Peace will begin with the children, says teen-age prodigy Smith

About 60 middle and high-school aged students who were chosen by schools islandwide participated in the Kaua’i Youth Congress yesterday. The students broke up into in small groups, and were asked to chose their top 10 issues, concerns, solutions and dreams for their future.

Gregory R. Smith, who is visiting Kaua’i as part of this first-ever Kaua’i Youth Congress, met with members of the media and journalist interns of the Kaua’i Childrens’ Discovery Museum Thursday afternoon at the Kauai War Memorial Convention Hall. He also met with some of the students who took part in the youth congress.

The youth embodied a mix of home-school, private and public school students. Smith himself attended public school and graduated from Orange Park High School in Florida in 1999, at the age of 10.

Four representatives of the Youth Congress will present the results of their activities to Smith before the Kaua’i Community College event this evening.

Smith will include the Kaua’i results with his United Youth Congress Report that he will share with world leaders at the Human Rights Summit of the World Centers on Compassion for Children in Rome this November.

Brenda Lazaro, 16, from Waimea High School, said her main concern is drugs and alcohol, the No. 1.

“I learned a lot about the concerns about hydroelectric power because it has less pollution and it costs less,” said Johna Pereira, 16, also from Waimea High.

“If we work together we can get a lot more stuff done,” said Royce Hanada, 17, from Kapa’a High School, who said he learned from the Youth Congress leaders that a dam on Kaua’i could produce hydroelectricity because the island experiences a lot of rain.

Royce said his top concern was teen suicide, because a lot of his friends have faced the problem. Activities like peer counseling could help, he said.

“There are not enough jobs for people around the world. The more factories, the more jobs,” said 14-year-old Chris Thomas.

“We have ‘Adopt-A-Highway’, so why not ‘Adopt-A-Beach’?” said Nerissa Holgen, 11, who will attend Chiefess Kamakahelei Intermediate School in the fall. The idea that she and her mom came up with would have schools and local businesses partering up. Businesses could provide advertisement-labeled trash cans; schoolchildren could volunteer to clean up beach litter.

“If we help our environment to grow and prosper again, it’s just one more step to make our world a better place,” Smith said.

Hope is the thing that inspired him to dedicate his life to peace, he said. “When we look into the eyes of a child with nothing, and see the hope in their eyes and how they really want a future for themselves…” Smith said.

Smith visited six countries in 2001 as a representative to the Christian Children’s Fund, including Kenya, Rwanda and Brazil. In Brazil, he is helping aid missions; in Rwanda, construction the country’s first public library; in Kenya, a boarding school for young women and children.

He said he does not like to discuss his own religious alignment. “There are good values in every religion,” he said, and by understanding the way each culture in the world thinks we can better achieve peace.

Smith says every person’s voice can be heard, and we can all do something positive to change the world for the better.

Terrorist attacks on Sept. 11 prompted Smith to another cause: Ending child suffering from war. With terrorists in our world, there will be no peace; we have to go in and find the people responsible, and our government must try as hard as it can to limit the number of civilian casualties, he said.

“Peace will start with the children,” he said.

Smith’s parents, Robert E. Smith, a biology professor, and Janet Smith, both traveled with their son on the family’s first trip to Kaua’i.

Robert said that his son has always been aware of world events and Gregory’s mission for peace started when he saw pictures of people being massacred in Kosovo.

With Gregory, who is an only child, Robert said they never assumed that he was too young to understand something. Thus, they introduced mathematics, reading and other topics in very early childhood; by the age of 1 Gregory learned to read words and by age 3 he was learning long division.

Smith’s mom, Janet, said that as a parent it is easy to be the “door-opener,” but that they must allow Gregory to confront challenges on his own. They have never raised their voices or disciplined him, and instead they talk eye-to-eye, she said.

“I believe I have been given a special gift,” he said regarding his sky-high IQ.

The boy, who at 13 is set to graduate from Randolph-Macon College next May, believes that the media has perpetuated one of the worst stigmas in our society: That children who are intelligent and are good in school aren’t popular or well-liked. We need to stop the stigmas, he said. Many gifted students get bored in school and fall away from education because of it. “Education is something kids in our country take for granted,” he noted. In the Third World countries he’s visited, children desperately want an education to build their futures.

Smith is scheduled to be the keynote speaker at tonight’s “Building an Extraordinary Future for Kaua’i’s Children” event, scheduled for 7-9 p.m. at the Kaua’i Community College Performing Arts Center. Admission is free. For more information, call Sharon Agnew, County Youth Services, at 241-6240.

Staff Writer Kendyce Manguchei can be reached at kmanguchei@pulitzer.net or 245-3681 (ext. 252).

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