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    Young Peacemakers

December 22, 2015

CONVERSATIONS ON RACE: Moving Out of My Cocoon

By Haven McLaughlin, Valencia College Peace & Justice Institute Ambassador
This article originally appeared in the Valencia College PJI Newsletter.

During my time with the Peace and Justice Institute, I have had a plethora of good experiences. This is especially true of the ones that dealt with social justice. One such experience was from the Desmond Tutu Peace Foundation’s Conversations on Race workshop. It has stood out to me as the most interesting and one of the most profound experiences during my tenure as a PJI Ambassador.

When the presentation that declared race as a construction of human design and culture was shown, it was a rather shocking revelation that piqued my interest to actually think about how there truly wasn’t much of a real biological alteration that dictated race. We are human after all, but we are also so different and unique at the same time. We were asked to move in to small groups of approximately four to five people and urged to have different races in our group. The majority of the event comprised of prompts appearing on the screen with instructions for each member in the small group to discuss their stories and personal experiences.

Participants enjoying a lively conversation.

You can show people the statistics and provide logic, however, nothing can truly compare to another person’s experience firsthand when they regale some of the difficult situations they faced or the injustice they may have seen. After I heard these personal experiences it was easy for me to empathize with them and I felt like it helped me to better understand this issue that I had removed myself from without being detached or cynical. Read More

October 1, 2014

Storytelling is Now Part of the International Day of Peace

Velma Mukoro, award-winning storyteller chosen by the ISC/MasterPeace Project with Ban Ki-moon Secretary-General of the United Nations.

We are pleased to introduce you to Ms. Velma Mukoro, 24, of Nairobi, Kenya, and her award-winning story presented at the International Day of Peace this year.  Our thanks go to the International Storytelling Center Executive Director, Kiran Singh Sirah and Ms. Mukoro for agreeing to share this wonderful story. Kiran says, “…having met Velma, I was incredibly impressed with the fact that she followed her dream and desire to use storytelling as a way to build peace and enable more people to hear her story. Velma’s story resonates with us all, as peace builders, as storytellers, and as human beings.”

Here at the Desmond Tutu Peace Foundation-USA, we think Little Pitchers exemplifies the power of storytelling to help us see how closely we are connected to one another.  The Art of Storytelling permeates the walls that separate us, clearing the path for universal understanding among the cultures of the world.

Now, sit back and enjoy reading Velma’s award-winning story, Little Pitchers.

Little Pitchers
by Velma Mukoro

Someone once said you must go through storm to appreciate sunshine.

Listening to Nyankir recount her haunting moment of terror during Southern Sudan’s war, I couldn’t help being appreciative of the lasting peace and stability we had in Kenya. She was very grateful having the rare second chance to start over, as not many of her countrymen had made it across the border. My country was her safe haven. Maybe I wasn’t grateful enough, and was I just sorry for the unbearable capacity of cruelty she had been exposed to. It was humbling watching her stay, as Nyankir marveled at our inter-tribal harmony and peaceful co-existence. To me, these were just words pieced together in our national anthem after gaining independence from colonial rule.  It was nothing to write home about. I didn’t share in her excitement.

Then came the fateful day when the disputed presidential elections of 2007 stirred up well concealed hatred, turning men into beasts of vengeance who littered streets with innocent blood. There were gunshots and cries, fire and burns. It wasn’t amusing running from an understocked food store to an out of stock pharmacy with hands lifted high as a sign of surrender. Extensive international calls for calm and dialogue cooled thing off leaving behind a dwindling economy and shattered trust.

For the first time, I knew why Nyankir had been thrilled to arrive to Kenya. It upset me that it had taken a war to make me understand the urgency of preaching peace even where it prevailed. The media, backed by the government and humanitarian organizations took to peace campaigns. Seven years later, the effects of the conflict are still evident, the scars still raw.

