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2021 Global Pluralism Award Winner Puja Kapai Featured on the i-Impact Podcast

“Empowering Marginalized Communities through an Intersectional Approach to Social Justice Advocacy”, An i-Impact Podcast Episode Featuring Puja Kapai

2021 Global Pluralism Award Winner Puja Kapai was featured on the i-Impact Podcast. In the episode, “Empowering Marginalized Communities through an Intersectional Approach to Social Justice Advocacy”, Puja talks about challenging gendered and racialized cultural norms and championing equal rights for Hong Kong’s ethnic minorities.

An Afro Latina’s mission to embrace natural hair gets push from beauty giant

An Afro Latina’s mission to embrace natural hair gets push from beauty giant

February 23rd, 2022

By Sheyla Baez

After making a name for herself through social media and salons, Dominican American Carolina Contreras’ upcoming Miss Rizos products will be sold at the retailer Sephora.

Ease and joy are two things that Carolina Contreras, founder and CEO of Miss Rizos, hopes to bring to people through her upcoming products designed for curly and Afro-textured hair.

“I knew, I knew, that what we had was special. And I knew there was an empty sort of shelf both online and in stores kind of waiting for this product to happen,” she said.

Contreras, who is Dominican American, will see her products sold at the beauty retailer Sephora. It’s part of Sephora’s 2022 Accelerate brand incubator program, focused on mentoring and supporting upcoming beauty entrepreneurs.

Beyond hair care, Contreras sees her Miss Rizos products as activism. She first became known through her blog, Miss Rizos, celebrating natural hair, as well as through her social media presence and a couple of hair salons she opened.

Embracing blackness, but what about hair?

The concept of Miss Rizos — rizos means curls in Spanish — originated in 2011. After college, Contreras decided to spend time in the Dominican Republic, where she was born.

She wanted to learn what Blackness within the Dominican diaspora meant; it wasn’t a topic openly discussed in the community, she said. A two-month trip turned into a 10-year adventure.

In the Dominican Republic, the routine blowouts to straighten her hair did not last, and choosing between enjoying a beach day and keeping her hair straight became a burden.

The entire premise of moving back to her home country was to learn about her Afro Latino roots, but she was holding back on the one thing that would bring her closer to it — her hair.

Contreras said that one day, two college professors approached her while she was at the beach. They suggested she should stop sunbathing before her skin got too dark. Contreras was not oblivious to the prevalent issue of colorism in her home country. She let them know she was not worried about getting darker, among many other things, but what they later told her felt like a slap in the face.

“You talk about embracing blackness, but you relax your hair,” she said they told her.

That became Contreras’ wake-up call. She realized she wasn’t straightening her hair because it was her choice — it was the only thing she knew. Her mother would relax her hair from a very young age. Whenever her natural hair growth would start coming in and money wasn’t tight, a hair relaxer was the go-to thing. With time, straight hair was the ultimate definition of beauty.

After the comments by the professors, she began to cut her hair and learned to style it in its natural, curly form. As she became in touch with her Blackness, she also found her purpose. 

Contreras’ online community grew as she taught women how to care for their hair on social media and erase the negative connotations associated with Afro-textured hair.

As she shared her hair journey on her blog, people in the Dominican Republic would ask her if she could do the same with their hair. The only experience she had, beside styling her own hair, was a few things she had picked up from working in her aunt’s salon in the United States. 

In 2014, Contreras opened one of the first hair salons for Afro-textured and curly hair in the Dominican Republic. The salon was extremely successful, and in 2019 she opened her second salon, Miss Rizos NYC, in Washington Heights. The New York City salon closed during the pandemic, though she plans to reopen it at some point.

Before applying to the Sephora Accelerate program, creating her hair care line was always top of mind. She had tried in the Dominican Republic, but things did not work out.

The Sephora program is in its early stage, so Contreras can’t say much about what the final hair care line will include.

“I want people to be able to glide their hands through their hair with our products and to feel sort of this ease and joy around their curls,” she said, stressing her goal of celebrating Afro-textured hair.

