In 1988-89, despite the bombings and the violence engulfing his hometown of Beirut, Lebanon during the height of the Lebanese Civil War, 13-year-old Mustapha El Tawokji had a clear image of peace. He drew a soft and peaceful picture of a dove flying over a bed of roses, winning the first Lions Clubs International Peace Poster Contest, and although he had probably never laid eyes on such a peaceful scene, he could imagine it. Even in a war torn country like his was, Mustapha could believe peace was possible. The theme of that first Peace Poster Contest was “Peace Will Help Us Grow.” Every year since, LCI has proudly continued the contest with as many as 600,000 children ages 11 to 13 from 65 countries participating. How would they, from all cultures, all corners, all lifestyles, envision peace?

2019-20 Grand Prize Winner, Zhuo Zhang, holds his winning artwork.

This year’s grand prize winner Zhuo Zhang, a 13-year-old boy from Xi'an, China, imagined a colorful peace envoy carrying a backpack made up of the national flags representing the people from different countries uniting and going forward together.

“The glowing walking stick of peace brings power to the people all over the world,” explained Zhang. “The olive branches growing from the wasteland and the lovely doves flying around him represent new power, giving us hope and strength to the people suffering and living in the shadows.”

Zhang’s winning poster sponsored by the Shaanxi Datang Lions Club in Xi’an, was selected for its originality, artistic merit, and portrayal of this year’s theme, “Journey of Peace.” But he was concerned most about inspiration.

“I sincerely hope my painting may inspire more people to value peace,” he said. “Let us get together for peace and a better future.”

Lions Peace Poster entries are judged at the club, district, and multiple district levels before the district governor sends the winning poster on to LCI headquarters for final judging. This year 120 entries competed at the international level.

2019-2020 Merit Winner Fu Zhu, 13, from China
2019-2020 Merit Winner Fu Zhu, 13, from China

The artwork from the finalists is hung in the gallery at Loyola University Museum of Art in Chicago where judges look for originality, artistic talent, and how well the artist captured the year’s theme.

Jennifer Lizak, coordinator of special projects, cultural and civic engagement at Chicago Public Library, is delighted to have been one of the judges for more than 10 years now. “Even though people are in different countries, different cultures, there are always similarities in how the students approach the topic,” says Lizak. “It’s a nice reminder of what is really important, and how art can really provide people, sometimes in difficult circumstances, a way to express their feelings and their wishes and dreams for the future."

“We live in complicated times, and for kids to be able to not only put something on paper that is artistically beautiful but really interprets the theme of peace is always so impressive,” Lizak says.

“I would encourage kids to take part because it’s a way for them to express their feelings on something that affects them. So often we don’t listen to kids. This is one way to use their voice and their feelings,” she says.

Every year the top artist receives a cash award of US$5,000 and a trip to a special award ceremony. Twenty-three merit winners receive US$500 and a certificate of achievement.

1995-96 Grand Prize Winner, "Peace Will Set Us free" by Danielle Hernandez.
1995-96 Grand Prize Winner, "Peace Will Set Us free" by Danielle Hernandez.

But there’s a lot more to winning than the prize money, says Danielle Hernandez Petry, who won the contest 24 years ago when she was a 12-year-old sixth grader in Arizona. Now a middle school language arts teacher in Florida, Petry holds the poster competition in her classroom, and this year 10 of her students chose to stay after school to work on their entry. She vividly recalls the day she got the call saying her work had won at the club level. “It was really cool because I remember hearing the phone ring and just lying in bed listening, and my mom coming in and saying the Lions had called and I had passed to the next level,” Petry says. “You don’t expect to get that phone call.”

The excitement didn’t end there. Petry’s work went up the ladder to the district and multiple district level, and then to headquarters. A shy girl with little confidence, she was suddenly in the spotlight, photographed and asked to speak at Lions club meetings in her district.

“I never had confidence, but when the Lions took me in they thought I was wonderful, I thought maybe I am something of worth. Maybe I am something special. It helped my confidence immensely. It was such a huge impact,” she says.

The Lions sent her to England and to the Lions Day with the United Nations in New York. This year she spoke again at LDUN about the importance of the contest and what it did for her. “I got to give back,” she says. “I have so much to give back to them for all they have done for me. The peace poster contest changed my life and opened so many doors for me.”

Joseph Critchlow, 2019-20 Essay Contest Winner.
Joseph Critchlow, 2019-20 Essay Contest Winner.
2019-2020 Merit Winner Mossimo Morato, 13, from Italy.
2019-2020 Merit Winner Mossimo Morato, 13, from Italy.

One day Joseph Critchlow of Liverpool might look back and say the same. A student at Saint Vincent’s School for the Visually Impaired in Liverpool, he was chosen as the winner of the Lions International Peace Essay Contest for visually impaired students 11 to 13 who choose to write an essay on the same theme as the Peace Poster program.

Joseph’s 500 words about the “Journey for Peace” tell of how he journeyed through Liverpool, stopping at the statues of prominent citizens to ask, “Where do we find peace?” Each had a different opinion on the key to finding peace.

Originally chosen a winner by the City of Liverpool Lions Club, Joseph received the Grand Prize of US$5,000 for his international win. He hopes to use the prize money to publish a book he’s written. Joseph’s own personal journey started soon after the announcement of his win, with an invitation to attend LDUN in New York where he read his essay, written in braille, and received a standing ovation.

“I may not see you well, the color of your face or the clothes you wear, but I can help the world find peace by my example,” he wrote at the conclusion of his essay. “As Gandhi said, ‘there is no pathway to peace, peace is the pathway’, let me help lead you along that path by following my voice.’”

 

Read the winning Peace Essay at lionsclubs.org/peace-essay.

See all current Peace Poster Contest Winners at lionsclubs.org/peace-poster-winners.

Winning peace posters are framed and added to the permanent Peace Poster Wall at LCI headquarters.