Amidst the blame game and uncontrolled hate across social platforms, I noticed them. Little pitchers, a generation of boys and girls that had been left out in the recent nationwide reconciliation programs. Harmless they are, until you hear them speak with venom trickled down to them from days spent eavesdropping on adults’ spiteful talk. So young, so faultless yet so corrupted. It was sad watching children, being caught up in all the hate and ethnic profiling. No child should be raised that way. I was concerned.

I remembered Nyankir and how the thought of peace had elated her. It had taken the shoe pinch to make me share in her excitement. What were ‘mere’ words of our national anthem now bring tears to my eyes. I know what we had and what we are missing. These children I saw in the street, don’t. In my own simple way, I will try to make them see that though they’ve had a rough start, it doesn’t have to be this way. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.”

I went through the storm to appreciate the sunshine.

Velma Mukoro
International Day of Peace 2014

July 9, 2014

Peace Fellow Tamara Lorincz – An Update from the Field

Tamara LorinczRotary Peace Fellow Tamara Lorincz updates us about her Applied Field Experience.  As planned, Tamara is now based in Geneva.

“I’m doing my Applied Field Experience in Geneva, and it is really a great place for an internship, especially if the UN Human Rights Council is in session.  Here are some pictures of what I have been doing.

Tamara also includes a comment in her update, speaking from her background serving as Executive Director of the Nova Scotia Environmental Network before embarking on her Rotary Peace Fellowship.  She says, “Also, very glad about Desmond Tutu’s tough stand against Canada’s tar sands – he’s right when he says that it is the dirtiest industrial development on the planet.”

Be sure to view her entire photo album at the link above.  We chose with difficulty just two to include in this post.

Tamara supports Girl Be Heard

Tamara with fellow students from University of Bradford Peace Studies

Thank you, Tamara, and please keep us updated on your experiences and insights as your Rotary Peace Fellowship continues.  Read the full post on Tamara Lorincz in our Young Peacemakers archives.

June 24, 2014

Meet the Rotary Peace Fellows – Dilshad Othman

Meet, Dilshad Othman, our next Rotary Peace Fellow from Class 12.  He is based at The Rotary Peace Center which is anchored by the Joint Duke University/University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Program.   The Duke/UNC-CH joint program gives Peace Fellows the option to apply to either institution.  Dilshad is a medical doctor and, as a Peace Fellow, is associated with the Gillings School of Global Public Health at UNC, specifically in the Department of Maternal and Child Health.

Dilshad graduated from The College of Medicine at Al Mustanserya University in Baghdad in 2000 and finished his studies at Sulaimania University College of Medicine in 2007 in Medical Microbiology. He worked as manager of the Khanaqin Primary Health District in the Iraqi Ministry of Health from 2003 until 2008, after which he was appointed as Khanaqin’s General Hospital Manager by the Iraqi Ministry of Health.

In 2008, Dilshad was sponsored as a Peace Fellow by Rotary District 7710 and the Cary-Kildaire Rotary Club to attend the Rotary Peace and Conflict Resolution program at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok, Thailand and graduated from that program in 2009.  Following graduation he was hired by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) as a medical doctor.  At ICRC he has been involved in the development and implementation of two major medical training projects in Iraq:

First, “Strengthening the Emergency Services in Iraq,” the main goals of which are to train and educate the local community what to do in case of emergency, displacement, and/or epidemic threats.  The second program, “Supporting Selected Primary Health Care Centers in Iraq,” focuses on improving the quality of care and equality of care, ensuring that women and children have the same access to curative and preventive health care as men.

We asked each Peace Fellow two interview questions.  Here are Dilshad’s answers:

1.  What is your opinion about the prospects of an end to armed conflict in the next 50 years?

“Most people living nowadays in armed conflict zones believe that in the coming 50 years violence will decrease and more people will be engaged in creating peace and dialogue in all levels. Hopefully, this will happen even earlier since more people are aware about the destructive impacts of armed conflicts.  The Rotary International Foundation, Desmond Tutu Peace Foundation, and other peace foundations and organizations will make peace possible and happen through their wide effective activities toward achieving that goal.”