When customers pick up the product, Contreras wants them to know and feel it’s a Dominican-owned product line.

Funding women of color

The Accelerate program is now in its seventh year and has evolved to focus on Black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC) entrepreneurs. This year’s program will launch 10 BIPOC beauty brands.

Accessing funds is especially difficult, especially for women. According to Crunchbase data, “for the first eight months of 2021, companies with solely female founders raised just 2.2 percent of all venture funding.”

“To be an entrepreneur is one of the hardest things,” said Priya Venkatesh, senior vice president of merchandising at Sephora. “America offers a great marketplace for entrepreneurs; however, it is hard. You have to get capital, You have to have connections. No one’s born with a knowledge of ‘Let me create a brand from scratch,’ there’s many aspects to it.”

While the brands from previous Accelerate programs weren’t always sold at Sephora, the program has pivoted and committed to launch all brands in Sephora in line with its commitment to dedicate 15 percent of its shelf space to Black-owned businesses. 

Global Centre for Pluralism announces the 2021 Global Pluralism Award Winners

Global Centre for Pluralism announces 2021 Global Pluralism Award Winners

Hand in Hand: Center for Jewish-Arab Education in Israel (Israel), Namati Kenya (Kenya) and Puja Kapai (Hong Kong) awarded for outstanding achievements in promoting inclusion worldwide

February 23, 2021, Ottawa, Canada – Today, the Global Centre for Pluralism announced three winners of the 2021 Global Pluralism Award, listed alphabetically: Hand in Hand: Center for Jewish-Arab Education in Israel – a network of bilingual and integrated schools that foster a community of inclusion, cooperation and respect among Jewish and Arab students; Namati Kenya – an organization advancing citizenship rights and access to justice for Kenya’s minority communities; and Puja Kapai (Hong Kong) – a lawyer, professor and social justice advocate challenging gendered and racialized cultural norms to promote equal rights for Hong Kong’s ethnic minorities.

“Hand in Hand is deeply moved and honoured to be selected as a Global Pluralism Award winner and for this recognition of our work promoting pluralism, equality, and shared society in Israel,” said CEO Hand in Hand, Dani Elazar. “Now, more than ever, the time is ripe to advance initiatives which foster equality and combat the deep-seated divisions within Israel’s education system and Israeli society at large.”

“Access to identification documents is the opener to inclusion – whether in economic, social, or political domains,” said Mustafa Mahmoud, Senior Program Manager for Namati Kenya’s Citizenship Justice program. “Receiving the Global Pluralism Award is an honour, to be recognized for our work supporting diverse minority communities in Kenya to overcome discrimination in securing their own ID cards and to push for equal access to identification for all.”

“I am most humbled to receive the Global Pluralism Award. By honouring my work in advancing social justice in relation to race, gender and minority rights, the Award renders visible the lived realities of all those who are routinely marginalised and experience systemic exclusion and discrimination in nearly every sphere of life. The Award also signals the responsibilities we each carry to begin the journey of inclusion, acceptance and pluralism at home,” said Puja Kapai, Associate Professor of Law at the University of Hong Kong.

The Global Pluralism Award celebrates pluralism in action. As a result of their sustained achievements to promote respect across differences, the Award winners and seven honourable mention recipients are helping to build more inclusive societies, in which human diversity is valued and thrives.

The Global Centre for Pluralism received 500 nominations spanning 70 countries for the 2021 Global Pluralism Award. This year’s winners underwent a rigorous review process by an independent, international jury of experts from various disciplines related to pluralism and have made extraordinary strides to advance pluralism through education, legal empowerment and minority rights. The Global Centre for Pluralism, founded by His Highness the Aga Khan and the Government of Canada, recognized the three winners and seven honourable mentions at a virtual award ceremony today. The winners were each granted $50,000 and in-kind support to further their work in promoting more inclusive, just societies.

