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Why Pedro Opeka who helped over 300,000 of the poorest of the poor and his Humanitarian Association Akamasoa Deserve Nobel Prize for Peace, 2013

A letter to his potential supporters and nominators

By Edward Gobetz, Ph.D. Professor Emeritus of Sociology, KSU December 2012

Most people who are at least to some extent familiar with the magnificent humanitarian work of Pedro Opeka do not have to be persuaded that his incomparable achievements deserve to be recognized and highlighted by the Norwegian Nobel Institute. Indeed, many of us firmly believe that Pedro Opeka whose work among the poorest of the poor has often been compared to that of Mother Teresa, the Nobel Peace Prize recipient in 1979, and his humanitarian association Akamasoa (the Community of Good Fiends, consisting of thousands of hard-working, self-respecting and mostly self-governing former “garbage” people)  are outstanding candidates for the Nobel Peace Prize 2013. May we share with you some basic information about Pedro’s exceptional humanitarian achievements and on the logistics of nominations.

Some Basic Facts about Pedro Opeka

Pedro was born on June 29, 1948, to Slovenian refugee parents in Argentina. He learned the bricklayer’s trade from his father and could build a wall by age 13. He studied in Argentina, Slovenia, and in Paris, France, and became a Vincentian (or Lazarist) missionary. He was also a star football (soccer) player.

In an effort to learn more about the world, especially the poor, he hitchhiked as a student through most European countries, as well as in Morocco and Israel, and even sold shoes in Harlem, New York.  His uplifting adventures and his subsequent work among the poorest of the poor have been vividly described in many books in various languages (French, German, Slovenian, Spanish, and English). As a youngster, Pedro also volunteered to work among very poor Indians in South America. At age 22, he volunteered to work as a bricklayer in Madagascar.  He returned there after completing his studies and becoming a priest in 1975.  In 1989, because of his success with the young and his impressive education received in Spanish, Slovenian and French schools, his superiors appointed him director of a Vincentian theological seminary in Antananarivo, the capital of Madagascar.

Pedro soon noticed the extreme poverty in the slums of the city and discovered the degradation of the “garbage people,” scavenging the garbage disposal hills trying to find something to eat or to sell. He decided that no one should live in such extreme degradation and that his first task should be to help these poorest of the poor. Thus, he obtained some land and persuaded the first group of the most destitute to leave the slums and trash hills and improve their lot by becoming farmers. He taught men how to make brick and become bricklayers, building homes and infrastructure for villages in their new “communities of friends” or Akamasoa.

From modest beginnings in 1989, Pedro’s projects have grown by leaps and bounds.  Former garbage people have achieved human dignity by means of hard work, developing self-esteem and a sense of responsibility for themselves and for the entire community.  The world began to notice! In 2005, visiting journalists of Paris Match magazine described about 17,000 of Pedro’s people who had been rescued from slow death on the trash hills of Antenanarivo, Madagascar,  and proudly worked in various  shops, on farms and in the quarry, while over 8,000 of their children received surprisingly good education in schools established by Pedro. And there was Pedro’s Akamasoa’s Welcome Center where about 200,000 transients have by then received food, clothing, medical care and counseling. By 2012, statistics have increased to over 23,000 villagers, including more than 10,000 children and over 300,000 transients, who received temporary help. In cooperation with Akamasoa, which he had founded, four maternity wards, as well as four general hospitals for the poor whom no one would treat were established, built in areas of the greatest need, from the capital city of Antannarivo  to remote, isolated  rural areas  over  900 kilometers or 560 miles away, where properly trained  native staff, physicians, dentists, midwives and nurses care for the indigent patients. During the last year alone 35,890 patients were treated!

This, all too briefly, is the mind-boggling Miracle of Madagascar, the result of Pedro’s total humanitarian commitment and exceptional organizational genius.

(Please read the International Acclaim for Padre Pedro at the end of this letter, ranging from simple, good-hearted supporters and admirers to recognized journalists, authors, educators, and personalities such as  Prince Albert II of Monaco, American astronaut and cosmonaut dr. Jerry Linenger, and Pope Benedict XVI. By googling PEDRO OPEKA one can also find valuable information and numerous photos on the Internet.)

Who can submit a nomination?

Let us reproduce the current instructions by the Norwegian Nobel Institute: The right to submit proposals for the Nobel Peace Prize shall, by statute, be enjoyed by:

1. Members of national assemblies and governments of states; 2. Members of international courts; 3. University rectors; professors of social sciences, history, philosophy, law and theology; directors of peace research institutes and foreign policy institutes; 4. Persons who have been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize; 5. Board members of organizations who have been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize; 6. Active and former members of the Norwegian Nobel Committee; (proposals by members of the Committee to be submitted no later than at the first meeting of the Committee after February 1) and 7. Former advisers appointed by the Norwegian Nobel Institute.

