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Sarasota Thursday, Oct. 17, 2019 1 month ago

Sarasota teen sparks passion at world summit

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Abigail Koester was chosen as one of the youth delegates for the World Summit of Nobel Peace Laureates.
by: Whitney Elfstrom Staff Writer

Abigail Koester learned how to leave her mark for peace during the World Summit of Nobel Peace Laureates from Sept. 19-22 in Merida, Mexico.

“[To me,] leaving your mark for peace is to make small changes every day, to work towards peace in your life, in your community and toward yourself,” she said.

One of the youngest delegates, Koester, 15, mingled and learned among Nobel Peace laureates and laureate organizations from around the world as they addressed global issues, such as climate change, nuclear disarmament and community development.

Heather and Abigail Koester at the World Summit of Nobel Peace Laureates.

Accompanied by her mother, Heather Koester, she spent three days attending panel discussions and workshop sessions led by activists including Leymah Gbowee, a Liberian social activist, and Kailash Satyarthi, an Indian child-rights activist.

Koester said that watching Gbowee speak on how to find your passion was one of her favorite moments from the summit. Asked how to find one’s passion, Koester said Gbowee told the group to ask themselves: “What keeps you awake at night? What makes you angry? What brings fire to your life?”

For Koester, that passion is education and community development, which focuses on addressing areas in a food desert — where it’s difficult to buy affordable, quality food — and finding a way to ensure children are going to school with a full stomach and ready to learn.

“There are kids who come to school without food in their stomach, and how are you supposed to learn algebra 2 when you aren’t eating?” Koester asked.

The sophomore at Sarasota Military Academy is no stranger to finding little ways to improve a community. She began volunteering with her mother at 5 years old by stuffing envelopes with the Junior League of Sarasota.

Koester has spent most of her life volunteering for organizations, such as All Faiths Food Bank, Safe Space and Rape Crisis Center, Cat Depot, Rise Against Hunger and American Cancer Society.

She has been involved since eighth grade with Peace Jam Foundation, an international organization that focuses on creating young leaders who look to Nobel Peace laureates for inspiration to create positive change.

It was because of Koester’s consistent volunteer work that she was nominated to the summit. She was chosen as one of the 1,000 youth delegates.

But upon her acceptance, the head of the Summit reached out to Koester to make sure there hadn’t been a mistake. The age group for youth delegates was from 18-30, but she is 15.

After two letters of recommendation were sent to assure the board that she was of the correct level of maturity to handle sensitive topics, such as child slavery and human trafficking, Koester and her mother headed to the Yucatan peninsula.

While at the summit, Koester connected with the laureates and met young people from around the world.

“If we were in this 20-40 person cohort with the laureate, [people] were listening to the youth speak in the dialogue,” Heather Koester said. “When people walked out [of the session], they were chasing down the youth, and not necessarily the Nobel Peace laureates because they wanted to know more [from the youth].”

One youth Koester was inspired by was Greta Thunberg, the 16-year-old climate change activist who was a Billion Acts of Peace awardee. Although Thunberg was unable to attend the summit due to leading the Climate Strike on Sept. 20 in New York, the summit held its own rally.

“[It teaches teenagers that] if you have a passion about something, and you are able to take action, that’s really what you need to do,” Koester said. “You can be passionate about something, and you can stay awake all night, but you have to take action.”

Koester met fellow delegates from Harvard who invited her to tour the campus and made friends from Norway, where she hopes to study abroad in the spring, who offered to help Koester find an internship in Oslo.

“Everyone [was] just excited and supportive, and maybe I have something that you don’t, and I can help make that connection for you, and we can all get there together,” Koester said.

I’m the Sarasota community reporter, which means I cover the people, places and things of Sarasota. I graduated from the University of South Florida St. Petersburg with a degree in journalism and digital communication and a minor in English. 

See All Articles by Whitney

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