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October 23, 2012

The Peace Revolution Project – Voices from our Future

Osama Moftah from Egypt says:

meditation-on-lake“To define human rights is to define your own rights, from there you can define the rights of the group that you live in, and then you can define human rights for a global community…so, it all starts with you.  If you really want to change the world, it means you have to change yourself first.  You have to know the direction of the path you choose to walk.”

Osama Arhb Moftah, from Egypt, joined Peace Revolution’s Fellowship in June 2010.  He has an MA in International Law, and works as an Election Observer at the Carter Center.  Osama volunteered in the Patch Adams educational and clowning tour in Costa Rica to help people after the earthquake in 2009.

Anu Lawrence from the USA says:

“I think it has probably been said a million times, but it deserves being said once more—without inner peace, it doesn’t matter how much we strive for outer peace, because if we are not personally peaceful, peace becomes redundant.  A Thich Nhat Hanh quote comes to mind—There is no path to peace, peace is the path.  And Gandhi said—We must be the change we wish to see in the world.  So I’ve always tried to live by these ideas.  When I meditate I just feel completely peaceful and connected, and when you’re in this state, how could you be violent? How could you be anything but peaceful—how could you be anything but compassionate?”

Anu Drew Lawrence, from the USA, is a program officer at Joan B. Kroc Institute for Peace and Justice, and volunteers as a mediator in San Diego’s court system with at-risk youth, through the Restorative Justice Mediation Program.  He has also done field research about conflict transformation in Central America, particularly in Guatemala. He joined Peace Revolution’s Fellowship in June 2010.

David Javier Santos from Lima, Peru says:

meditation-on-rock“Stillness is very helpful because it can give you your inner eyes. We always see with our physical eyes and sometimes we have a lot of things in our head. It is like we are wearing glasses and these glasses are covered with a lot of things that don’t allow us see the truth. With meditation, with stillness, you can clean those glasses.  It is like clearing our perception, so we can be sure we are seeing the truth. Contentment gives you a sense that you don’t need more that what you have, all the answers are within you, so you don’t have to search for anything.”

David Javier Santos is a young and bright engineer in Lima, Peru.  He has been a volunteer at a Pinoteca, an association of young people who work to help improve the education of Peruvian children. They also teach children moral and civic values.

Suha Ayyash from Palestine says:

“I never thought about what peace means, because where I come from in the Middle East—Palestine—I always heard about peace treaties, peace processes, the Oslo agreement, etc.; peace was always something that was coming, but never here.  It was always something very political and the major conflicts never reached an end.  Then I started meditating through the program* and little by little I started to understand and now have a taste of peace, of something that is intangible, that you cannot describe, but that you can feel.  I felt it.

In Islam we have a term, sakhina.  The closest word to it in English would be stillness.  I’ve always wanted this sakhina.  I was able to achieve it through prayers, but I found another way to find it, too—through  meditation.  Meditation is the most practical tool on the Earth which can help people achieve and double-up the effect of stillness, or sakhina.  This is what I’m learning, this is what I’m getting, and this is what I’m sharing.”

Suha Ayyash is a Palestinian living in Jordan.  Suha is a young documentary filmmaker and her latest documentary is “HipHop Nafitha” which was part of  the Cape Winelands Film Festival selection this year.

Iulia Socea from Cluj, Romania says:

“Inner peace is something that should become a habit, it should become a part of our life, something natural. To make it a habit takes a lot of time and we have already learned bad habits in the past. We have learned to respond with anger, we have learned to respond with bad words because this is what we saw and automatically we repeat what we saw around us. But now we need to change these habits, create new automatic responses. So it needs to become a daily process.”

Iulia Socea from Cluj, Romania is a trainer and trainer coordinator for the Peace Action Training and Research Institute of Romania.  Her volunteer work involved training youth in the field of nonviolence, conflict transformation, peace-building and violence prevention, as well as different youth projects tackling these topics.

Joan Baez Youth Peace Interview

About the Peace Revolution Project

We aim to empower young people via a unique process related to youth development, helping young people make informed and moral choices about how they live their lives and actively participate in society. Through its online social platform, Peace Revolution promotes the practice of inner peace as a common denominator for people throughout the world to build cross-cultural partnerships and ultimately, through individual change and cooperation with others, establish an international network of active agents for change.

October 13, 2012

Art as a Social Force for Change – a Folklorist for Peace Relates the Stories of Life

What were you doing this summer? It was by complete chance that I ended up living in Washington, DC, and met Mike Synder. Mike, it just so happened, is a past American Rotary Ambassadorial Fellow who studied in my home of Scotland a few years back. When he returned to the US, Mike started his own filmmaking company to highlight environmental issues within Appalachian communities. He is a talented, passionate filmmaker dedicated to his art and to making the world a better place. Mike and I found a connection in our passion for the arts, so it seemed natural to combine a folklorist’s interest in the stories of life with film. Together we produced a slam poetry film that explores art as a social force for change.