“We live in times of great division and inequity.  We need to push back against these trends.  The 2021 Awardees offer us tangible and innovative examples of pluralism in action.  They demonstrate courage and creativity in the face of extraordinary challenges and in times of conflict and crisis.  Their stories have the capacity to inspire us to take action towards pluralism in our own spaces.  The Centre is deeply honoured to be supporting their work.” said Meredith Preston McGhie, Secretary General of the Global Centre for Pluralism.  

“The jury is delighted to be recognizing the 2021 Global Pluralism Award winners, selected from amongst hundreds of submissions. They are examples of what contagious change can be inspired by the creative and human instinct of pluralism, of acting together rather than apart,” said the Right Honourable Joe Clark, former Prime Minister of Canada and Chair of the Award Jury.

Past winners include Deborah Ahenkorah (2019) – a children’s book publisher from Ghana championing the importance of African literature for children; Leyner Palacios Asprilla (2017) – founder of the Committee for the Rights of Bojayá Victims, which represents 11,000 victims from the Colombian conflict; and Daniel Webb (2017) – Director of Legal Advocacy, Human Rights Law Centre, who combines legal action, medica advocacy, public campaigns and United Nations engagement to tackle the offshore detention issue in Australia.

About the 2021 Global Pluralism Award Winners:

  • Hand in Hand: Center for Jewish-Arab Education in Israel (Israel) is a network of integrated, bilingual and multicultural schools equipping a new generation to live together in cooperation and respect.  In these schools, Hebrew and Arabic languages have equal status, as do both cultures and national narratives. With over 2,000 students and supported by a community of active citizens who come together in solidarity and dialogue, Hand in Hand is working to build a shared, inclusive society.
  • Namati Kenya (Kenya) uses legal empowerment to aid historically excluded communities who lack national identification documents needed to access even the most basic services.  Since 2013, Namati Kenya has supported more than 12,000 Kenyans in efforts to obtain these legal identity documents. Through a network of community paralegals, the organization builds legal awareness, aiming to empower communities to overcome discrimination and cultivate inclusivity and belonging.

  • Ms. Puja Kapai (Hong Kong) is an academic, lawyer and social justice advocate who challenges gendered and racialized cultural norms and champions equal rights for Hong Kong’s ethnic minorities. Through an intersectional approach that combines research, advocacy and grassroots mobilization, Ms. Kapai has garnered unprecedented attention to the status of ethnic minorities in Hong Kong, contributing to the abolishment of racially segregated schools for ethnic minority children.

About the 2021 Global Pluralism Award Honourable Mentions:

  • All Out (Global) is a global LGBT+ movement committed to creating a world where nobody must sacrifice their family, freedom, safety or dignity because of who they are or who they love. Their work contributes to pluralism and the respect for diversity by building positive narratives about LGBT+ lives around the world, changing hearts and minds among potential allies and ultimately contributing to better lived experiences for LGBT+ communities.
  • ArtLords (Afghanistan) combines street art and activism to facilitate social transformation and trauma healing. Founded in Afghanistan, ArtLords’ collective of ‘artivists’ have painted over 2,000 murals across the country’s bomb-blast walls, spreading messages of peace, justice and tolerance. ArtLords is also pivoting their work to new global contexts, including Afghan refugee communities, with a vision to one day hold exhibitions around the world.
  • Ms. Carolina Contreras (Dominican Republic) is a social entrepreneur who empowers Afro-Latinxs by redefining beauty standards through Miss Rizos(in English, “Miss Curls”), a global movement that seeks to normalize and celebrate natural hair. With natural hair salons and youth empowerment initiatives in Santo Domingo and New York City, Ms. Contreras is empowering thousands of women and girls to celebrate diversity, challenge stereotypes and rewrite a deeply embedded colonial narrative about what it means to be beautiful.
  • Community Building Mitrovica (Kosovo) is a grassroots organization that creates safe spaces for dialogue and relationship-building across ethnic lines in northern Kosovo. Working in Mitrovica, a city known for its ethnic diversity and ethnic divides, the organization connects Serbian and Albanian communities that have been separated by war and mistrust. By gathering citizens around issues of peacebuilding, human rights and economic development, Community Building Mitrovica builds links of trust and contributes to advancing a pluralist society.
  • Mr. Lenin Raghuvanshi (India) is a human rights defender working to advance the rights of India’s most marginalized communities. He is co-founder of the People’s Vigilance Committee on Human Rights, an inclusive social movement that challenges the patriarchy and the caste system. Mr. Raghuvanshi works at the village level across 5 states in northern India to strengthen local institutions, promote human rights and to build connections across the society.
  • Ms. Rose LeMay (Canada) is an educator from the Taku River Tlingit First Nation and the CEO and founder of Indigenous Reconciliation Group. Through her organization, Ms. LeMay works to change the mindsets of non-Indigenous Canadians, encouraging them to take the first steps towards reconciliation. Ms. LeMay has spent her career advocating for Indigenous inclusion and has educated and coached thousands of Canadians on cultural competence and anti-racism.
  • Mr. Trésor Nzengu Mpauni (Malawi), also known as Menes la Plume, is a Congolese hip-hop artist and slam poet living in Dzaleka Refugee Camp, who uses his talents to raise awareness on issues surrounding refugees. Mr. Mpauni is the founder of Tumaini Festival, the only international arts and music festival based at a refugee camp, promoting intercultural harmony and greater understanding of the refugee experience. Since 2014, he has attracted hundreds of performers and thousands of attendees from around the world to what is today one of Malawi’s premier festivals.


