Fourteen-year-old Mustafa Tahoukji of Beirut, Lebanon, is just as old as the continuing strife in his native land. Last year the young artist painted his vision of the peace he has never known: a white dove soaring through shades of blue above burgeoning red roses. The painting was Mustafa's entry in the first Lions Clubs International peace poster contest, in which more than 100,000 children from 49 countries illustrated the theme "Peace Will Help Us Grow."
The world's largest service organization sponsored the contest to give young people between the ages of 10 and 14 an opportunity to think about what world peace means to them. To reach the finals, entrants' posters had to survive four levels of competition: schoolwide, regional, national and international. The work of the 24 finalists was displayed in the Junior Museum of the Art Institute of Chicago, and in February 1989 six judges - three from the United States and one each from Australia, Japan and the Soviet Union - selected Mustafa's dove and rose as the winner of the grand prize.
"It just came as a stunner when we found out that the winning design happened to come from a child who has witnessed the nightmarish reality of war," said Charles Stuckey, curator of 20th-century painting and sculpture at the Chicago institute.
Last March, Mustafa left Lebanon for the first time in his life to fly with his mother and a sister to New York to attend a special awards ceremony at the United Nations. He accepted the commemorative plaque and a $500 cash prize with a shy smile and considerable poise. "I love peace," he said. "I wanted to see how much of its message I could put into painting. The wake that the dove leaves behind as it flies is an expression of freedom."
Doreen Kays, of World Monitor Television news, reported the event: "What the TV cameras rarely show of Lebanon are the pockets of peace that continue to nurture the hopes and dreams of a 14-year-old like Mustafa Tahoukji, part of a war-torn generation determined not to be a lost generation." And Alfred Shehab, chairman of the National Association of Arab Americans, editorialized in his organization's magazine Voice, "We must strive to make Mustafa's vision of the dove of peace more than a symbol."
The international children's poster contest will continue; its 1989-1990 theme is "Picture a Peaceful World." Next March another young winner and his or her family members will receive a trip to New York, plus an increased award of $1,500, at the second United Nations ceremony. As the services organization president, Austin Jennings, said this year, "Though some of the posters may be the work of children who have never known peace, yet their vision of it may some day make a difference."
William Tracy is a frequent contributor to Aramco World.