By Megha Kaveri Puthucode Sreeram
‘Peace’ is not a word with a single meaning. It has different definitions based on the context. This was one of the prime takeaways of the event ‘From the Personal to the Global – Experiences of Peace from Passionate Young Leaders’ held on Tuesday (November 2, 2021) at the Geneva Peace Week 2021. With five passionate peacebuilders from across the globe and moderated by Tanaka Mhunduru, the session gave five different perspectives of peace.
Opening the panel was Anupah Makoond, who is a peacebuilding practitioner from Mauritius and currently pursuing her Masters in Oxford University. With her experience of working with the community, Anupah said that to her, ‘peace’ is an idea that should be more proactive. “It is problematic that peace has come to be seen as a reactive process as if it exists only in relation to conflict, whereas peace must be proactive in all societies. People keep talking about cost of living, inequalities, quality of air, access to health etc. Even if not explicitly, implicitly people are always talking about peace,” she said, adding that her motive of participating in this event was the hope that at least one person will be interested in the kind of work she does and carry the mantle forward. As a peacebuilder, it is her wish to push the narrative to look beyond ‘peace’ as related to just conflicts and for more diversity in the sector. She highlighted that most of the times, those with the privilege of growing up and living in peaceful regions take ‘peace’ for granted and implored that this should change, moving forward.
The session then split into two breakout rooms. One room had Maria del Pilar Aristizabal from Colombia and Rajendra Senchurey from Nepal, while the other room had Désiré Tuyishemeze from Burundi and Batol Gholami from Afghanistan. The author of this piece attended the breakout room – 1, with panelists from Colombia and Nepal. The discussion in the other room will be available on the Geneva Peace Week website as a recording.
In room 1, Maria del Pilar, the Founder and CEO of Life Academy, spoke about her motivation to start an organisation to work with teenagers in Colombia. The loss of her friend of 10 years to suicide prompted her to think about the change she wanted to create in the society. “In my healing process, I founded Life Academy which helps young people to prevent suicides in Colombia and nearby countries. We should empower young people with tools to understand how powerful they are,” she said. Life Academy is now an integral part of the school curriculum in Colombia, to help young people deal with life and the mixed experiences that are inherent in it. When asked about how difficult it was to convince the government about Life Academy’s work and the need to work with teenagers, Maria del Pilar replied that she didn’t know it was that difficult until she put her feet in it. “I just took the data on suicides with me to show them and told them that I can change it,” she said. Adding that it is important and challenging to equip teenagers with healthy knowledge about emotions and the power of dreams, Maria said, “They are in that part of life when they are trying to figure things out. When you start treating young people like they are aware of their opinions and respect what they want, that changes a lot of things. We also need to focus on the hatred they have on themselves (due to their age).”
Rajendra Senchurey, meanwhile, opened his talk with a story from his own life – About how he changed his surname in an attempt to hide his identity as a Dalit (also called ‘untouchables’). However, he soon realised that concealing his name will not prevent the caste-based discrimination that he will be subjected to.
Speaking against caste-based discrimination in countries like Nepal, Rajendra said that this type of discrimination must be annihilated. “Unless everyone embraces each other, we cannot harvest the fruits of diversity. There are identity-based conflicts around the world and that shouldn’t be the case. This is not taken seriously by our policymakers,” he added. To a question on how to eradicate caste-based discrimination, Rajendra said that the approach towards it needs to be multi-pronged. “Education is the first and foremost way to inculcate the values of equality. Empowerment of marginalised people -socially, economically and politically – is the second in the list. Thirdly, dominant caste people must take steps to embrace equality and practice it in real life,” he pointed out.
Geneva Peace Week 2021 will be held between November 1st and 5th covering four thematic tracks: Creating a Climate for Collaboration, Moving beyond Securitization, Harnessing the Digital Sphere for Peace, and Confronting inequalities and advancing inclusion, peace, and SDG16. Find more information and registration links here.