Clearly, friends of Pedro Opeka have at their disposal an impressive list of potential nominators whom they can inform about Pedro’s exceptional and inspirational humanitarian work and ask them to kindly submit their nominations. Our hope is that you can persuade at least some nominators in your state: a congressman or senator, perhaps the prime minister or a university president, professors as listed under # 3 above, etc. Please ask also your friends and acquaintances to join you in these efforts. Please try and try again!

Where and when to send your nomination?

Nominations should be sent to: Dr. Geir Lundestad Secretary of the Norwegian Nobel Committee Henrik Ibsens gate 51 NO-0255 OSLO, Norway

Only two months are left to submit nominations, December 2012 and January 2013. Nominations should be submitted on official stationary and the nominator’s position should be clearly indicated.

The contents of nomination

The Norwegian Nobel Institute generously gives the nominators complete freedom concerning their nominations. Obviously, contributions to peace and humanitarian accomplishments should be emphasized. A nominator could be as short as stating that, after reviewing literature, films and Internet materials about Pedro Opeka’s humanitarian accomplishments (whatever was the case), he or she is pleased to nominate him for Nobel Peace Prize 2013, or one may write extensively about Opeka’s contributions. It is also up to nominators whether or not they wish to also include any kind of documentation. Since English is the accepted international language of communication, it is preferred, but when we asked about documentation in German, Spanish or French, the answer was that such submissions, too, could also be useful.

When we were working on  the first book in English about Pedro (Padre Pedro: Apostle of Hope, by J.M. Silveyra, 2012), we collected and when necessary translated a section on International Acclaim for Padre Pedro, hoping that it may also be useful in various efforts to secure support and also the Nobel Peace Prize for this giant of humanitarian work.

International Acclaim for Padre Pedro

“Padre Pedro, or Father Peter Opeka, is a prophet and a mason of God. A modern Moses, he taught the destitute how to unite their strengths, insights and wills to create a better world. About 17,000 of the poorest of the poor who have been rescued from slow death on the trash hills of Antananarivo, Madagascar, now live in seventeen villages and over 8,000 youngsters are being cared for and educated for a better life in schools which Pedro, their parents and benefactors have established. Over 5,000 participants, mostly children, pray, sing and dance each Sunday at Father Pedro Opeka’s Mass, celebrated in the spacious multipurpose hall.”

—Excerpts from Paris Match magazine, June, 2005

“Padre Pedro Pablo Opeka is a priest, bricklayer, soccer player, herald to the poor—of Argentinean and Slovenian origin but of Malagasy heart! He was nominated on several occasions for the Nobel Peace Prize; he was named “Knight of the National Order of Madagascar” in 1996 and was selected an officer of the “Ordre National du Merite” by France in 1998. Italy chose him “Missionary of the Jubilee Year 2000” and Kiwanis International, headquartered in the United States, presented him with the World Service Medal in 2005. These are but a few of the many honors that he has always humbly accepted in the name—and for the   benefit— of the poorest of the poor. Together with Mother Teresa, whom he deeply admires, he is one of the brightest humanitarian lights in the world, a man with a heart of gold, incredible leadership ability and perseverance, and the striking appearance of a modern Moses, with his long prophet’s beard and the large hands of a bricklayer.”

—J.M. Silveyra, author, Buenos Aires, Argentina

“In 1997, Prince Albert of Monaco (now His Royal Highness Albert II) visited Father Opeka’s Akamasoa (Community of Friends) to personally dedicate a new dispensary, a school, and a junior college which had been built with Monaco’s generous help for the children of Akamasoa, the future leaders of poverty-ravaged Madagascar. These children of trash people have become academically competitive with those from capital city’s well-to-do families!”

—Editor, “Two Messengers of Hope—Prince Albert and Father Peter,” Pourtant C’est Vrai (Nevertheless It Is True), November, 1997

    “A bricklayer’s son, Pedro began teaching the poor how to work hard, to make bricks and build family homes,and in this way strengthened in the people the consciousness of their own worth. Today, the Akamasoa boastsseventeen impressive villages. Almost every family has its own home (which it gradually pays for in smallinstallments), while working hard and following the rules democratically established by the delegates of the entire Akamasoa community. The settlements have all the necessary infrastructure: schools (which, according to the most recent report, are attended by over 9,400 children, from kindergartens to high schools and junior college), dispensaries, shops, churches and a huge multipurpose sports hall. The inhabitants of these new communities hope to become   self-sufficient and independent of foreign aid as soon as possible, while multitudes of other poor are waiting to take part in this unique journey to hope, with dignity and hard work.”

—Cardinal Franc Rode, Rome, Italy

“Within the context of the celebration of the 60th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, St. Mathews Foundation honored Pedro Opeka with the first Cardinal Van Thuan Prize, Solidarity and Development 2008, for the Akamasoa project. The award was bestowed by Pope Benedict XVI and presented in his name by Cardinal Renato Raffaele Martino, President of Pontifical Counsel on Justice and Peace, and Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, Secretary of State, in the Paul VI Audience Hall, Vatican, on December 10, 2008.”

