Sunday, March 1, 2015

Peacebuilders provide inspiration at Gather
(Dead Sea, Jordan)--When Parnian Nazary was 10 years old, the Taliban raided her forbidden girl’s school in Afghanistan, sending 30 students into the streets and several teachers to jail.

Today, she is advocacy manager for an NGO called Women for Afghan Women.

Wonderfully, here at the Seeds of Peace’s Gather peacebuilding event, she is one of many inspirational role models who
Inspirational Afghani women. (Photo from Seeds of Peace/Gather)
have overcome adversity or negativity to pursue a dream of peace.

For example, Ron Gerlitz, an Israeli of Jewish descent, is paddling upstream against what is often an anti-Arab current of public opinion in Israel. His NGO, Sikkuy, seeks to integrate economically integrate Arabs, who make up 21% of Israel’s population. Sikkuy also seeks to end discrimination against Israel’s Arabs. This effort has begun with their campaign to get busses to post signs in Arabic.

Megan Hallihan is another Gather peacebuilder. She’s the director of YaLa Palestine, and organization that encourages youth to become peace leaders through networking using information technology training. Her students produce blogs, social media, and civic journalism discussing difficult, vital regional issues. Soon, if her plans come to fruition, YaLa will also offer peace journalism training through the Center for Global Peace Journalism.

YaLa Palestine is part of the Alliance for Middle East Peace (ALLMEP), a consortium of organizations dedicated to "conflict transformation, development, coexistence, and cooperation activities on the ground in the Middle East among Israelis, Palestinians, Arabs, and Jews." ALLMEP sponsored several meetings here designed to help the peacebuilders attending to coordinate their activities and join forces to maximize their impact.

Another inspirational ALLMEP member is Combatants for Peace, headed by Sulaiman Khatib. His story, which includes traumatic teenage years spent “throwing stones at Israelis,” is most noteworthy for how, as an adult, he redirected his energy to peacefully ending what he calls “the occupation.” Khatib launched Combatants for Peace, which uses theater, puppeteers, storytelling, and other methods to help young Palestinians stay engaged politically while not submitting to a cycle of victimhood.

One of the most influential Gather peacemakers was a second Afghani woman, Fawzia Koofi. She has taken her campaigning to a new level. She’s a member of Afghanistan’s parliament, and a strong advocate for women’s rights. While Koofi acknowledges the tremendous progress of women and girls (45% of all school enrollees are females, for example), she notes that as the West withdraws from Afghanistan, the gains of the last dozen years are becoming increasingly fragile. “There is a fear we’ll go back to scratch and lost the achievements for women’s rights,” Koofi observed.

The inspiration provided by Koofi, Khatib, and many others at Gather is hard to quantify, but easy to understand if you heard the incredible stories here. It seems certain that these peacemakers’ stories will encourage the budding peace entrepreneurs at Gather to plant their own seeds of peace here in the Middle East and worldwide.

--Follow me on Twitter @PeaceJourn--

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