To me, peacebuilding means working with local leaders in conflict zones around the world to bring peace and inclusivity to their community.
My eagerness to engage in peacebuilding, and stop the devastating loss to human life that war is responsible for, grew while taking a university course called Wars and Humanitarian Crises. I learnt that the best way to create sustainable peace is to address the root causes of violence. We can only achieve this by working with local people. They have experienced conflict first-hand, and are the only ones who can make lasting peace.
I believe that we each have a responsibility to help our fellow human beings and stop the suffering and human rights abuses that often go unchecked in war-affected areas. While I knew that I wanted to help support those affected by war and conflict, I didn’t know how to go about it before I found Peace Direct. Through fundraising, campaigning and raising awareness on my university campus, being a student ambassador for Peace Direct has given me a way to make a difference. I’ve spread the word about changing the future of young women and girls in Pakistan, preventing a teenager in Burundi from joining an armed militia, and stopping the war in Syria from tearing a family apart. By promoting peace, we are also increasing the prospects of development, environmental welfare, social justice, economic growth and reconciliation – all of which are vital for a safe and prosperous society.
I am incredibly fortunate to be able to say that I have not had any lived experience of the devastating impacts of conflict and war, but that doesn’t mean I can’t be part of the solution. Peacebuilding is a movement I am wholeheartedly behind; I am enthusiastic to work alongside Peace Direct as one of their ambassadors.
If you could have one wish, what would it be? When I was younger, I wished for world peace. Of course, as a child I didn’t consider the practicalities of how peace could happen, or how it would be sustained. I simply wished for everybody to live happily and safely.
I have come to realise that peace is not something that can be achieved so easily. Peacebuilding is a long process, which includes resolving current conflicts and creating an environment in which they can be prevented in the future. Nonetheless, peace is not an unattainable ideal: Peace Direct and its partners show how conflict can be stopped, and prevented, in a sustainable way. To me, peacebuilding means establishing relationships and creating understanding between people.
One of the recurring themes in history is misunderstanding. Whether a genuine miscommunication or an unwillingness to understand, it is regularly at the root of conflict. In our everyday life, for example, fights with friends are often easily resolved by talking it over. How many times have you heard, or uttered the sentence: “I didn’t mean it like that!”
From my own experience, the opposite is also true: once you do understand one another, mutual respect develops, and strangers can become friends. Coming to University as an international student was terrifying, but now I have friends from every continent of the world. Places like Nepal and South Africa suddenly aren’t that alien anymore. It has also shown me the importance of letting local people lead the conversation on resolving conflict, because they know their communities and what works best for them.
Peacebuilding feeds into the ongoing process of understanding others. This is why peacebuilding is such an important activity to pursue.
Peacebuilding, to me, is a dynamic, complex practice. No two examples are the same. Many factors shape peacebuilding: the nature of a conflict, the political and historical context, the way communities rebuild, and the availability of resources. Every example is different in its own way.
My interest in peacebuilding stems from the emphasis it places on community-level agency. This diverges from the typical perception that peace can only be achieved from above.
For me peacebuilding should be led locally, from the grassroots. Local people have a unique insight into the peacebuilding methods and strategies that will be most effective in their contexts. Whilst it’s important to consider that ‘local actors’ are not one, homogeneous group – a bottom-up perspective ensures a level of expertise which can rarely, if at all, be replicated from the top-down.
Peacebuilding should also mean flexibility and commitment – including from supporters and donors. The COVID-19 pandemic has made this clear. Last month’s #PeaceTalks with Anyway Mutetwa of Envision Zimbabwe Women’s Trust conveyed how essential it is for funding to be flexible so initiatives can adapt. This thinking should be applied beyond the current circumstances. Appreciating that situations and dynamics can change quickly is important; embracing flexibility and commitment provides a better chance for peace. With this in mind, peacebuilding to me means establishing long-term, lasting peace and stability – rather than preventing threats of violence in the short-term.
So, peacebuilding is complex, diverse and contextual. A practice in which local knowledge is key, local agency should be advocated, and flexibility should be embraced.
You can find out more about our programme, and become a student ambassador yourself.