There's an old Irish prayer that asks for the serenity to accept what can't be changed, the courage to change what can be changed, and the wisdom to know the difference.

Sometimes it's hard to know the difference, because a problem shifts from "can't be" to "can be" changed.Slowly, through the determination of a few passionate people, we learn new facts and hear new attitudes. Then, rather suddenly, a critical mass of opinion forms, and the thing we used to think we had to accept has become unacceptable.

For example, we have seen magazine ads for years telling the plight of starving children, but we were overwhelmed by the size of the problem and turned the page. That sense of helplessness may be changing.

You can be a part of the change.

On Sept. 29-30 the largest international gathering of heads of state ever to meet for a single issue will assemble in New York City for a World Summit for Children. President Bush is expected to be there.

The summit is to set goals that will put the welfare of children on the world's front burner. The possibilities are:

- Cut by half the number of children who die of preventable causes. That figure is now 40,000 per day worldwide.

- Ban recruiting children as soldiers. It happens in some underdeveloped countries.

On the Sunday before the summit, Sept. 23, candlelight vigils will be held all over the world. As of mid-August, 550 had been planned, 368 in the United States. The first purpose of the vigils is to heighten the awareness of ordinary people and let their political leaders know that the death of children is unacceptable. The second purpose is to learn what can be done in their own communities.

Why should we think it will do any good? Peter Ricket, U.S. vigil coordinator, says, "UNICEF noticed that when governments commit themselves to a specific goal extraordinary things happen. A commitment was made to end smallpox worldwide in 10 years. It was done in nine. Smallpox is gone. It now exists only in test tubes.

"It's not only that we have the technology; channels can be created for using it," he says. "In Colombia, they have trained 700,000 high school students to deliver vaccines to villages.

Chip Taylor, the vigil coordinator in New River, Va., says, "We must break through the misconception that we can't do anything, and that the problem is all overseas. There's a lot we can do at home."

Taylor admits to a sense of challenge: "I want, personally, to see how much of an impact I can make."

Amy Kellum, Durham, N.C., vigil coordinator, says, "Right now, the legal attitude toward children is that basically they don't have rights. They're at the bottom of the heap. We want President Bush to take children seriously, to be a leader."

Ricket, Kellum and Taylor are telling us that the death of children is no longer a problem we must accept because we can't change it. We can. We simply must find the courage. One place to start is with the candlelight vigils.

For further information call (202) 546-1900 to find the one nearest you.