Sunday, May 4, 2008

Batavia woman makes world more peaceful, one garden at a time

Mark Hare, Rochester Democrat and Chronicle
You never know when you plant a seed (or in this case, a tulip bulb), just what might grow.

Paula Savage lives in Batavia and works as director of tourism sales for Visit Rochester (formerly the Greater Rochester Visitors Association). Eighteen years ago, when she was living in Washington, D.C., and working to promote a higher profile (and more visitors) for the Canadian capital city of Ottawa, she had an idea. "I thought, 'Wouldn't it be a great idea if Ottawa gave some tulip bulbs to Washington for a peace garden?'"
Ottawa has been known for its tulips since its support for the exiled Dutch royal family during World War II. Queen Juliana gave birth to Princess Margriet in an Ottawa hospital, and after the war, Queen Juliana began to send thousands of bulbs to the Canadian city as a gesture of thanks.

"The Park Service loved the idea," she says, "and they drove me all around looking for sites." They settled on a spot near the Washington Monument and planted 4,000 bulbs, donated by the city of Ottawa.
That's when Savage decided on the next step, with a little encouragement from people she knew with connections to the Polish embassy.

"'Why stop it here?' I thought. 'Maybe we can do something to recognize other counties for peace efforts.'" The idea was an annual garden, designated for a new country each year by the previous winner. The United States selected Poland, which had just formed its own democracy. A year later, the second peace garden opened at Warsaw's Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

There have been 18 countries recognized so far with gardens. The 19th will be in Kiev, Ukraine, later this year.

Savage is the founder and CEO of the International Peace Garden Foundation, which has never sought nor received substantial grants. The initial expenses all came out of Savage's pocket, and she travels to each garden dedication ceremony at her own expense. Ottawa continues to donate tulip bulbs each year.
But small doesn't mean ineffective. In 1992, on a business trip to Las Vegas, Savage was in a hotel lounge and struck up a conversation with the piano player, Tommy Deering. They talked about the tulip gardens, and "he said he'd create a symphony for the foundation. I didn't think too much about it, but two weeks later a tape came in the mail."

Deering said the foundation would be free to use the music any way it saw fit, but in exchange, he wanted the foundation to establish a scholarship fund for undergraduates in the arts.
He said his family had been too poor to send him to college, so he would like to help young people get the chance he never did.

Savage raised a small amount of money and held a competition in Washington, which was won by Henry Velasco, a 14-year-old Filipino-American piano player. His life's goal, he said, was to play at Carnegie Hall.
A short time later, Savage was in New York City, and she just walked into Carnegie Hall to "see if I could talk to someone." Four months later, Velasco performed at the famed theater, along with Deering.

Over time, the scholarship, still tiny, has evolved. The year the garden went to South Africa, she says, they used scholarship funds to create a Beads for Peace program to help poor women use resources readily available to them to make and sell jewelry to boost their standard of living. (Savage also makes her own line of jewelry and uses the proceeds for the foundation.)

"Ultimately," she says, "I'd like to hold a cultural Olympics — music, art, dance — for people from all the Peace Garden countries."

That will take time, but Paula Savage is sure it will happen. "The real message," she says, "is that you can change the world." Get a plan and get on with it.

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