to know where you are from. While we have moved on a lot, it could still be better though and I think it is up to the Government to put things in place for an even more peaceful society."

Kurtis Morrow (21), from Tiger's Bay, Belfast, recently completed the Springboard Headstart pilot programme which promotes peace between young people. He says:

"I believe that peace is the only way forward if we are to create a better society for everyone, but especially our young people.

Living, learning and working together is what we should all be aiming to do. I have been involved in working with Springboard for a few months now and their peace building and diversity programmes have turned my life around.

I came from a very dark place where I know I was racist and sectarian.

I now want to become a community leader and help people, especially young people, understand that only through actions of peace can we achieve the best possible community for us all to live in. We all deserve that."

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