2.  What do you believe are the three most important contributing factors to fostering peace within and among nations?

“I believe that looking for and highlighting similarities always bring people and nations together and create a positive, sustainable, peaceful environment. The other factor will be education. I believe strongly that more education and literacy bring peace in the future for our world. Social and economic equality and good governance are other factors which together are very effective in fostering peace.”

Thank you, Dilshad, for sharing how you have built a life of service.  It is very important for people around the world who have not lived through tremendous upheaval in their countries to understand that there are courageous, determined people like you “arming” themselves with knowledge and skills for only humanitarian reasons.  Your experience also sheds much needed light on the efforts of people within war-torn countries who continue to actively work toward change that brings equality to all citizens, irrespective of gender, age, educational, or economic status.   Please keep us informed about what you observe in your studies and work as a Peace Fellow.  The whole arena of global health is of great importance and interest to us all.  We appreciate your gift of personifying how to live a life that, when joined with others who follow your example, will get us to sustainable global peace.

Your comments are welcome.  Send them directly to our Managing Editor at:  rebecca.popham@tutufoundationusa.org, or use the “Post a Comment” box below if you prefer.

May 25, 2014

Meet the Rotary Peace Fellows – Introducing Geysar Gurbanov (2013-14)

 “Overcoming poverty is not a task of charity; it is an act of justice. Like slavery and apartheid, poverty is not natural. It is man-made and it can be overcome and eradicated by the actions of human beings. Sometimes it falls on a generation to be great. YOU can be that great generation. Let your greatness blossom.”
                                                                        ~ Nelson Mandela

We are very pleased to offer visitors to the Desmond Tutu Peace Foundation-USA website the chance to meet some extraordinary young people who are in the newest group of Peace Fellows sponsored by the Rotary Organization.  There are five Rotary Peace Centers within these universities:

It is particularly poignant now, as the world remains in mourning at the passing of Nelson Mandela, to see the reflection of this great and wise leader’s inspiration in the work of the Rotary Peace Fellows.

We remember President Mandela as a truly great leader for our time and for all time.  President Mandela’s life of extraordinary courage and accomplishment changed the world.

Introducing Geysar Gurbanov, Rotary Peace Fellow (2013-14)

As a Rotary Peace Fellow, Geysar is based at the Duke-UNC Center for International Studies in Peace and Conflict Resolution.  He is enrolled as a Graduate Student at the Center for Slavic, Eurasian and East European Studies.

Geysar Gurbanov was born in Azerbaijan Soviet Socialist Republic. By the time the country became independent in 1991, it was a war-torn unstable state drowning in political chaos, economic crisis, and military conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh. The conflict gradually grew into an increasingly violent war between Christian Armenians and Muslim Azerbaijanis, which resulted in ethnic cleansing and other atrocities. His early childhood memories were formed by Russian tanks invading his town, pogroms, armed coup d’états, poverty, crime, and food shortages caused by a large influx of refugees.

After graduating from high school, Geysar studied law at Baku State University, and in 2005-2006, he studied Administration of Law and Justice in the United States on a U.S. State Department-sponsored fellowship. Before running in the 2009 Municipal Elections, he was a director of the NATO Information Center. His professional portfolio includes work with OSCE-ODIHR, EPF-CRRC, British Council, and IREX. He served as an advisor to the Council of the European Union in matters concerning human rights and political issues in Azerbaijan from 2008 to 2011.

During summer 2009, Geysar spent a month in Poland with the European Volunteers Service as a volunteer in the Chechen refugee camp located in Warsaw, Poland. In 2011, shortly after moving to the United States, he started “The South Caucasus Diary,” a blog devoted to political and human rights issues in Azerbaijan, Armenia, and Georgia. It also advocates for a peaceful resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. In a short period of time his blog attracted more than 100,000 readers from 197 countries.

In 2013, he became a Rotary Peace Fellow. The program was created as part of Rotary’s ongoing effort to promote greater tolerance and cooperation among nations.  As a Peace Fellow, Geysar was admitted to the Duke-UNC Center for Slavic, Eurasian, and East European Studies (CSEEES). He is also working on his professional certificate in peace and conflict resolution at the Duke-UNC Center for International Studies. He is fluent in English, Russian, Turkish, Azerbaijani, and also studies Polish and Persian languages.

