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Inspiration for Local Project Flows from Meeting with Four Nobel Peace Laureates

May 05, 2015

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CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas –An opportunity to meet internationally-acclaimed peace activists in the Netherlands is translating into a mentorship program for young, Hispanic women in South Texas.

Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi student Maritza Hernandez recently returned from a conference, “Defending the Defenders” in the Netherlands, with the University’s Director of Public Affairs and Communications Seema Mathur-Hopkins.  The conference was hosted by the Nobel Women’s Initiative and attended by more than 100 women human rights activists from around the globe. Mathur-Hopkins was invited to screen her documentary, “Camp 72,” at the conference (www.camp72.com).

“I knew taking a student to meet front-line human rights defenders and the Nobel Peace Laureates would be life-changing,” Mathur-Hopkins said.

Hernandez, a student in the College of Liberal Arts’ Women and Gender Studies Program, agreed.

“The Nobel Peace Prize women were extraordinary in every way,” Hernandez said. “They are all so down-to-earth, but strong and confident all at the same time. I learned that it is not okay to just sit back and let the world pass you by without standing up for what you believe in and trying to change the world into a better place.”

At the conference, Hernandez met:

  • Jody Williams, a 1997 recipient for her work to ban landmines through the International Campaign to Ban Landmines.
  • Mairead Maguire, a 1976 recipient for her extraordinary actions to end the sectarian violence in her native Northern Ireland.
  • Shirin Ebadi, a 2003 recipient and the first Muslim woman recipient for her efforts to promote human rights, in particular, the rights of women, children, and political prisoners in Iran.
  • Leymah Gbowee, a 2011 recipient, who led a mass women’s peace movement which influenced an end to 14 years of conflict in Liberia.

Hernandez said meeting these women and hearing from others at the conference cemented the significance of her role in helping others.

“I always thought that being a minority and female in this country, I had less of an opportunity to achieve my goals and be successful,” she said. “This conference made me realize that with hard work and dedication, it doesn’t matter where you are from, what you look like, or what language you speak in order to make a difference in this world.”

Hernandez is now developing a project to elevate young women in South Texas.

“I believe that young women in South Texas are in need of being mentored in order to understand how important it is to receive a higher education,” she said.  “It is my goal to help out young Hispanic women on how to get better access on all the steps needed to go to college.”

The College of Liberal Arts nominated several students who went through an interview process before selecting Hernandez.