With whom will you make peace today?

But especially, on 21st September?

The 21st September is the International Peace Day, established in 1981 by the United Nations resolution to commemorate and strengthen the ideals of peace both within and among all nations and peoples.

Youth Peace Ambassadors Network, as young peacebuilders and human rights activists, strives for building a culture of peace– through local activities, international projects, and every day conversations.

But how so? We believe that we can inspire others (and each others!) and also get inspired by you with the actions of the committed and passionate young peacebuilders around the world.

To do so, for the International Peace Day 2017 we celebrate it by launching a project “Peacebuilders Stories” — collection of stories by young peacebuilders that may serve as an inspiration to develop culture of peace.

Through interviews, we will share some insights of the life and actions of the young people working for peace, their inspirations and motivations.


PEACEBUILDERS STORIES

Let`s meet Karen (based in Greece), Nienke (based in the Netherlands) and Emil (based in Bosnia and Herzegovina) and read their peacebuilders` stories.

KAREN PONG

Karen Pong is an educator in human rights education, peace education, conflict transformation, gender issues, human trafficking/people smuggling and children’s rights. Karen is a founding member of the Youth Peace Ambassadors Network (YPAN) and began her work in the youth field in 2007.

She is also involved in work of Trafficked Victims Unit and Generation 2.0 for Rights, Equality and Dignity.

Karen, what does peace mean to you?

To me, peace is all about what is GOOD: what is good for me, good for my relatives and friends, good for my community, good for my foes, good for everyone and anyone, good for the planet, good for my city, and the list goes on. What is important is the significance of what “good” things can contribute to a healthy and peaceful living. Keeping in mind that what is good for one person may not be for another, there are still many “good” things that are universally accepted as such. For example, protecting human rights. It is a good thing to acknowledge that as humans we are privileged to certain rights that we have defined as the norm because they foster a “good” society where people can live together in peace and unity. It sounds utopic when we look at the current global context, yet I believe in this approach. In my opinion, peace is not a given and it is complex and hard to attain even on a personal level. And, it is almost impossible not to impose peace or peaceful ways, manners, values, beliefs — all the “good” stuff on others. Certainly because the bad stuff is generally not desirable. In the end, I strongly believe peace begins with me, it begins at home. It is about striving, on a daily basis, to uphold and sustain the notion that what is good is more desireable than what is bad. Therefore, if I am at peace I will strive for and spread peace.

Do you feel like a peacebuilder?

Based on how I understand the term ‘peacebuilder’, yes I do. I consider myself an active peacebuilder, even though at times it is challenging to maintain this role. A peacebuilder, for me, is a person who takes initiative to bring peace to him or herself and to his or her community, by not only noticing, but also taking necessary measures to address issues arising or existing and constantly adapting to changing circumstances. This is how I perceive myself today, especially following my involvement in youth work, my work as a trainer and in my role as Youth Peace Ambassador. I hope that there will be many more peacebuilders to come because the world is heading in a direction where it will not be a liveable one without peacebuilders. It would be almost impossible to experience peace.

With whom would Karen like to make peace with today?

I appreciate the commemoration of peace. So, today I want to seize the opportunity to make peace with myself and with everyone. I wish everyone PEACE on this day and beyond!
Karen on the cover of the Council of Europe publication
Looking for peacebuilding inspirations?

Check the tool to help young people and educators to confront, dismantle and replace hateful narratives — try the “We can!” publication of the Council of Europe.


NIENKE VERHOEKS

Nienke Verhoeks is 29, she is a Youth Peace Ambassador and work with unaccompanied minors who are likely to be send back to their home country at an asylum seeker centre in the Netherlands. Her goal is to bring a smile on their faces everyday, hoping that it makes them forget their situation. Together with MasterPeace she is setting up projects to find out what their talents are. Because no matter how hopeless your situation is, we all have talents.

Nienke, what does peace mean to you and young people you work with?

We have just done a rapworkshop in which the youngsters had to write a wrap about what freedom means to them. In generaal they all said it would mean peace, the opportunity to start their life, the opportunity to feel safe. It totally changed my perspective on peace. Before that time peace to me was something that was needed far far away, but through my youngsters I have found out that in the Netherlands there is still a lot of discriminatoin. Nex to that, I joined a research on polarisation and extremism in the Netherlands and I was very shocked to see how divided the Netherlands really is. It is now my goal to bridge the gap between those who judge and those who are being judged. Trying to give a voice to the ones who are talked about, but never have the opportunity to talk. It will be a struggle, but one person at a time will change viewpoints. I always say: we don’t have to agree, as long as we can talk about it.

Do you feel young people feel like peacebuilders?

