In 2009, I was sitting on a bench in a migrant shelter in Mexico talking with a Honduran transgender woman. She reflected on her migration prospects, her doubts, fears and hopes. As the conversation progressed, I felt how I shared her own uncertainties, worries and fears, that deep down we had the same questions about how to move forward in our lives regardless of our nationality. We were just two women talking about our longings.
From that moment on, every conversation with migrant women has become a space to share, to grow, to find possible answers to our own uncertainties, finding empathy simply for being women.
I grew to understand that attentive listening is a powerful tool for understanding our needs and those of others. It is a starting point to help others to help themselves. If I listen, I can better understand how to help others. If I listen, I can act to promote and ensure inclusion. And, if I include, I am choosing to build peace through my actions.
“The only thing we want is to be included, I would not be here (in Mexico) if it were not for the fact that in my country I can no longer live […] we come to work, we want a place to live in peace.” As an advocate for the human rights of migrants and refugees, I have heard this phrase in all its forms. What would happen if we sat at the table to listen to each other and leave our nationalities at the door? What would happen if we took steps towards social inclusion without fear? Fear of the other is probably what paralyzes peace actions.
But how do we work on social inclusion in xenophobic, racist, and exclusionary host communities? Years later, life gave me the opportunity to work on this issue. Collaborative work between civil society, local governments, host communities and migrants, especially in Mexico City, resulted in the advancement of the Interculturality Law. Social programs and cultural actions focused on including and supporting migrants and refugees to access some of their rights. But this has not been enough as they continue to struggle every day to be recognized, to be included. The lack of a public policy focused on social inclusion is a debt we hold with migrants and refugees in Mexico.
Dreaming of working in the construction of social inclusion actions has led me to live one of the best experiences of my life – being a Rotary Peace Fellow with the Rotary Peace Center at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok, Thailand. Class 33 has been a gift of listening, understanding other contexts, listening to other accents, cultural encounters, learning about peace-building tools, and knowing that there are people working to make communities more just and supportive. This space gives me hope that building societies of solidarity is possible.
Irazú Gómez – México
Rotary Peace Fellow – Class 33Read More
Although I have been engaged in issues around peace and social justice since the ‘90s when I worked with refugees in the community where I lived (Hamburg, Germany), my peacebuilding journey started in 2007. At this time, I started work as a field volunteer for a civilian peacekeeping mission with Peace Brigades International (PBI) in the region of Urabá, Colombia (South America) within the framework of the German Civil Peace Service. Urabá was still an extremely dangerous region and communities suffered from severe, decades-long conflict dynamics. I, too, had encounters with illegal armed groups in the jungle, witnessed a murder of a social leader in the countryside, and so-called social cleansings in the city of Turbo (killings of adolescents who did not fit in).
These extremely painful experiences showed me how vulnerable individuals and communities are during armed conflict and war, in circumstances where the rule of law does not function anymore. In Colombia, serious violations of human rights and infractions of international humanitarian law have involved physical, moral, social, cultural, and psychological damage and impact not only the dignity of the direct victim but also that of their relatives and close circle at a personal and group level. Additionally, their rights, the social fabric of their communities, and their social networks are affected by the situation.
During my first three years in Colombia, what impacted me the most was the fate of the victims of the armed conflict and the lack of justice. I always asked myself “what does this country need to stop this terrible conflict?” and “what needs to be done specifically to bring justice and reconcile the country after a possible peace deal?”
I came across two key concepts within the peacebuilding field, which are transitional justice and reconciliation, and started to study for an MA in Peace and Reconciliation Studies at Coventry University (UK). This inspired me to look for practical tools to work with victims of any kind of violence and that included a different approach toward justice. A move to La Paz (Bolivia) in 2016 and a new job were the deciding factors because here I started to search for tools, that stem from ancient cultures that I could use in my work with indigenous families and communities that suffered from domestic, sexual, and social violence. Thus, I found restorative practices especially useful – almost “magic” – tools that can prevent and mitigate episodes of violence and that have the potential to foster healing in the affected families and communities. The experiences gave way to the writing of a handbook, which uses a restorative approach for conflict transformation and violence prevention in educational communities.
To this day I feel touched by the power of restorative practices for the restoration of relationships, the reparation of harm, and the healing of emotional wounds. Unfortunately, most post-conflict activities do not focus on community peacebuilding. However, I am convinced that individuals, communities, and societies need to heal from conflict and war in order to break the cycle of violence and revenge so that respect, empathy, and cooperation can come to the fore again. Restorative measures at the community level can be extremely helpful in the moments when we search for healing and reconciliation.
