Aldine ISD students hear from Nobel Peace Prize winner Lech Walesa

Nine Eisenhower Sr. High School students received the opportunity to meet and listen to Lech Walesa at a recent dinner and lecture event hosted by the Houston World Affairs Council at the Junior League of Houston.

Walesa came into the spotlight in 1980 during the infamous Lenin Shipyard strike in Gdansk, Poland. The workers, incensed by an increase in prices set by the Communist government, were demanding the right to organize free and independent trade unions.

With his electrifying personality, quick wit and gift of gab, he was soon leading the Solidarity movement that was also perceived as a social revolution. Walesa entered into negotiations with the government, convincing it to grant legal recognition to Solidarity and the striking workers and the right to form independent unions. This became the Gdansk Agreement that Walesa signed on Aug. 31, 1980. According to Timothy Garton Ash, author of The Polish Revolution: Solidarity, without Walesa, the occupation strike in the Lenin Shipyard might never have taken off.

“Without him, Solidarity might never have been born. Without him, it might not have survived martial law and come back triumphantly to negotiate the transition from communism to democracy. And without the Polish icebreaking Eastern Europe might still be frozen in a Soviet sphere of influence, and the world would be a very different place… his legacy is a huge gain in freedom, not just for the Poles. His services were, as an old Polish slogan has it, for our freedom and yours,”’ wrote Ash.

He received much recognition. Walesa was celebrated worldwide as a symbol of the hope of freedom and won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1983. Walesa became the first democratically elected president in Poland in 1990. Through his unwavering commitment, he made his country a model of economic and political reform for the rest of Eastern Europe, earning Poland the honor of receiving one of the first invitations to join an expanded NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization). No longer president, he now heads the Lech Walesa Institute whose aim is to advance the ideals of democracy and free market reform throughout Eastern Europe and the rest of the world.

The Houston Annenberg Challenge made it possible for the Eisenhower students, teachers Michaelann Kelly. Debbie Brown, Janice Matheson, and Ron Venable; and Deborah Roberson, the district’s program director of secondary social studies, to attend the event. Eisenhower Sr. High School has an International Studies Academy, a professional development academy, which is funded by the Houston Annenberg Challenge Grant. Teachers who are members of the academy recommended the students. The academy has been collaborating with the Houston World Affairs Council for three years. The council is an educational outreach program that provides students with an open forum to promote America’s understanding of the world to enhance their ability to participate more effectively in the global community. The council offers students access to senior government officials, policy makers, distinguished authorities and noted commentators.

The Eisenhower students had a chance to speak with Walesa prior to the dinner and lecture. Their questions ranged from primary source questions regarding Solidarity for their history fair projects to current issues in Poland such as the reelection of a communist president.

According to Ron Venable, a teacher at Eisenhower Sr. and member of the school’s International Studies Academy, Walesa’s speech entitled “Democracy: The Never-ending Battle” was dynamic.

“Walesa was very charismatic and very personable,” said Venable.

Eisenhower Sr. High School students who attended the event were Warren Hough, Saima Malik, Jessica Crowi Somala Muhmmed, Rim Mohamed, Brandon Svater, Ben Pham, Elaine Cheng, and Heidi Carias.