“No Such Thing as Fair Trade Cocaine” features a slam poem I wrote a few years ago while working with people affected by conflict in Colombia. While in Colombia, I met people living in refugee camps, internally displaced by a conflict that has plagued the country for years. According to the UN refugee agency, Colombia has around three million internally displaced persons (IDPs)—the second highest number in the world after Sudan.

There is No Such Thing as Fair Trade Cocaine – Kiran Sirah

On my return to Scotland, many people, I among them, attended music festivals regularly such as Glastonbury. At one of these music festivals, set in a lush green field covered by a sea of multicolored tents, I saw people sipping fair trade tea and coffee. They talked about the greatness of our nation with a population so supportive of the “fair trade” concept as a way to help producers around the world—they chatted about fair trade even as many did lines of cocaine. People seemed oblivious to the fact they were fueling a war thousands of miles away.

Although I had not thought of the connections before, after being in Colombia and making so many friends there, I was inspired to write the poem “No Such Thing as Fair Trade Cocaine.” The theme of the poem is the idea that each line of cocaine connects to stories of destruction in another part of the world. Despite worldwide perceptions of Colombia as a country of violence, I found it to be a place of beauty and determination with a passion for life. Colombia is a country where, regardless of their living situations, people take you into their hearts. Nowhere in the world have I been and felt more accepted and welcomed than in Colombia.

This poem is a response to the unfair ways Colombians have been blamed for the trade in cocaine. My poem emphasizes the idea that we embrace fair trade while remaining ignorant about how some of our other choices negatively impact social justice. Today, the primary demand for cocaine continues to come from the UK and the US. Through this film, we hope to raise awareness about how western cocaine consumption continues to fuel conflicts, destroy families, and ruin lives.

What I discovered this summer is that when we look for and listen more closely to the stories of life, we find artistic connections, new friendships, and inspiration for powerful artistic ventures that can make the world a better place for all.


October 9, 2012

First International Day of the Girl

Anyone can make a huge difference in the lives of girls around the world by celebrating the First Annual International Day of the Girl on Thursday, October 11, 2012.

international_day_of_the_girlThe United Nations officially recognized the International Day of the Girl 10 months ago, and since then organizations from around the world have planned events to celebrate. I serve as a Teen Advisor for one such organization, Girl Up, which is a United Nations Foundation campaign that raises funds and awareness for girls in developing countries. Girl Up hopes to mobilize its more than 250,000 constituents to raise awareness for the issues girls face worldwide and to fundraise for United Nations programs that benefit girls.

There are several easy things that you can do today to join the movement to support girls and women around the globe.

Spread the wordPost on Twitter, Facebook, or other social media about the International Day of the Girl. Be sure to post links to articles that talk about events happening to celebrate the day and share this video about the International Day of the Girl produced by 10×10, one of Girl Up’s partners.

Here are some sample social media posts to help you get started:

  • There are 600 million girls in developing countries – with our help, they can change the world. #dayofthegirl
  • Girls everywhere deserve the same opportunities that many of us enjoy in developed countries. Agree? Join the @Girlup movement here: girlup.org
  • We unite so girls can reach their full potential through education. Read about the challenges girls face and what we can do to help: http://www.ungei.org/

Donate. A small amount of money can change someone’s life forever. While solutions to global problems might seem incredibly expensive, a small amount of money can
change someone’s life forever. Consider donating to Girl Up or another worthy organization to help a girl reach her full potential.

 Lend your voice – Write, email, or call your Representative to voice your support for the International Protecting Girls by Preventing Child Marriage Act of 2012 (H.R. 6087). The bill is currently in committee, so it is really important that the legislators realize that preventing child marriage is a high priority to their constituents.

Let your elected representatives know that you care about legislation that impacts girls and women around the world.

girl-up-intl-day-of-the-girlWhile solving global problems might seem overwhelming, little actions can make a big difference! Social media gives all of us the chance to share our thoughts around the globe, and $5 donations and quick letters to your representatives are vitally important to the success of our campaign to improve the lives of girls and women around the world.

In order to truly make a lasting change, we can’t leave half of the population behind. Investing in girls and women is the key to making the world happier, healthier, and better for all.