We asked each Peace Fellow two interview questionsHere are Geysar’s answers:

1. What is your opinion about the prospects of an end to armed conflict in the next 50 years?

Realistically speaking, it is not possible. You can neither disarm all nations, nor solve all of their problems that eventually lead to those armed conflicts. Nonetheless, what is possible is to make future armed conflict less violent and destructive, more controllable and predictable. While these measures will decrease the negative consequences of armed conflicts such as civil casualties, destroyed infrastructure, refugees and internally displaced people, the international community should work together to prevent armed conflicts when and wherever possible.

By promoting greater religious tolerance and intercultural dialogue among nations, and by supporting democratic changes with open, accountable governments, we can achieve this goal. Also by closing the gap between the rich and poor, the fortunate and less fortunate people, with the  development of viable, sustainable economic policies beneficial to all concerned, we can contribute to preventing violent conflict across the world. This will require strong effort on a global level.

2. What do you believe are the three most important factors to foster peace within and among nations?

Liberal education, political democracy, and cross-cultural and inter-religious dialogue.

Your comments are welcome.  Send them directly to our Managing Editor at:
rebecca.popham@tutufoundationusa.org, or use the “Post a Comment” box below if you prefer.

April 11, 2014

Meet the Rotary Peace Fellows – Tamara Lorincz

Meet our next Rotary Peace Fellow from Class XII, 2013-14, Tamara Lorincz, who is sponsored by the Harbourside Rotary Club of Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada. She is pursuing a Master’s of Arts degree in International Politics and Security Studies at the University of Bradford in England. Tamara is sharing her adventure as a Rotary Peace Fellow with her husband and two little boys.

Tamara’s professional background is in environmental law and policy. In 2003, she graduated with a Master’s degree in Business and Law from Dalhousie University in Halifax. She earned a specialization in Environmental Law and Environmental Management. Upon graduation, Tamara became the Executive Director of the Nova Scotia Environmental Network, an umbrella organization for all of the environmental groups in the province.

For three years, the Network partnered with the Atlantic Council for International Cooperation on an international development project in Honduras. Tamara also coordinated the Nova Scotia Working Group on Education for Sustainable Development and launched the annual Green Roots Sustainability Education Symposium. She co-founded the East Coast Environmental Law Association and established environmental legal capacity building and training programs. From 2006-2012, Tamara served on the national board of Eco-justice Canada and from 2008-2010, she served on the Minister’s Roundtable on the Environment and Sustainable Prosperity.

From 2010-2013, Tamara helped her sons’ former school, École Burton Ettinger Elementary School, in Nova Scotia, become one of the first and the best Green Schools in the province. She raised over $40,000 to improve the school grounds, provide an eco-retreat for all the teachers, give nature fields trips to all the students, buy new library books, bring in expert environmentalists, and acquire new green curriculum resources. With the money raised, the students and staff built three outdoor classroom spaces, raised vegetable beds for every class, created two butterfly gardens, and built a native bog with a bridge. They also installed birdhouses, benches, a bike rack, added more trees to their school forest, and planted a school orchard. Last fall, the school was featured in a film by TD Environment – A Greening Story: École Burton Ettinger Elementary School – Tamara’s sons are in the film!

Tamara has been a long-time volunteer in the Canadian peace movement. She has organized many local events and national campaigns. She is on the board of the Canadian Voice of Women for Peace. Tamara serves on the advisory council on the Global Network Against Nuclear Power and Weapons in Space.

From 2003 until 2013, Tamara was a member and one of the spokespeople for the Halifax Peace Coalition. In 2004, she won the Keep Space for Peace Award in New York. In 2012 and 2013, Tamara was invited to speak on military spending and military sexual violence on NGO panels at the Commission on the Status of Women Conferences at the United Nations.