Tanja Maleska, Manager, Communications and Public Affairs, Global Centre for Pluralism [email protected]

Puja Kapai featured at TEDxTinHauWomen 2021

Puja Kapai featured at TEDxTinHauWomen 2021

December 10, 2021

On December 10th, Puja Kapai was featured as a speaker at TEDxTinHauWoman, the only annual TEDx event dedicated to women in Hong Kong. The event theme was “What Matters Now”, focused on issues that have emerged as the most important ones in the light of the pandemic- Self Care, Purpose and Perspective.

“How the COVID crisis can be an opportunity for justice”: Puja Kapai calls COVID-19 the great amplifier of social injustice. During the pandemic, discrimination, child abuse, and gender-based violence have disproportionately impacted those living on the margins of society. How can this be a learning moment for action before the next crisis strikes?

Global Centre for Pluralism announces finalists for 2021 Global Pluralism Award

Global Centre for Pluralism announces finalists for 2021 Global Pluralism Award

10 global finalists selected for contributions to advancing pluralism and respect for diversity worldwide.

November 08, 2021, Ottawa, Canada – The Global Centre for Pluralism today announced the 10 finalists for the 2021 Global Pluralism Award, an honour that celebrates excellence in the field of pluralism. The Award is presented once every two years to individuals, organizations and governments around the world for exemplary achievements in building more inclusive societies where diversity is protected.

“The Centre is inspired by the creativity and resilience of this year’s finalists, whose achievements offer tangible, inspiring examples of the power of pluralism in today’s world,” said Meredith Preston McGhie, Secretary General of the Global Centre for Pluralism. “Amidst troubling global trends of division and reduced civic space, these finalists are doing incredible work to raise awareness, build connections, and change minds, narratives, and structures.”

The Global Centre for Pluralism received 500 nominations spanning 70 countries for the 2021 Global Pluralism Award. Nominees undergo a rigorous review process and are selected by an independent, international jury of experts from disciplines related to pluralism.

“Pluralism is a description of the respect, co-operation and shared purpose which make communities work,” said the Right Honourable Joe Clark, former Prime Minister of Canada, and Jury Chair. “These finalists have made a remarkable contribution to pluralism. They show originality and courage in dealing with challenges of injustice, inequality and exclusion in today’s world.” 

In Afghanistan, the Dominican Republic, Kosovo, Israel, India, Kenya, Hong Kong, Canada, Malawi, and globally—the 2021 finalists have made extraordinary strides to advance pluralism through education, community building, socio-economic development, and the arts.

