LEGENDARY peace champion Terry Waite has told young first-time volunteers at Llangollen International Musical Eisteddfod that they are helping to promote international understanding and hope for the future.
Sixth-formers from Ysgol Dinas Bran in Llangollen are among over 50 youngsters from three schools in the region, including Ysgol Morgan Llwyd in Wrexham and Ysgol Glan Clwyd in Rhyl, who have given up their time to work as unpaid welcome hosts at the festival, greeting visitors from across the globe.
At an induction gathering in St John’s Church, opposite the field, they were addressed by Eisteddfod President Terry Waite who told them about his own experience in the late 1980s of spending almost five years of hell as a hostage of a radical Shi’a Muslim group in war-torn Beirut.
And he explained how their stint as volunteers was helping to achieve peace and harmony in a world still riven by terrorism.
Terry said: “As an international peace envoy I have been in trouble-spots around the world, including Uganda, Vietnam, South Africa and Libya, where I negotiated with Colonel Gadaffi.
“I have seen many situations of conflict and I spent years in solitary confinement in a dungeon in Beirut, often chained to a radiator in a room without companionship or books.
“These days I know that young people in different parts of the world have grievances about things and can be taken in by a charismatic leader who might persuade them to become involved in terrorist atrocities.
“The question is what can be done to prevent these terrible problems.
“The eisteddfod at Llangollen was founded after the Second World War with the idea of the local community using what gifts they had to bring together people from different backgrounds and nationalities through the language of music and to promote new relationships.”
He told the volunteers: “By coming along to work here this week you are helping people to form these relationships and promote international understanding.
“Peace begins here at the Llangollen Eisteddfod and is not just something that happens overseas.
“You are part of a massive movement promoting peace through music, which has the capacity to bring harmony across the world.
“People go away from the eisteddfod with new understanding and hope for the future.”
Ian Lebbon, chairman of the eisteddfod’s marketing committee, said the latest intake of volunteers are assisting with a range of duties such as welcoming and providing visitors with information about the festival and are also taking a turn at helping out on all the outside stages around the field.
He said: “We believe it’s a good way of integrating young people into the eisteddfod and to give them the opportunity to meet and work with people from other nations.
“The eisteddfod has always believed very much in youth and volunteering and this fits in with that policy.
“The majority of the young people have never volunteered before and spending a week with us at the eisteddfod should prove a fantastic experience for them and we’re very glad to have them.”
One of the new eisteddfod volunteers is 16-year-old Niamh Ferron, a sixth former from Ysgol Dinas Bran in Llangollen.
Niamh, who lives in Ruabon, said: “Volunteering at the eisteddfod is really something different.
“I’ve not done anything like this before and I’m really looking forward to meeting people from across the world and being able to provide them with information about the festival.”
Terry Waite, 74, was serving as special international peace envoy to the Archbishop of Canterbury when in 1987 he journeyed to Lebanon – then one of the world’s most dangerous places – in a bid to secure the release of four hostages, including the journalist John McCarthy, being held by an Islamic jihad organisation.
During the tense negotiations he was himself taken hostage on January 20, which was the start of his journey into the hell of four years of captivity in a Beirut dungeon.
For most of the time Terry was kept in solitary confinement in a room without any natural light, chained to the wall and forced to sleep on the floor.
In the final stage of his captivity, his robust health finally gave way when he contracted a severe lung infection.
His torment eventually ended in November 1991 after 1,763 days as a hostage.