October 7, 2012

The Emerging Role of Faith Based Organizations in Global Development

What do an Imam, a Christian theologian, a former World Vision staff member and an interfaith expert have in common? An inclination for development and a seemingly united motivation to improve the lot of mankind for now and in preparation for the hereafter! But are they always in concert in their purposes, rationale, motivations and ways of delivering development? And most of all, are they always welcomed and supported by people and their governments? Do the institutions they represent—the Faith-Based Organizations (FBOs)—always support and welcome governments in their work? In fact, do they sometimes do what governments should do and do they always provide the right services and advice in development? Should FBOs even do that? Yes, there are a lot of questions just to start a discussion about the role of Faith-Based Organizations in development—and that is why this topic will be tackled in parts. So let’s get started with Part One.

I think these questions are necessary especially if we consider the huge role that faith plays in influencing individuals, community leadership, societies and nations at large. One sermon or message from the pulpit can send a good portion of the population in one direction or the other. Faith, and consequently the institutions it works through (FBOs), occupies an undeniable niche in many aspects of life including development. Given the significant level of problems facing us, Faith-Based Organizations no doubt have a role to play, but should they do more? If so, how? More questions to consider! So let’s get to some answers now.

duke ctr for international developmentOn a recent evening, I had the opportunity to attend a lively panel discussion on the Role of Faith-Based Organizations in Development. An Imam, a former World Vision staff member, a Professor of Theology and a student with vast interfaith dialogue experience were brought together by the Duke Center for International Development as part of the ‘Rethinking Development Policy’ series. The panel members described the rationale, motivation, and ways in which Faith-Based Organizations intervene in development. Having had my first job in a vibrant FBO about six years ago in my home country, I identified with most of the issues brought forward. I left that evening with a lot of reflections that I want to share with you, and I am keen to hear your take on what FBOs should be doing in development and how they should be doing it.

The pastoral role of Faith-Based Organizations seems to be non-debatable in so far as doing works of charity are concerned. They take care of orphans, widows, strangers and generally those who are suffering. This role seems to be a critical foundational obligation in every faith. In fact the Imam at the discussion shared how, in Islam, this type of work is mandatory and not a choice. In Islamic Ethos, one of the five Pillars of Faith is Zakat, or alms giving, and is obligatory for those who are able to do so. A Muslim is required to give 2.5% of their accumulated wealth (personal income of every kind) and this is as defining for a Muslim as praying five times a day or even fasting. This is equally a defining characteristic in Christianity. The story of the sheep and the goats in Mathew 25: 31-45 ends with serious ramifications for those who saw the needy, the hungry, and the thirsty but did not give them cloth, food or water. Don’t get me wrong, there is more to salvation than just that, of course, and much of it is based on loving your neighbor as yourself and loving your God with your mind, heart and soul.

feeding the poorSocieties and communities are fully aware that institutions of faith serve to lessen suffering, and that is why it is often common to find street kids, or a struggling single mother, and destitute elderly men and women at the entrance to churches, mosques, synagogues or other centers of worship. It is where members of society who are in need expect to find some support, and in a way these FBOs have evolved into an essential social safety net. I saw a lot of this at the Mosque that was directly across from our office back in Senegal. I also saw the needy and suffering gather at the entrance of the FBO where I worked in Zambia. Society’s consciousness is attuned to the fact that when in distress, religious centers can be someone’s first point of call for immediate relief.

To a great extent, then, we might see religious institutions therefore acting to redistribute wealth. I am not saying that this is an efficient way of countering inequality, but I am merely saying that both society and Faith-Based Organizations expect and accept this role, and that it is a matter of fact—a reality that is with us. One thing to establish here is that both religious institutions and society at large have defined and accepted this role of faith institutions to plug a key gap in the overall effort to lessen suffering. Do governments like to do this work of charity and do they tolerate men and women asking for alms? I am not very sure they do.

One thing I remember vividly from my almost two years in Senegal was passing the mosque as I walked the eight minutes to my office. On most days, as early as 8:30 in the morning, there would be not less than 5-10 middle-aged and elderly men and women by the Mosque hoping to receive alms. Others had small merchandise spread out along the roadside. Mothers with little children would have gotten up very early to get to the mosque for a chance of alms. I can recall that at least three times a week I would find these women and men scampering in all directions, running away from the police who made it their task to stop these men and women from asking for alms. And this is not only common to Senegal. So for some reason—perhaps to preserve the aesthetic beauty of a city—there are governments that are preoccupied with dispersing these unfortunate people in need, sometimes imposing punitive measures. In my view, aesthetic beauty is important, but so is the task of dealing with the root cause of poverty and need.

More about the role of Faith-Based Organizations in Development later—this is all for ‘Part 1’ which has focused on the pastoral and charitable aspects of faith and FBOs in dealing with suffering and thus redistributing wealth…happy to hear your thoughts!



