As 2016 draws to a close, I would like to share some of the highlights of our work with local partners around the world in this past year; work that would not have been possible without your support.
Despite war, violence, tumultuous conflict, the work of our partners gives me confidence, hope and inspiration that local people can stop war and build peace, even in the world’s most fragile places. I hope you find inspiration in these stories too.
I am extremely proud to announce that we have established a new partnership with a local organisation in Syria, working in Idlib province. Despite almost insurmountable odds, they work across the province to mediate between rival groups, and find ways to rebuild communities shattered by the violence of the past five years. When targeted by Islamic State earlier in the year, five people tragically lost their lives. One of leaders of the organisation was badly injured in the blast. ‘At first glance I felt myself between heaven and earth, flying above,’ he said. They were offered asylum in France, but all the staff decided to stay, determined to play their part in rebuilding their country. ‘If we go, who will help?’ they asked themselves. We are honoured to be working with them.
In Somalia, our work with young people at risk of joining Al Shabaab continues to go from strength to strength. Hundreds of young people were provided with training so that they can start their own business and be productive members of their community. ‘Before I joined the vocational programme’ said Abdifatah, one trainee, ‘my ambition was to join the boat migration to Europe. How to migrate to Europe was my biggest worry. Today such worries have vanished. I am a skilled person and can create my own business.’ As we enter the third year of this project, we are determined to give more young people like Abdifatah other options to either a life in the militia or leaving Somalia in search of a better life.
Hot on the heels of the news that our longstanding partner in Sri Lanka, the Centre for Peacebuilding and Reconciliation, was awarded the Niwano Peace Prize, we received wonderful news from Pakistan. Our outstanding local partner, Aware Girls, headed up by sisters Gulalai and Saba Ismail, were awarded the Chirac Peace Prize in Paris, a global prize that recognises exceptional peacebuilding work.
Their work to empower women in areas heavily influenced by extremist narratives, as well as their effort to ‘De-Talibanise’ communities through their network of youth peace activists, is gaining increasing international recognition. We were so proud to see them being awarded this prestigious prize by President Hollande in November. Our long term commitment to Aware Girls, which started seven years ago when they had no other support, has helped them achieve such decisive success today. Without the consistent support from you, we could not have given Aware Girls the type of accompaniment that has helped them achieve their goals.
I am also delighted to announce that we have recently established a new partnership with a local organisation based in Kano, Northern Nigeria, called Peace Initiative Network (PIN). PIN works with people from different religious, ethnic, and regional backgrounds to encourage them to work for peace in places blighted by intercommunal violence and devastating attacks by Boko Haram. We know from our 12 years of experience that local peacebuilding groups like PIN enjoy unique levels of trust within local communities, making the prospect of successful peacebuilding much more likely, impactful and sustainable.
There have been many other highlights for me which speak to the capacity of ordinary people to do extraordinary things; to stop wars and build peace. In Sudan we commissioned an expert to look into the impact of 11 Peace Committees that we have been supporting for almost five years to intervene in local conflicts at risk of escalation. His assessment was unequivocal: ‘There are sizeable numbers of conflict which were prevented from escalating through local resolution mechanisms initiated by peace committees’.
In Burundi, as the country slips further into chaos and violence, our support to a network of local organisations that now monitors violence across the entire country is providing governments and the UN with one of the few trusted nationwide sources of information on the situation on the ground. Our local partners risk their lives every day to collect and share this information and we will continue to do everything we can to support them.
As we look to 2017, some of you may understandably feel anxious about the prospects of peace, as we see the destruction of Aleppo playing out on our TV screens, the rise of xenophobia across Europe, and the election of one of the most divisive US presidential candidates in history.
I know that the coming year will be extremely challenging for all of us, but I am buoyed by your support. Peace Direct is committed to building a world where conflicts are resolved non-violently and where local people lead those efforts; as our new Syrian partner asked themselves, ‘If we go, who will help?’
I look forward to continuing this journey with you into 2017 and beyond. Thank you once again for everything you have done for us and, most importantly, for the people on the frontlines of conflict striving every day for a more peaceful future.