Jody Williams didn’t plan on becoming an international activist, but a pamphlet changed it all.
In 1984, a stranger handed the then-graduate student a leaflet about the United States’ involvement in the civil war in El Salvador, and the message inspired her to get involved and start working to make a difference in the world.
Thirteen years and three major humanitarian projects later, Williams, who won the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize for her work to ban land mines, is coming to MU to tell others how they can become activists in a speech at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Ellis Library’s Ellis Auditorium at MU.
Her speech, titled “Individuals Can Make a Difference,” will be about the influence that one person can have on the state of affairs in the world.
Williams has been an international activist since 1984. She has developed humanitarian projects in El Salvador, Nicaragua and Honduras and spent 11 years building public awareness about U.S. policy toward Central America. This February, the United Nations assigned her to head an investigative group to report on human rights abuses in Darfur.
Williams received the Nobel Prize for her work as founding coordinator of the International Campaign to Ban Land Mines. Launched in October 1992, the ICBL sought to eliminate the millions of land mines that continue to maim and kill thousands of civilians each year.
The problem with land mines, Williams wrote on the ICBL Web site, is that they remain active decades after fighting is over.
“Guns go home with the soldiers,” she wrote. “But land mines are designed to kill — mindlessly, out of control, for years.”
Five years after the ICBL was created, an international treaty to ban land mines was established. Today, the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty has been signed by more than 150 countries, according to the ICBL Web site. The number of countries that manufacture them has decreased from 55 to less than a dozen, and the death toll from land mine injuries has fallen steadily.
Williams’ visit to MU is co-sponsored by the MU Peace Studies Department, MU student government, and William Woods University.
John Galliher, a sociology professor and director of the Peace Studies Department, said he has followed Williams’ work since she won the Nobel Prize in 1997. He said the most inspiring quality about Williams is that she’s a regular person.
“She’s just a young American woman who decided to take things in her own hands,” Galliher said. “I hope students come out and see someone like them, and I hope that they are inspired.”