I met one of these people back in April. Her name is Gulalai Ismail, and when she was just 16, she co-founded an organisation to promote peace and gender equality. Living in Swabi, a rural village in northern Pakistan, Gulalai and her sister Saba faced challenging the people in their community – who has for years been influenced by the Taliban – to change their views.
I met Gulalai as she came to the UK to speak at TEDxExeter, a festival of groundbreaking ideas. She shared with me, and with an audience of tens of thousands of people, the experiences that led her to founding Aware Girls.
‘’I have experienced what it takes to make a young person want to be a jihadist. And I have learnt what it takes to prevent radicalisation’’.
As a child, Gulalai saw recruitment slogans on the walls of her village, encouraging young people to fight. But Gulalai’s father believed in peace, and taught her about tolerance and non-violence. Against the odds, and having been lucky enough to learn about women’s rights, religious equality, and non-violence, Gulalai and Saba founded Aware Girls.
Gulalai believes in the power of young people to promote tolerance and non-violence in their communities. Since being founded, Aware Girls has saved the lives of over 10,000 young people, by giving them an alternative to joining extremist armed groups. They deliver training sessions to young people on a variety of issues, from non-violence, to the political participation of girls and women. By sharing their knowledge, Gulalai and her sister put themselves at immense personal risk. But they believe in peace, and will continue to build it despite the threats they face.
We can learn so much from people like this. It takes courage to turn your back on violence but each and every one of us has the power to make a difference in our local communities, however small it may seem.
So on this International Day of Peace, Gulalai has a message for all of us.
We should take courage from peacebuilders like Gulalai. You may never know their names, and you may never know they exist, but they are stopping more people from turning to militant groups, they are rescuing child soldiers from a life of violence and they are building a better, more peaceful and more tolerant world, one person at a time.
You can partner with someone like Gulalai to make it possible for them to be trained to become a peacebuilder – find out more.