October 1, 2012

The Southern Poverty Law Center – Teaching Tolerance

The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) is a nonprofit civil rights organization dedicated to fighting hate and bigotry. Founded in 1971, SPLC is known for investigating and exposing hate group activities throughout the world. They focus on widespread issues of social injustice including children at risk, hate and extremism, immigrant justice, and LGBT rights. But they go a step beyond fighting hate and seeking justice for the vulnerable. The SPLC conducts one of the nation’s leading programs for teaching tolerance.

teaching_toleranceTheir ground-breaking Teaching Tolerance program is dedicated to cultivating inclusive, nurturing school environments where “equality and justice are not just taught, but lived.” They produce and distribute documentary films, books, lesson plans and other materials that promote tolerance – free of charge. The Teaching Tolerance program reaches hundreds of thousands of educators and millions of students – empowering “a new generation to live in a diverse world.”

Teaching Tolerance magazine coverThe SPLC Teaching Tolerance program has a number of powerful tools in their arsenal. Their award-winning Teaching Tolerance magazine provides educators across the country with a forum to learn about and exchange ideas on teaching for about diversity. The Teaching Diverse Students Initiative is an online project focused on improving instruction for racially and ethnically diverse students. SPLC has even developed a special program designed to empower students themselves to take the lead in promoting tolerance and understanding. Called Mix It Up at Lunch Day, this national program has a simple premise: students are encouraged to sit with someone new in the cafeteria for just one day – “a small step that can go a long way toward breaking down social and racial barriers.”

Imagine what might happen if everyone took just one day out of our busy lives to “mix it up” – to sit next to someone we don’t know on the bus, or strike up a conversation with a new colleague in the lunchroom, or turn around in the grocery line and introduce ourselves to a stranger. We can all learn a lot from this remarkable Teaching Tolerance program. Perhaps we can take a page from Eleanor Roosevelt’s United Nations address back in 1953:

“Where, after all, do universal human rights begin? In small places, close to home – so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any map of the world. Yet they are the world of the individual person: the neighborhood he lives in; the school or college he attends; the factory, farm, or office where he works. Such are the places where every man, woman, and child seeks equal justice, equal opportunity, equal dignity without discrimination.”


September 19, 2012

Social Media Diplomacy – 21st Century Statecraft

Did you know that the United States State Department has a specially designated position for the Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Digital Strategy or that they have 10 official Twitter feeds (English, Arabic, Farsi, Spanish, etc.)? This U.S. focus on digital networks and technologies to serve foreign policy goals has been called 21st Century Statecraft.

To meet these 21st century challenges, we need to use the tools, the new 21st century statecraft. …we find ourselves living at a moment in human history when we have the potential to engage in these new and innovative forms of diplomacy and to also use them to help individuals be empowered for their own development.
~ Secretary Of State Hillary Rodham Clinton

anne-marie-slaughterAs the world continues to become increasingly interdependent and globalization swells, foreign relations and diplomacy mechanisms are changing in response. According to Princeton University professor Anne-Marie Slaughter, the key to successful foreign policy in today’s world is networked diplomacy: “Managing international crises requires mobilizing international networks of public and private actors.” And this interconnected world is relying to an increasing degree on social media.

One example of the effectiveness of social media in diplomacy was reported in the Japan Times. In the summer of 2010, India’s Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) became India’s first government department to start using Twitter. As the security situation in Libya continued to deteriorate, India became increasingly alarmed about the welfare of its citizens living there. MEA ultimately decided to use Twitter to communicate information concerning the evacuation schedule. The communication soon became two-way, with MEA receiving tweets about hundreds of Indians stranded at the port of Misratah, which was temporarily closed and thus beyond the reach of organized evacuation attempts. Thanks to this effective use of social media – where people and the government successfully connected in a highly time-sensitive situation – the Indians trapped in Misratah were ultimately evacuated.

ALEC_ROSSAmbassadors and diplomats throughout the world are rapidly adopting Twitter, Facebook and other social media tools. Alec Ross, the State Department’s senior adviser on innovation, tells the many ambassadors who take a course on statecraft, “You only have one mouth but you have two ears, so use this as a way not just of communicating with the citizens of the country where you are serving, but also understanding the point of view of people who may not be sitting at a mahogany table inside the embassy.”

The Power of Social Media

Not too long ago, Twitter was thought of as a mere celebrity gossip tool and Facebook just a means for college kids to exchange party photos. It’s heartening to see the influence that social media is now having throughout the world. It is leveling the playing field, giving voice to so many who were previously silenced, providing real-time communications in often precarious circumstances, and allowing diplomats and citizens from around the world to exchange critical information.