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There is much work still to be done: Mikhail Gorbachev, keynote speaker for We Day

I have been asked by the Winnipeg Free Press to serve as guest editor of the issue you hold in your hands. I agreed, because I am visiting your city for the first time this week for an important event.

Today, I will address 18,000 young people at We Day Manitoba at the MTS Centre. Craig and Marc Kielburger and Free the Children have gathered together the future leaders of tomorrow. I spoke to similar gatherings in other cities last year, and I really enjoyed it. Facing such a determined, motivated audience always fills me with hope.

Mikhail Gorbachev (second from right), with Craig Kielburger, is introduced to (from left) Art DeFehr, Leo Ledohowski and Greg Selinger on Monday.

JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Mikhail Gorbachev (second from right), with Craig Kielburger, is introduced to (from left) Art DeFehr, Leo Ledohowski and Greg Selinger on Monday. Photo Store

When I think of the many reasons why we must continue to work for a better world, I think first of my great-granddaughter, Alexandra. At just four years old, she has her entire life ahead of her. Will she live in a world that is safe, just and humane?

When I became leader of the Soviet Union in 1985, I inherited command over tens of thousands of nuclear warheads. The United States had a similar number. Together, we had enough blast power to destroy life on Earth.

I recall vividly meeting U.S. President Ronald Reagan in Geneva in 1985, where we declared that "a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought." In Reykjavik a year later, we agreed on the need to eliminate nuclear weapons. Working together with leaders of other countries, we put an end to the Cold War.

However, in 2012, there are many reasons for concern: Old threats to peace are persisting and new ones are emerging. The challenges of security, poverty and backwardness, and the global environmental crisis are as great as ever.

I would like to outline issues that I believe are important to the citizens of Winnipeg and the world, and worthy of examination in today's edition of the Free Press.

I believe that saving the environment must be our top priority today. In 1993, I founded Green Cross International, an organization whose main aim is to raise awareness of environmental issues and mobilize civil society for positive action. We need a dramatic change in our politics and our attitudes.

Access to clean water is an environmental, social and health issue. As many as 800 million people have no access to safe drinking water, and 2.5 billion also lack basic sanitation services. A child dies every 20 seconds from water-related illness.

I understand access to clean water is also a problem in parts of Manitoba that particularly afflicts your aboriginal populations. This year, Free the Children is working with young people to try to bring clean water to many parts of the world.

A project that is of particular importance to me is the Raisa Gorbachev Foundation, which I founded after the death of my beloved wife from leukemia in 1999. Its goal is to control cancer and leukemia among children, a growing problem throughout the world. We need to help those who suffer and to better understand why the youngest among us are increasingly being stricken.

Finally, I support new ways to empower young people, including the efforts of Free the Children. I urge young people to question leaders about what they are doing to address the main challenges that face the world today:

-- What are you doing for the abolition of nuclear arms and for reduction of military spending?

-- What are you doing to bridge the divide between wealth and poverty?

-- What are doing to save our planet from environmental disaster?

I would like to thank Free Press publisher Bob Cox and editor Paul Samyn, as well as the newspaper's editorial board. I would also like to thank the co-chairmen of We Day, Hartley Richardson, Bob Silver and Mark Chipman.

Some people ask me why, at age 81, I'm still working for global peace. I believe it's possible to build a better world for Alexandra and children like her around the globe. We can do it together.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 30, 2012 A3

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