I think a lot of young people don’t see themselves as peacebuilders. They just react to what they think is necessary, they react to the unjust they see happening. When a lot of refugees came to the Netherlands it was so heartwarming to see how many of my friends and family did for the newcomers. My friends even call me to ask if I need clothes or stuffed animals to bring to the asylumseeker centre. I have friends who go to Calais and Dunkirk almost monthly to provide medical care and a hug. They stand up for their convictions, they walk the talk. If I agree with how they are doing it is irrelevant, I am just proud that we as young people show where we draw the line.

With whom will you make peace today?

The young people around me have a very good life. They don’t feel like they need to make any peace with anyone else, except with themselves. Many young people in my surrounding are very harsh on themselves. We need to have the perfect job, the perfect boyfriend, the perfect house and an active social life, owh and look good of course…. It is just not possible…. I see many of my amazing friends, struggle and will tell them, come to peace with yourself first. If you are not at peace with yourself, you can not strive to reach any of your other goals. Of course I also still struggle, but the last 3 years I have grown a lot and am way more comfortable with myself, my talents and my short comings. When it comes to social justice, I see a lot of my friends wanting to make peace with the haters. The haters of refugees, the haters of Dutch people with a different racial or mixed-racial background, the haters of Jews (anti-semitism is on the rise again), the haters of the pro-enviromentalists. And I hope it is not to late to bridge that gap.
Result of the graffiti workshop by young people with whom Nienke works

Emil Balavac

Emil Balavac was born in Mostar in 1989, but grew up in Jablanica where he lives also today. Emil is a Youth Peace Ambassador and works in Youth club „Under the Same Sun“ in Jablanica as a program manager. He cooperated with the Commission for coordination of Youth issues in Bosnia and Herzegovina, National Youth Council of Serbia and in numerous organizations including UNDP, OSCE, Jablanica Municipality, Election Commission of Jablanica, Institute for Youth Development, Anna Lindh Foundation in B&H and many others. Emil completed series of activities dedicated to youth issues,development of youth related policies on local, regional and international level.

What peace means for young people and for you?

Peace for me has two different aspects. People in Western Europe see it as security, safety and equality for all. People from the countries that were involved in war see peace as a time without violence where they can exist without being afraid for their lives. In Bosnia and Herzegovina, these days the definition of peace is slowly moving from he second view to the first one. We are now more involved as young people in peacebuilding actions and initiatives and also other initiatives that tackle social an economical problems that are prerequistite for peace. Young poeple today do not like to talk about peace any more, they want to live it, build it and be part of it. My personal perpective for peace is feeling safe and comfortable in my own environment, free of any kind of fears, discrimination and injustice.

Do you feel a peacebuilder and why?

I do feel as a peacebuilder. Not only because I work in peacebuilding organisations (Youth Club “under the same sun”), networks (YPAN) or initiatives, but because Ihave spent most of my youth life in a country that just went through the terrrible war, where I wanted to and needed to actively work on creating better life conditions for myself and my family, friends, and the rest of the community.
In my entire work in NGO sector, most of the activities were orieneted towards peace in one way or the other. My NGO (Youth Club “under the same sun”) is working towards bringing together children youth and adults, local communities, institutions and civil society organisations and international actors to improve quality of life, starting with our own community through the Europe and Mediteranean. One of the recent examples is our long term project “Learning indeed”, where we worked with 20 young people from 10 Euromeditaerean countries, we tried to provide them with knowledge and skills on how to inspire others to develop local, peacebuilding initiatives, defend human rights and combat discrimination and prejudices. We had 20 amazing young poeple on that project, who took more from the programme than we have expected. They inspired each other, developed amazing initiatives. Even though that it was the first time for many of them to travel long way from home, meet new people and experience different culture, they managed to take and share a lot. And in the end bring some of that knowledge to their own communities.
Such activities (which are sometimes very hard to organize and which take a lot of time and patience), always pay out whem I see happy faces of young poeple and tears when the project is finishing. These poeple always make me question my own thinking about peace and human rights, they make make me change my definitions, adjust my views, and they always offer something new to learn and experience. This positive energy keeps me running and helps me to continue working as a peacebuilder.

With whom you would like to make peace with today?

In my recent travels I have met for the first time, youth refugees from different African countries who inspired me to continue my peacebuilding work and to involve more young people into our initiatives in order to spread positive stories and ideas. These briliaint young poeple are the ones with whom I would like to make peace today. These young poeple have left their homes , families and friends to search for a beetter life, and security. They brought very few things with them, hoping that the community they are coming to will be open and welcoming. In many cases it is not true, but they do not give up, becausethey know that there is no way back. And that this is the only way to help the ones who stayed behind. What was inspiring for me is that they are still smiling they think positvely and try to help everyone around them.

JOIN OUR COLLECTION OF STORIES

Join the project and tell us your peacebuilder story!

We are looking for more stories to be shared and told.

Contact us to be interviewed and tell your peacebuilder story and perspective to inspire more people to work towards building culture of peace.

Contact e-mail address: youthpeaceambassadors@gmail.com

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