As 2016 draws to a close, and we reflect on the year that has passed, the urgent need to work for peace is clearer now more than ever.
In the world today, two billion people live in countries affected by fragility, conflict and violence. As many as 65 million people have fled their homes because of conflict and persecution – more than at any time since records began. Violence touches and destroys lives from Paris to Pakistan.
It is often the human stories of tragedy that move us the most. From the blood stained pavements of Nice to the image of dazed and confused five-year-old Omran Daqneesh, the young Syrian child covered from head to toe in dust blinking through shattered sleep and the debris of an attack, 2016 has brought devastation and destruction for so many.
But in the midst of this are powerful stories of determination and grit. Stories of people working against the odds to stop wars and build better futures for all people they live and work with.
Throughout this past year we have had the privilege of hearing them, and of supporting local people to turn cries of anguish into the relief of hope.
This painstaking work sits just out of reach of the international media. But local peacebuilders are taking action every day to keep not just people, but hope, alive. Here are seven of their stories.
Despite horrendous reports of violence, poverty and suffering in Northern Nigeria, local organisations are committed to addressing the roots of conflict, and improving the lives of people suffering because of it. Here is Michael’s story:
“I am Christian and was born in Lagos, but had lived in the community in Kano, Northern Nigeria, for 19 years. I had lived there for years but one day, somebody decided I should be attacked, and tipped off a militia to come and do it.
That day at 10am, I came back to my house. My wife and brother were both out of town so I was alone. I noticed that the whole neighbourhood was quiet, the shops were all closed. I felt danger.
I locked my house and went into the streets to see what was going on. When I reached the main road I saw about 100 young boys coming for me. I managed to run to my neighbours who were Muslim. They hid me. I was at their house for four hours. I could see the smoke from them setting fire to my house and my car. Eventually, the police came and took me to a safehouse.
I had lived in the neighbourhood for 19 years and I was seen as a stranger. But I did not want to take revenge. I knew I must do something positive. I needed to forgive, move on and change the trend towards violence. So other members of the community and I, who had all had similar experiences, set up an organisation to work with young people on leadership, peace and identity – to stop this happening again.”
In Somalia, years of civil war, famine, piracy and attacks by extremist groups have destroyed much of the economy, and forced millions to flee. In this fragile situation, militant group al-Shabaab recruits marginalised men and women, promising money and shelter.
In the city of Kismayo, we work with local organisation SADO to provide skills training in mechanics, electronics and tailoring. This supports local young people to build livelihoods, get jobs and earn an income, providing a practical alternative to militant groups or the treacherous boat journey across the Mediterranean.
“My name is Jalal* and I live in north-west Pakistan. It is known as a hotbed of militancy and extremism, where militants run the streets and bombs destroy lives.
When the Taliban began taking over our area, I didn’t know what to do. One by one, I lost most of my friends to the Taliban.
They were used to carry out suicide attacks in neighbouring Afghanistan and Waziristan, just across the border from Pakistan.
Writing against the Taliban did not seem enough. I felt the need to somehow stop the Taliban. So along with a few of my friends, I began educating youth about peace and conflict resolution. I advised them to stay away from extremist groups.
I started conducting sessions with the youth who were being trained by the Taliban. The first two sessions are the most dangerous.
If I convinced the young people of what I way saying, I could save them. But in the cases where I failed to convince them, they told the Taliban about my activities.
Their threats turned into attacks. Fortunately I escaped. I have received tips from others about how to protect myself in this dangerous work.
Things have changed considerably since I began working to stop youth turning to extremism. I hope all this militancy ends soon.”
These are the words spoken by one young participant in Adamawa Peacemakers Initiative’s programmes. API won the inter-religious peacebuilding prize in this year’s Tomorrow’s Peacebuilders awards. They use sport and IT to foster peace and tolerance amongst youth in conflict and post-conflict communities. This helps ensure those most at-risk from violence and extremism are offered alternatives to joining Boko Haram.
Watch the thank you video:
This year, three inspirational local organisations won the prestigious prize for their work stopping war and building peace around the world.
Blaise, aged 30, has helped rescue over 1500 child soldiers from the bush in DR Congo. Despite having been captured by rebel militia groups, receiving threats against his own life, Blaise is committed to building peace.
Since April 2015, hundreds have been killed in Burundi and over 250,000 have fled the country. Reports emerged of mass graves, targeted assassinations, and rape being used as a weapon of war. Verging on economic collapse, Burundi remains in a tense and fragile situation.
But local people are taking action against violence and insecurity. Working across 18 provinces, we support a network of local activists to monitor violence and human rights abuses and respond to incidents where they spark. They spot the early warning signs of violence, negotiate for the release of those wrongly detained, and organise peacebuilding activities to promote tolerance.
By summer 2016, 5,597 reports from civil society activists were verified, providing crucial information from the heart of the conflict.
Josephine Masika is 44 and lives in DR Congo. After her husband was killed by others in her community, Josephine joined the rebels to seek revenge. She spent 6 years, from 2005-2011, in the bush as a combatant.
Now Josephine works with a local peacebuilding organisation to negotiate for the release of child soldiers using medicines, food or money as leverage.
She supports the rescued children, training them in skills and livelihoods so they can earn a living and build a future for themselves. Josephine turned away from violence and is now supporting the next generation to do the same.
These are just some of the reasons why we continue to strive for peace – built brick by brick from the ground up. As 2016 draws to a close, we want to thank you for your continued support to all those fighting for peace in some of the most fragile places in the world.
It is these people we stand up for. Thank you for standing up for them too.