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Kids for Peace co-founder Jill McManigal, front, shares a moment with students in Pakistan during a visit there. The non-profit is planning to build a school in the country within the next year. Courtesy photo
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Carlsbad nonprofit celebrating a decade of pushing for peace

CARLSBAD — Not many international nonprofits are run by a staff of two out of a dining room for its headquarters.

Co-founders of the Carlsbad-based Kids for Peace and Jill McManigal, 52, and Danielle Gram do just that as they push their goal of creating a safer, more caring and kinder world for kids.

In the midst of its 10th anniversary, Kids for Peace has spread throughout the world with chapters in nearly 40 countries and a total reach of 64 countries and all 50 states.

“The motivation is to create a world of peace and where kids can be safe and happy,” according to McManigal.

The organization’s start came 10 years ago when McManigal and Gram, then a student at Carlsbad High School, stuck up a conversation about peace and helping kids. McManigal’s daughter, Hannah, was the first child enrolled in the program and it has since exploded into reaching millions worldwide.

Their first gathering, however, consisted of several kids and McMangial and Gram asked what the children wanted the world to look like. From there, the Peace Pledge was born.

Soon, chapters popped up in Cardiff-by-the-Sea, Oceanside, Del Mar and so on.

“It guides everything we do,” McMangial said of the Peace Pledge. “We found there were so many kids who were just drawn to dedicate their lives to make the world better.”

Currently, Kids for Peace has 145 active chapters, although it has launched 450 chapters. Each January, the organization holds its annual Great Kindness Challenge and the Peace Day Challenge, which has reached 122 countries on six continents, although McManigal is trying to get established on Antarctica.

Another lofty goal for group is to be in every school in the U.S. by 2020.

“From our Carlsbad roots … we are inspiring kids to take action,” McManigal said. “Anybody who knows anyone doing research on Antarctica, we’d like to be a part of that.”

Of course, with the good comes the bad and Kids for Peace operates in places in the world suffering from war, oppression and political instability.

After building a school in Kenya this year, the group has its sights set on a new school in Pakistan, although they are in the process of raising $150,000 needed for the project. She said it is likely an armed guard will be stationed at the school, especially since areas of the country are violent toward education, especially girls in schools.

“All of the chapters, know matter where they are, they are putting those words into action and really unifies what we do,” McMangial said of the Peace Pledge. “Our school will definitely be gated. I haven’t worked out all those details with them yet.”

Kids for Peace also features its “Peace Hero,” which honors someone making a difference. The ceremony is run by the kids and has selected individuals such as businessman Stedman Graham, actors Susan Sarandon and Frances Fisher, comedian Ellen DeGeneres, musician Ben Harper, anthropologist Dr. Jane Goodall, filmmaker Morgan Spurlock and athletes Rob Machado and Tony Hawk.

“The kids do the ceremony and do all the talking about why the person was chosen,” McManigal explained.

Since Kids for Peace is international, it only makes sense McManigal’s only staffer hails from abroad.

Asia Moore, 33, emigrated from Poland to the U.S., but not before several stops in Europe including England. She stumbled upon Kids for Peace after her move to the states and McManigal realized she found a star and a critical piece to overseeing operations of the nonprofit.

“I knew I wanted to do something I was more passionate about,” Moore said. “They do this amazing global outreach. I always felt like I was a global citizen. When I read about Kids for Peace, I though this was perfect.”

The group relies on more than 25,000 volunteers worldwide to spread the message in schools, after-school programs and local groups.

One of those is Massa Aboujeib, a 36-year-old fellowship recipient from Syria.

Aboujeib, a native of France who moved to Syria when she was a teenager, earned a scholarship for art therapy. One condition was she must work for a non-profit, which she has been doing the past two months.

“I wanted to work more with children and have a practical experience with art therapy,” Aboujeib explained. “Maybe I will be taking this program to Syria and I can host Jill, or maybe start a chapter.”

She found Kids for Peace and was awarded the fellowship, which runs for four months. Aboujeib plans on returning to Syria and her home in Damascus amid a country and kids lost in years of civil war plus ISIS terrorists attempting to carve out its own country within Syria and Iraq’s borders.

One of her goals is to create books for kids with her sister, although she said the challenge is filled with obstacles. Nevertheless, Aboujeib takes pride in her Syrian heritage and aims to help heal the country, especially kids ravaged by war.

“Because I want to implement peace projects through the arts, that’s why I choose Kids for Peace,” she added. “Jill had very encouraging words for me to work for Kids for Peace.”