THORNDIKE, Maine — It seems likely that a rural Maine high school might not be a common stop on the itineraries of most Nobel Peace Prize laureates.
But Mount View High School in western Waldo County is exactly where 2003 laureate Shirin Ebadi of Iran is heading Tuesday, May 17. Ebadi, the first woman in Iran to serve as a judge before she was dismissed after the Islamic Revolution in 1979, was awarded the peace prize for her efforts for democracy and human rights, according to the website nobelprize.org.
She’s going to speak at the school because it’s where some very special students attend — the roughly 18 members of the 5-year-old community service club called PeaceJam.
“It’s pretty incredible. We never dreamed it would go this far,” club co-adviser and English teacher Janet Caldwell said Monday afternoon.
PeaceJam, an international organization aimed at inspiring young peacemakers, is supported by a dozen Nobel laureates who have challenged them to create projects that answer a “global call to action.”
The Mount View PeaceJammers are going to host the laureate because last fall they won the 2010 Global Call to Action Challenge Award for their work in helping eliminate extreme poverty through local sustainable agriculture and recycling projects.
Caldwell said the students have been steadily toiling at their chosen, nonglamorous projects — including starting a garden at the school, donating their harvest to local food pantries and the school community, and sorting lunch leftovers to reduce food waste at the school by more than 70 percent.
“It’s work,” she said. “It’s sweating in the cafeteria and digging garbage out of bins. But they just keep doing it.”
That kind of persistence and dedication led to the award, made through the Pearson Foundation. In November, club members traveled to PeaceJam headquarters in Denver to receive the honor and met Nobel Peace Prize laureate Oscar Arias, the former president of Costa Rica.
Arias had been slated to visit Mount View in the fall, but illness prevented that trip, Caldwell said.
The students are “so excited they can’t even stay planted” about Tuesday’s visit from Ebadi, whom they met at a regional conference in March.
She will speak at 1 p.m. in the Mount View Performing Arts Center, followed by a dessert and tea gathering at 2 p.m. in the school cafeteria.
After that, Ebadi will be the special guest at a celebration at the high school’s garden space. The public is invited to all the events, Caldwell said.
She and co-adviser Cathy Roberts recently had the chance to step back and reflect upon the work of the club, which she said has inspired other people at the school complex to take up their own garden trowels.
“The whole idea around gardens here has exploded,” Caldwell said. “We thought, this whole thing started with a single idea … and now I’m looking out and seeing garden beds, and I’m looking next door at the farm. It really does work, if you just keep at it.”