Andreas Riemann – Germany/Bolivia/Colombia
Rotary Peace Fellow – Class 33Read More
“The challenge of leadership is to be strong, but not rude;
To be kind, but not weak; to be bold, but not a bully;
To be thoughtful, but not lazy; to be humble, but not timid;
To be proud, but not arrogant; to have humor, but without folly.”
– Jim Rohn
One of my favorite memories from when I was seven years old was settling a dispute between a husband and wife. After the incident, my mother called me a peacemaker! But, I desired to become an exceptional medical doctor to help my mother with her orthopedic work. As a child my unique talents and abilities were dancing, creative arts, problem-solving, and writing.
Fortunately, in 2007, I gained admission into the University of Calabar as a medical laboratory scientist. While in college the passion to become a professional peacemaker ignited. I needed to express my values to lead and inspire, so I began planning step-by-step how I would achieve my vision. College was a platform where I honed my analytical skills and met with godly friends whom I shared a similar vision. What vision does is to keep commitment alive. Yet, I believe to get the best out of life, you have to set a goal, create a strategy and action plan, and go for it.
In 2012, Peace Mindset Ambassadors was founded to nurture peace and promote harmony between individuals or groups of people. In my pursuit of peace and leadership, I took online related courses on personal growth and organizational development from the Peace Operations Training Institute (POTI) based in Williamsburg, Virginia, USA. I believe that education is a vital means for promoting peace and nonviolence.
Then, in 2013, I had the opportunity to speak with Terra Winston from the Christian Peacemakers Team. She introduced me to Mark Frey, and Mark then introduce me to Matt Guynn from On Earth Peace. Matt offered me training on Kingian Nonviolence Principles through which I met Samuel Sarpiya (my coach) and William Hammond (our international adviser). This growing network provided me with new experiences and knowledge; essentially demonstrating the important power and inspiration of networking!
In 2016, I applied for and was selected to participate in the Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) with the West Africa Regional Leadership Centre based in Accra, Ghana. The program engaged diverse people from different cultures, religions, and backgrounds. In early 2017, Pastor Akomaye Ugar served as a YALI mentor. He helped me navigate change and the unknowns of life. Everyone needs a mentor who understands the beauty of unity in diversity! This experience helped me to learn, unlearn, and relearn new approaches to peacebuilding and leadership. Diverse experiences and perspectives, such as these, are especially powerful when engaging in discussions and interactions. Furthermore, I learned that international development and engagements and requires multiple skills.
In 2018, our organization experienced human resources, financial, organizational system, and registration challenges, all of which are experienced by most organizations. You know what? “Every level of an organization depends on leadership from someone.” John Maxwell. Truly, from this experience I learned that leadership in an ever-changing world can be like an onion! An onion contains chemical substances which can irritate the eyes. Similarly, as onion irritates the eyes, so do bad influences, leadership, and character. These experiences can inspire anger among staff and at some point make them cry. I learned that everyone can be influencers! Everyone has influence! He who influences your mind influences your world.
In 2019, we created a formidable team for the youth movement because we learned that leadership is about people and we get things done through people. Teamwork makes it work! It’s important to know how to motivate people into action, understand how people think, and design and progressively understand the leadership culture of an organization. Consistency, commitment, and passion engages people more in the impact of the organization.
We live in an age of unprecedented opportunity, but opportunity comes with responsibilities. “Knowing exactly what you want makes it much easier to find the right opportunity” Talane Miedamer. The opportunity you maximize has the power to fast-track your journey in life and every success can be traced to a well utilized opportunity. In 2020 – 2021, I was selected as the country Ambassador for the World Literacy Foundation and served as a resource speaker at Baba Ghulam Shah Badshah University, Rajouri. I also had the opportunity to attend World Bank trainings. More recently, I started my journey as a Rotary Peace Fellow at Chulalongkorn where I am deepening my understanding of peacebuilding, leadership, international law, etc. One of the unforgettable experiences I have had as a Peace Fellow, so far, is the solidarity expressed among the participants and facilitators. Peacemaking is what I do effortlessly without struggle. It is something that gleefully makes me jump out of bed in the morning or stay awake at night. My leadership journey is a story of self-awareness, self-discovery, friendship, mentoring, challenges, opportunities, partnerships, teamwork, cultural varieties, and achievement.
Samuel Edet – Nigeria
Rotary Peace Fellow – Class 33Read More