“Pluralism is what will bind us together and help us maintain our diversity and our communities,” said Kim Ghattas, Emmy-Award winning journalist and Juror of the 2021 Global Pluralism Award. “The Global Pluralism Award reminds us of the incredible work that so many people are doing to advance pluralism across the globe. The sheer courage of these finalists is humbling and gives me a lot of hope.” 

Three Pluralism Award winners will be announced at a virtual ceremony in February 2022. Each winner will receive a prize of CAD $50,000 to further their work in support of pluralism.


Tanja Maleska

Manager, Communications and Public Affairs, Global Centre for Pluralism

[email protected]

Alice Wairimu Nderitu chosen to be UN special adviser

Alice Wairimu Ndetritu chosen to be UN special adviser

By Moraa Obiria | The East African| November 17, 2020

The United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres appointed Wairimu Nderitu the UN Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide.

In making the announcement on November 10, Mr Guterres described The EastAfrican columnist as “a recognised voice in the field of peace building and violence prevention, having led as mediator and senior adviser in reconciliation processes among communities in her country, Kenya, as well as in other African settings.”

Ms Nderitu is a renowned armed conflict mediator who has played varying roles in the conflict prevention and peace building processes for more than 12 years. Her new role will involve collecting relevant information on political, human rights, humanitarian, social and economic developments across the world. This will then help in identifying early warning signs of the risk of atrocious crimes.

She will also play the crucial role of advocating mobilisation of UN system and member states to take effective action in response to situations where populations are at risk of atrocious crimes.

Ms Nderitu, who won the inaugural Global Pluralism Award in 2017 — given by the Global Centre for Pluralism to organisations, individuals and governments who promote peaceful cohesion through pluralism — started her career on a rather different path. 

In 1990, Ms Nderitu graduated from the University of Nairobi with an undergraduate degree in Literature and Philosophy. In 1991, she joined the Prisons Department as a prisons officer and in the following year she was deployed to Lang’ata Women’s Prison in Nairobi, the only women’s maximum security facility. While there she witnessed human rights abuses, according to The Life and Work of Alice Nderitu of Kenya by Stephanie Chiu.

Between 1993 and 1997, she also served as deputy officer in charge of Shimo la Tewa women’s prison. In 2009, Ms Nderitu joined the National Cohesion and Integration Commission (NCIC) as a commissioner. It was formed in the aftermath of the 2007-2008 post-election violence and sought to forge reconciliation and cohesion among warring communities. She served until 2013. While at the commission, she led mediation teams to Kenya’s conflict hotspots, often finding herself the only woman at the negotiating table with elders.

She also developed peace education curricula and pushed for the implementation of laws on hate speech and hate crime.

Ms Nderitu is the founder of Community Voices for Peace and Pluralism, a network of African women professionals preventing, transforming and solving violent, ethnic, racial and religious conflicts globally, has more than 12 years of experience in conflict prevention and peace building.

Since 2018, she has been a member of the African Union’s Network of African Women in Conflict Prevention and Mediation, officially launched in July, 2017.

She is also a founding member and co-chair of Uwiano Platform for Peace, established in 2010.

Since January 2013, she has served as a member of Kenya National Committee on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, War Crimes, Crimes against Humanity and all Forms of Discrimination.

Read the article here.

Emmy-winning journalist and Canadian Senator join acclaimed leaders to jury the Global Pluralism Award

Emmy-winning journalist and Canadian Senator join acclaimed leaders to jury the Global Pluralism Award

Ottawa, Canada – June 4, 2020Kim Ghattas, Emmy-winning journalist; the Honourable Ratna Omidvar, Canadian Senator; Ambassador Annika Söder, Chair of the European Institute of Peace; and Bishop Precious Omuku,Archbishop of Canterbury’s Special Representative on Conflict in Sub-Saharan Africa, are among the new jurors of the Global Pluralism Award. The jury of international leaders, chaired by the Rt. Hon. Joe Clark, former Canadian Prime Minister, will select the winners of the 2021 Global Pluralism Award.