—Pontificium Consilium de Justitia et Pace, Rome, Italy, December, 2008

“On December 16, 2008, Msgr. Alojz Uran, Archbishop of Ljubljana and Metropolitan of Slovenia, presented Pedro Opeka with the Cyril and Methodius Medal, the highest honor the Slovenian Conference of Catholic Bishops can bestow. The medal was awarded in recognition of Pedro’s exceptional accomplishments in missionary, educational, and humanitarian work among the poorest natives of Madagascar. Thanking his benefactors, Pedro spoke with deep conviction how, with God’s help and human commitment, poverty can be defeated.”

—Drago K. Ocvirk, “A Friend of Garbage People,” Misijonska Obzorja, February, 2009, Ljubljana, Slovenia

“Like Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta, Pedro has lived and worked with the poorest of the poor, bringing new hope and new life to those who had been neglected and forgotten. For this reason we are pleased to name Don Pedro one of our Inside the Vatican Top Ten people of 2010.

—Dr. Robert Moynihan, editor, Inside the Vatican, Urbi et Orbi Communications, New Hope, KY, February 2011

“Social scientists and religious, social and political leaders will greatly benefit from studying Peter Opeka’s organizational genius. They will be able to witness how he motivated the destitute and demoralized. He taught them to become self-reliant and productive members of increasingly self-governing villages, living in individual family homes (not in city blocks!). He brought once demoralized adults to the ethical level when in times of economic crises they voluntarily voted to minimize their own portions of rice so that the children would have something to eat.”

—Edward Gobetz, PhD, Professor Emeritus of Sociology, Kent State University, Kent, Ohio

“This book (Padre Pedro: Apostle of Hope, 2012) is a heartwarming, inspiring account of challenges and triumphs in Pedro Opeka’s exceptionally successful struggle to help thousands of extremely poor residents on the Island of Madagascar. We also learn about Pedro’s mother’s life in Italian refugee camps, his father’s

suffering in Teharje death camp, and his miraculous escape from death in a communist mass grave in Slovenia, and we observe young Pedro’s adventures as a shoe salesman in Harlem, a star soccer player in Paris, a hitchhiker in Morocco, Africa, and so much more. This is a thoroughly absorbing story—a classic!”

—Marie Therese Volk, PhD, JD, lawyer and former Associate Professor of Classics, University of Arizona

“I was not previously familiar with Padre Pedro. His story is amazing and inspiring.”

—Robert Ellsberg, Orbis Books, Maryknoll, NY

“I am delighted that the inspirational story of Padre Pedro, the internationally known humanitarian PeterOpeka, is now available in English and thus also to American youth who have as Peace Corps volunteers sonobly served the less fortunate in many poor countries. They will admire and be inspired by Pedro’s idealism,commitment, and contributions to human dignity and peace.”

—Breda Loncar, educator, editor of SAT, and retired principal of North High School, Eastlake, Ohio

“Father Peter Opeka is an excellent model for neighborhood organizers. I love his emphasis on individual responsibility, respect for moral values and healthy living habits, and hard work as the means for self-improvement, self-reliance, self-respect, a higher standard of living, and human dignity.”

—Peter Osenar, former CEO of Emerald Health, Inc., and former Group Executive Vice President of AmeriTrust Bank, Cleveland, Ohio

“Visiting Father Peter Opeka in Madagascar was one of the most unforgettable experiences of my life. He is one of the greatest missionaries and humanitarians of modern times who has given thousands of formerly destitute ‘trash people’ a new lease on life through work and dignity and has provided for their children a good education, daily meals, and the assurance of a better future. He created a veritable miracle of Madagascar.”

—Joze Kopeinig, Rector, Sodalitas and Editor, Dialog, Tainach-Tinje, Austria

    “Father Peter Opeka, CM, is accomplishing for Madagascar what Mother Teresa accomplished for India.”

—Dr. Anton Stres, Archbishop of Ljubljana, Slovenia

“Padre Pedro’s life, his sacrifices on behalf of the poor in poverty-ridden Madagascar, his determination that no child should ever be hungry and without education, and his leadership in the struggle for human betterment, brotherhood, and peace are a wonderful source of inspiration. Please count me a supporter of Pedro for the Nobel Peace Prize.”

—Jerry M. Linenger, MD, PhD, astronaut  and author of the best-selling memoir, Off the Planet:  Five Perilous Months Aboard Space Station Mir

Journalists, editors, publishers, filmmakers, religious and civic leaders, and benefactors who may wish to contact Padre Pedro can reach him at:

info@madagascar-america-foundation.org or akamasoa.bdf@moov.mg

or write to: Père Pedro Opeka B.P. 7010, Antananarivo  101 Madagascar

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