Inspiring. Amazing. Passionate. Empowering. These are just some reactions by North Central College students to hearing Tawakkol Karman, 2011 Nobel Peace Laureate, share her experiences as the female leader of Yemen’s peaceful revolution.
Karman visited North Central College June 3-4, her only stop while in the United States. She met with students in classes and informal settings and gave a public address as the culminating event for the College’s three-year international focus on global human rights.
One of three women to share the Nobel Peace Prize in 2011, Karman is the youngest, the first Yemeni, the first Arab woman and second Muslim woman to win the honor. The prize, according to Alfred Nobel, is for “the person who shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses.”
Karman’s peaceful efforts led to the 2012 popular revolt and overthrow of the oppressive dictatorship of Yemen’s President Ali Abdullah Saleh.
Karman told North Central students she heard news about the honor while staying in a tent with students as part of the protest.“It was the best feeling I have ever experienced. That our struggle, our dream and peaceful revolution reached the international community was so important. Yemen was in crisis, but I kept doing things in a peaceful way, encouraging people not to follow the violence of the other side.”
During an informal lunchtime gathering with U.S. and international students studying leadership, journalism, gender and women’s studies and global studies, Karman talked about an organization she founded and leads, Women Journalists without Chains. It advocates for rights and freedoms for women journalists and serves as the gateway to help others.
“It’s a way for us to carry the flag of supporting each other,” she says. “The key word we carry in our struggle is helping others. This means I am, you are, the one who helps. Don’t wait for others to help or give a solution. You do it!”
Before her public address in Wentz Concert Hall, she was welcomed by A. George Pradel, Mayor of Naperville, with honorary citizenship, and by U.S. Rep. Bill Foster of the 11th Illinois Congressional District. Foster noted, “The Nobel Peace Prize is unlike any other Nobel award because one person in the world did something unique that no one else could have done. People like her are risking everything for peace.”
First speaking alone, then in a Q&A session with Mustafa Alnaqeb, North Central international student from Yemen, Karman addressed students, faculty, staff and people from the community in Wentz Concert Hall.
She stressed the similarities between her journey and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s struggle for peaceful revolution. “Our stories started with a dream for a new and better state that was based on justice, freedom, equality and good governance. We decided to achieve that dream with the same tools of a peaceful way.”
Throughout her talk, Karman specifically addressed the youth, saying they are the ones with the courage and will to decide to make a change and lead that change. She also explained the recent history of the countries, including Yemen, involved in the Arab Spring and their fight to end corruption, extremism, oppressive dictatorships and terrorism. These countries, she says, won the first step in reaching their goals by ousting longtime dictators. Now, they are in the second transitional period when unity and eradicating corruption are more difficult.
“But just as we won in the first step, we will win in the second step. We promise. We have the courage and know what we want.”
At the conclusion of the event, John Shindler, North Central’s director of international programs, announced that North Central College will be introducing academic programs in Arabic and in Middle Eastern and North African studies. Also, the College has awarded a merit-based International Trustee Scholarship to a student from Yemen.
Finally, Shindler noted that Karman plans to travel to Nigeria in an effort to help free the 200 girls who were kidnapped by Boko Haram militants in April 2014. North Central College students showed their support of this worldwide effort by capturing a group photo with Karman and displaying signs “Bring Back Our Girls.”