The Award recognizes individuals and organisations whose high-impact, innovative initiatives are tackling the challenge of living peacefully and productively with diversity. The Award is a program of the Global Centre for Pluralism, an international research and education centre founded by His Highness the Aga Khan in partnership with the Government of Canada. 

“The breath of expertise among the jurors speaks to a core belief of the Centre: promoting pluralism is the work of everyone, from all spheres of life. We are delighted to have these new members join our esteemed jury to select the champions of pluralism who will be awarded the 2021 Global Pluralism Award,” said Meredith Preston McGhie, Secretary General of the Global Centre for Pluralism.

“In these uncertain times, global communities of individuals and organizations continue to work tirelessly and courageously to build bridges across divides and isolation. The jury has a great responsibility to select Award recipients who demonstrate that a more equitable and connected world can emerge from this pandemic,” said the Rt. Hon. Joe Clark, Jury Chair.

The members of the jury represent a range of sectors, including policymaking, peacebuilding, human rights, interreligious dialogue, education, media and civil society. In their own careers, they are actively promoting greater equity and fighting exclusion. Jury members all appreciate first-hand the extraordinary effort it takes to build societies where differences are valued and respected.

The jury will name the three winners of the Award, who will each receive a prize of CAD $50,000 to further their work in support of pluralism at a ceremony in Ottawa, Canada in the spring of 2022.

The jury includes (alphabetical):

  • The Right Honourable Joe Clark, former Prime Minister and Foreign Affairs Minister of Canada, Canada (Chair)
    • Ambassador Annika Söder, Chair, European Institute of Peace, Sweden
    • Ms. Kim Ghattas, Non-resident Senior Fellow, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Lebanon
    • Ms. Paula Gaviria Betancur, Director, COMPAZ Foundation & Former Presidential Advisor on Human Rights, Colombia
    • Bishop Precious Omuku, Archbishop of Canterbury’s Special Representative on Conflict in Sub-Saharan Africa, Nigeria
    • The Honourable Ratna Omidvar, Senator, Canada
    • Dr. Siva Kumari, Director General, International Baccalaureate, United States

Read more about the jurors here.

For more information:

Calina Ellwand,
Global Centre for Pluralism
[email protected]

“El Estado debe reconocer la existencia del paramilitarismo”: Leyner Palacios

“El Estado debe reconocer la existencia del paramilitarismo”: Leyner Palacios

January 8, 2020

País 8 Ene 2020 – 9:00 PM

Por: Marcela Osorio Granados – @marcelaosorio24

El líder social de Bojayá habla de la crisis de seguridad en Chocó debida al accionar de las Autodefensas Gaitanistas y las amenazas de muerte en contra de los defensores y organizaciones sociales.

Leyner Palacios tiene la certeza de que su territorio lo es todo. Allá están su familia, su historia, su pasado y su vida. Por eso se niega a ceder ante las amenazas de los grupos ilegales que el pasado 3 de enero —a modo de sentencia de muerte— le dieron un plazo de dos horas para que abandonara el departamento de Chocó. “Yo no tengo para dónde irme. Soy un campesino, un líder social sin capacidad económica para sobrevivir en la ciudad. Soy una persona con vocación agrícola y pesquera, y en las ciudades esas posibilidades no las tengo. Obligarme a salir de mi territorio es decirme muérase”, asegura.

La intimidación llegó a raíz de las denuncias que Palacios y varias organizaciones sociales del departamento hicieron sobre la incursión paramilitar en el corregimiento de Pogue (Bojayá) el pasado 31 de diciembre, que derivó en el confinamiento de los habitantes de la zona. La alerta volvió a poner la lupa sobre la situación de violencia en el municipio chocoano que intenta recuperarse de las heridas que dejó la masacre perpetrada por las Farc en 2002 y en la que murieron 79 personas. Veintiocho de ellas eran familiares de Leyner Palacios.