In 2012, Tamara launched Demilitarize.ca and her blog “Wednesdays against Warships.” Last month, Tamara spoke on demilitarization and economic conversion at a peace conference in Santa Barbara, California.

As a Rotary Peace Fellow, Tamara is expected to create an Applied Field Experience.  This coming summer of 2014, Tamara plans to work for the International Peace Bureau (IPB) in Geneva, Switzerland, where she will help assist the IPB with its workshops at the International Peace Conference  in Sarajevo from June 6-9, 2014, and will help with the IPB’s Disarmament for Development campaign and its Global Day of Action Against Military Spending project. Her research interests involve the intersection of peace, the environment, and women’s rights. Tamara plans to pursue a PhD in the future to promote education for peace, non-violence, and disarmament.

We asked each Peace Fellow two interview questions.  Here are Tamara’s answers:

1.  What is your opinion about the prospects of an end to armed conflict in the next 50 years?

“I am hopeful that armed conflict will continue to decline over the next 50 years. I must have hope because a world without weapons and war is the world that I am working for, and it is the world that I want for my children and everyone on this fragile planet.

There is evidence to show that we are living in the most peaceful time in human history. In 2011, two major books were published, “The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined,” by Steven Pinker, and “Winning the War on War,” by Joshua Goldstein. With great research and analysis, these authors show how violence against women and minorities, wars between nations, battle deaths, slavery, and torture have decreased over time because of the increase in human rights, international law, and democracy. Last August (2013), the British people chose their “better angel” and forced Parliament to vote against a military strike in Syria.

There is an incredible growing global movement for peace. Almost 6,000 mayors have joined Mayors for Peace to demand the abolition of nuclear weapons. There is the Peace One Day organization that works hard to bring about a day of global ceasefire and non-violence annually on September 21st, which is the United Nations International Day of Peace. In 2010, the Global Day of Action against Military Spending started to raise awareness every year of the $1.7 trillion dollars wasted on military budgets that is not spent on urgent social and environmental needs. In 2012, One Billion Rising was launched on Valentine’s Day to end violence against women around the world.

This year, World Beyond War, an international, nonviolent campaign to put an end to war, and to establish a just and sustainable peace.   In many ways, our homes, schools, and communities are more peaceful, and it is only a matter of time before our international relations become more peaceful, too.

2. What do you believe are the three most important contributing factors to fostering peace within and among nations?

  1. Renouncing violence and war. We must stop violence at all levels from our private homes to all organizations and the people within them who work on policy making for international affairs at every level. Work must continue vigorously to reach the goal of complete, total disarmament—again, every place where people congregate to live and work together, from private homes to mammoth institutions, there must be “zero tolerance” for weapons that maim and kill.  The economics of the business of war must end, replaced by the economics that foster health and well-being for all living beings.  A “hard stop” must be imposed on the arms trade, eliminating military spending and stopping militarism in all of its forms, including “games.” We must live up to Alfred Nobel’s statement which he put in his will, [let there be]“No more standing armies.” 
  2. Investing in peace and sustainable development. We need to invest to tackle our dire climate and ecological crises. We can do this by building a global low-carbon economy that is green, peaceful, and fair.  We also must prioritize the achievement of the UN Millennium Development Goals for global social justice.
  3. Respecting gender equality, human rights, and international law. We must treat people with dignity, respect human rights, abide by international law, and implement the United Nations Security Council resolutions for Women, Peace & Security.  In addition, Western countries must be held accountable for war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in the recent past, e.g., Vietnam, Kosovo, Iraq, and Afghanistan.

We look forward to hearing from Tamara with updates on her activities.  She, along with the other Rotary Peace Fellows you have met so far, provide us with the inspiration to create the path we wish to follow in the pursuit of making the world a place that celebrates life.  We extend our great appreciation to all of the Peace Fellows for the work they are doing now and will do in the future.

Your comments are welcome.  Send them directly to our Managing Editor at:  rebecca.popham@tutufoundationusa.org, or use the “Post a Comment” box below if you prefer.