In April, more than 250 people in Sri Lanka were killed when suicide bombs exploded at churches and hotels in the city of Colombo. Our local partners at the Center for Peacebuilding and Reconciliation, while grappling with their own sorrow, were inundated with calls from religious leaders around the country asking for help. The group’s mission is to promote interfaith dialogue. They kicked into action, traveling around the country to help protect Muslim communities from any backlash.
More tragedy struck in July, when al-Shabaab attacked a hotel in Kismayo, Somalia, and local peacebuilder Abdullahi Isse was among the 26 people killed. It was a tremendous loss to our peacebuilding family. He was executive director of the Social-Life and Agricultural Development Organization, which helps Somalis with farming and livestock training, accessing clean water and obtaining an education. His colleagues vowed to continue the mission of improving the lives of all Somalis.
In September, our peacebuilding partner Gulalai Ismail escaped harassment and death threats in Pakistan and arrived safely in the U.S., where she is continuing her peacebuilding work with her sister Saba. Together, they formed a nonprofit called Voices for Peace and Democracy to advocate for women peacebuilders and counter violent extremism.
But the challenges in Pakistan remain. In October, the sisters’ father, retired professor and human rights activist Muhammad Ismail, was unjustly charged and detained in Pakistan, where government pressure is increasing on those who speak out about human rights abuses.
In 2019, Peace Direct started two multi-country programs: the Local Action Fund and Youth Action for Peace Program.
Under the Local Action Fund, we are supporting 11 community-led groups, individuals and civil society organizations in northern Nigeria with small grants to run initiatives to prevent violence based on ethnic/religious identity and land/resource scarcity. This is just a start, and we hope to support dozens more organizations and people.
In Myanmar under the same fund, we support a network of organizations that are working to combat hate speech and the spread of misinformation, which demonizes certain populations and fosters mistrust and division. The network aims to expand its reach and mitigate the anticipated hate speech and violence leading up to the 2020 elections.
Our vision is to support hundreds of groups and organizations working for peace, and the Local Action Fund is helping us to do that.
The Youth Action for Peace Program is a three-year initiative that involves local partners in the Central African Republic, Mali and Pakistan. The program aims to empower youth-led civil society organizations and other youth groups to collaborate and lead their own peacebuilding initiatives, while creating spaces and opportunities for their voices to be heard at the local and national level.
Two of our youth peacebuilders – Dishani Senaratne from Sri Lanka and Christian Cirhigiri of the Democratic Republic of Congo – spoke about the importance of including youth voices in policy decisions at events surrounding the UN High Level Political Forum in New York in July.
Dishani described it as a “rare opportunity” to discuss the realities of peacebuilders’ work on the ground. She is the project director of a nonprofit called Writing Doves that promotes cultural understanding in war-affected areas of Sri Lanka by publishing children’s stories in three languages.
The Global Fragility Act passed Congress and was signed into law (updated Dec. 20). The act requires the U.S. to create a coordinated strategy to help reduce violence in key countries, and to consult with local civil society in doing so. Peace Direct supports this legislation and has helped educate members of Congress on the importance of listening to and supporting local peacebuilders as key to building sustainable peace.
Peace Direct joined forces with other +Peace organizations to raise public awareness about peacebuilding work around the world and how anyone can be a peacebuilder in their own community. Leading up to the International Day of Peace on Sept. 21, we recorded people’s messages about #whatpeacemeans to them, and held other talks and events. Even more activities are planned for 2020, so follow us on social media for the latest news!