Para él es claro que lo que sucede hoy en Bojayá y en otros municipios de Chocó ha sido anunciado desde hace varios años, sin que el Estado haya atendido el llamado de la comunidad e incluso de organizaciones internacionales. Por eso asistió este martes a la sesión de la Comisión Nacional de Garantías de Seguridad —instancia creada con el fin de detener el asesinato de líderes sociales y desarticular a las organizaciones sucesoras del paramilitarismo— para llevar ante el gobierno del presidente Iván Duque las preocupaciones de las comunidades del Pacífico colombiano ante el recrudecimiento del conflicto en sus territorios.

Tras la denuncia sobre la incursión paramilitar que tuvo lugar en Pogue el 31 de diciembre, hubo versiones oficiales que invitaban a una especie de calma. Lo hacían con el controvertido argumento de que no eran muchos los hombres armados que habían llegado a la región. ¿Cuál es la información confirmada?

Yo no puedo decir cuántos hombres armados llegaron a Pogue, porque no los vi. Pero los testimonios de pobladores de la región dieron cuenta de más de 600. Yo confío en las comunidades, porque son las que están viviendo el problema en el territorio. Lo que pasa es que aquí, como hay tanto temor y miedo, nadie se atreve a decir nada, pero la situación es bastante grave. Pero además, la violencia en Bojayá persiste desde hace mucho rato. La Diócesis de Quibdó, la Defensoría del Pueblo, el sistema de Naciones Unidas e incluso Amnistía Internacional han manifestado su preocupación al Gobierno Nacional. Allá hay muchas denuncias de la problemática, pero el Estado no ha actuado en coherencia y ha despreciado esas denuncias. Eso es lo que ha hecho que la situación hoy sea más complicada.

¿Cómo están operando estos grupos en el territorio?

Hay una práctica que todos los actores armados están implementando, que a mí me preocupa demasiado, porque es una forma de involucrar a la población civil en el conflicto. Lo han hecho el Eln en Chocó, haciendo eventos con niños; las Agc llevándoles regalos, y la Fuerza Pública haciendo jornadas cívico-militares. Me parece que en un contexto de guerra como en el que están estas comunidades, esas actividades deberían suspenderse porque agreden el principio de distinción de la población civil en el conflicto armado. Es un incumplimiento de acuerdos internacionales.

La medida inmediata del Gobierno fue aumentar el pie de fuerza en la zona. ¿Es una solución efectiva?

La verdad es que Bojayá no se ha recuperado del abandono de las autoridades militares en 2002. Ven con mucha desconfianza lo que pasó. Y hoy en día la comunidad está preocupada por ciertos niveles de complacencia o permisividad de algunos agentes del Estado con las estructuras ilegales que operan en el territorio. Mucha gente dice, por ejemplo, que en algún punto están los grupos armados y a cinco o diez minutos está el Ejército y no pasa nada. La gente no tiene confianza en las autoridades. Yo creo que es importantísima la depuración seria y profunda de las filas militares.

¿En qué deberían centrarse, entonces, los esfuerzos del Gobierno para empezar a solucionar la crisis?

Lo más básico es responder de manera urgente a problemas que tienen que ver, por ejemplo, con la atención en salud. En Bojayá no hay médico para el río, la gente se muere en los caminos, hay una necesidad de mejorar el sistema. Pero también se requiere que el Estado mejore la infraestructura educativa, que estén los docentes en las comunidades y que exista una interconexión eléctrica. Cómo es posible que más del 60 % de las comunidades no tengan fluido eléctrico. Eso implica un retraso impresionante. Y eso sin contar la crisis en materia de comunicación: en Bojayá pasa algo en una población o comunidad y uno no tiene información sino hasta cinco días después, porque no hay manera de comunicarse de ninguna forma.

Usted también ha insistido en la urgencia de implementar el Acuerdo Final de Paz…

Hay temas mucho más grandes que tienen que ver con la implementación profunda del Acuerdo de Paz, porque es necesario que el Estado colombiano avance en temas como los Programas de Desarrollo con Enfoque Territorial (PDET), las circunscripciones especiales de paz, todo el Sistema Integral de Verdad Justicia y Reparación. Se necesita una decisión política de fondo para empezara a recuperar, no solamente a Bojayá, sino a todas estas comunidades que el conflicto armado ha golpeado profundamente.

