Flying flags for peace

Dalai Lama Scholar Rebecca Westerman raises awareness about ending world conflicts

In summer 2006, senior art history major Rebecca Westerman went to Thailand to teach English and volunteer at an orphanage. She came back a changed person:

“The contact I had with another culture gave me a different perspective on the world,” she says. “I wanted to translate my studies in art history into helping people facing issues such as violence, hunger and poverty.”

Her desire to share her newfound worldview with others inspired her to create this week’s UCI Peace Flag Project. More than 30 UCI student groups are joining together to promote peace by creating and hanging 1,000 flags around the half-mile perimeter of Aldrich Park.

“This project conveys the true spirit of our student campus community,” says Manuel Gomez, vice chancellor of student affairs at UCI. “I’m pleased Rebecca has garnered so much support from her fellow students. They are demonstrating they are global leaders in the making.”

The large-scale art installation is modeled after Tibetan prayer flags. Each flag will include messages about ongoing armed conflicts around the world.

“Being ignorant of world conflicts is being complicit in the problem, so I wanted to create a project where people can get involved,” Westerman says. “I wanted to show the extent to which conflicts exist in the world and the extent to which efforts for peace and compassion are needed.”

The Peace Flag Project also includes a club fair, meditation session and teach-in. Community members are invited to create their own peace flag.

“I wanted to use the common area of Aldrich Park, which belongs to the campus community, as a venue for getting out information,” Westerman says. “Making a large-scale visual statement and transforming the environment is important because it gets noticed. There will be information there that you’re not usually confronted with on campus.”

For her efforts, Westerman was named UCI’s 2007-08 XIV Dalai Lama Scholar. The scholarship is awarded to undergraduates who show leadership potential and emphasize the ideals of ethics, peace and positive global relations.

“I went to Thailand and had a profound experience. Children there were happy with so little, and the monks had such an enthusiasm for learning about the world and applying their learning,” Westerman says. “I had so much to think about and reflect on, that when I came back I took a year off.”

She spent the time channeling her feelings onto canvas, and received a North Coast Cultural Trust grant for the paintings she produced. Her work was displayed in an exhibit in her hometown of Weaverville, Calif.

“I wanted to do something that contributed something greater in the world than my education. So I processed my experience in an artistic way. And when I came back to UCI, I wanted to share this realization with the public – that we have a responsibility to treat others in a positive and compassionate way, and to act as contributing world citizens.”

By raising flags for peace, Westerman hopes to raise awareness that conflicts create victims – no matter which side they’re on.

“These tragedies affect all of us, and we’re all victims,” she says. “It’s important that everyone come together to work together for peace.”

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