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Government Opposes His Trip to Lebanon : Founder of Children’s Peace Effort Prepares to Do Battle

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United Press International

Once Vincent Lavery makes up his mind to do something, he usually carries through--no matter what obstacles might stand in his way.

The substitute schoolteacher with a distinctive Irish brogue is preparing to do battle with the U.S. government to get his way.

Despite the fact that he faces a formidable opponent, Lavery isn’t particularly worried. He has already beaten the odds more than once.

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One of his brainchildren is the Children’s Committee 10, a national organization of volunteer families he created in 1981 to provide free summer vacations in the United States for children from war-torn Northern Ireland.

Respite From War

The idea is to give Irish children a brief respite from the civil war that has ravaged their country since long before they were born and to give them a chance to overcome the religious prejudice that sparks it.

Under the program, two youngsters--one Catholic, the other a Protestant--are paired and spend six weeks during the summer living with a family in the United States, often becoming fast friends despite their religious differences.

The idea worked so well that it was the subject of a 1984 made-for-television movie, “Children in the Crossfire.”

“Being a native of Ireland, I am convinced the only way to end the religious war in that country is through the children,” Lavery said when he organized the peace effort six years ago.

A Chance for Peace

“If we can show the children of Ireland who are that nation’s future leaders that they can become friends with people from the other religion, there is a chance for eventual peace.”

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Last year Lavery expanded the program to include Muslim and Christian youngsters from Lebanon. That’s where his battle with the government comes in.

As he has done since 1981 with the Irish children who participate in the program, Lavery was planning to go to Beirut in mid-April for a reunion with the 16 youngsters from that country who spent last summer in the United States.

Recently, however, the Reagan Administration announced a ban on most travel to Beirut by Americans because the hostage-taking by terrorists created a “chaotic” situation.

Lavery said the ban by the government was a setback, but he still hopes to attend the reunion.

Exemptions Available

“There are exemptions for family members of hostages, journalists and humanitarian workers who obtain special permits,” Lavery said. “I hope to get one of the permits for humanitarian purposes.”

Lavery said a lot more is at stake than just the 16 Lebanese youngsters and their families.

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“I was also going to meet with Lebanese officials of the Children’s Committee to plan a visit by more Lebanese youngsters this summer,” he said.

Lavery said five families in the United States have already pledged to take one Muslim and one Christian youngster into their homes for a six-week stay this summer and he expects more to volunteer before the time comes.

“My personal feelings are that just because terrorists are denying people their freedom by taking them hostage, that democratic governments such as ours should not deny their citizens the opportunity to travel to help promote reconciliation,” Lavery said.

“I want to go and I need to go if we are to continue the program for the Lebanese children this summer,” he said. “I will make an application for a humanitarian permit to go to Lebanon and I fully expect it to be granted.”

Knowing the tenacity Lavery demonstrated in putting together the Children’s Committee 10 and making it work for the past six years in the face of innumerable obstacles, don’t bet against his attending that reunion in Beirut April 15.

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