¿Cree que es posible el desmantelamiento de estas estructuras ilegales?

La situación es muy compleja, porque para tomar una decisión o pensar en una estrategia para desmontar los grupos ilegales, lo primero que hay que hacer es reconocer el problema. Mientras en Colombia siga el negacionismo del fenómeno del paramilitarismo, de su accionar y afectación a las comunidades, nunca se van a tomar las decisiones correctas. En el caso de Bojayá, las comunidades dan testimonio de cerca de 600 hombres armados y sin embargo las declaraciones de algunas autoridades militares dicen que no son más de 15 bandidos. Colombia debe decidir cómo va a abordar el tema: si son bandidos o si son estructuras grandes como las Autodefensas Gaitanistas.

¿Qué habría que hacer con las estructuras ilegales?

Una oportunidad única que tenemos en el país es la posibilidad de abrir esa mesa de diálogo con el Eln, de tal manera que se den muestras de compromiso y tengamos una paz completa y duradera. También es necesario abrir la posibilidad de sometimiento de las estructuras paramilitares como las Autodefensas Gaitanistas. Nosotros vamos a seguir resistiendo en el territorio. Somos un gran colectivo de organizaciones, Foro Interétnico Solidaridad Chocó, Diócesis de Quibdó, la Comisión Interétnica de la Verdad para los territorios del Pacífico, además de organizaciones de víctimas. Entonces, la pregunta es: ¿nos van a sacar a todos del territorio? Lo que se ha denunciado no es una voz de Leyner, no es una posición mía. Somos todos. Si los actores armados están incómodos tendrían que sacar a todo este colectivo, a todas las organizaciones. Aquí se está queriendo expulsar todo un proceso organizativo en el departamento del Chocó. ¿El Estado va a dejar que pase eso?

NDERITU: Buying a book? Make that by an African for Africans

NDERITU: Buying a book? Make that by an African for Africans

The East African


Ghana’s Deborah Ahenkorah received the 2019 Global Pluralism Award In Ottawa Canada on November 20.

Few Africans remember reading children’s books written by African writers. They remember reading and trying to relate to, for instance, a Rapunzel from the German fairy tale whose golden hair, unlike African hair, could grow so long as to be used as a staircase. Then there was Snow White and the Seven dwarfs. The word snow itself was puzzling. What was snow?

We were taught to see African fables as worthy of oral sessions not easily translatable into books written in colonial languages. We didn’t question it.


Deborah realised very early in life that she never saw anyone who looked like her, no dark skins and African hair, in the children’s books she read. She had grown up loving books but unable to afford them, prompting her to spend time in a library she had access to. She was lucky to get a scholarship to Bryn Mawr College in the US where she contributed, through a friend, towards building more libraries in Ghana. However, the problem she had realised as a child kept nagging her as the libraries were again stocked with books that had no one who looked like her.

She put her finger on the problem and found her calling with the realisation that there was a book shortage of African stories written by African writers. It was impossible, for instance, for a South African Xhosa child, to access the culture of a Ghanaian Ga child through a book. She wanted to find writers who could transport a Bambara child from Mali into the culture of a Baganda child in Uganda. She wanted African children to grow up loving their own cultures by seeing people who looked like them in books.

Deborah began working towards a world where anyone could walk into any bookshop in the world and find a high-quality African children’s book written by an African.

Deborah founded Golden Baobab and its prize, dedicated to finding, matching and supporting Africa’s most talented writers with illustrators of children’s books. She then connects them to skills development training and publishing opportunities. They have produced some of the best quality content one can find in the world, published by among others, African Bureau Stories, a publishing house Deborah also founded, Penguin Random House South Africa, Oxford University Press, Quramo Publishing and Cassava Republic Press. The books are by Ghanaian, Tanzanian and South African writers and South African, Tanzanian, Egyptian and Nigerian illustrators.

In a recent meeting with Deborah and Bibi Bakare Yusuf founder of Cassava Republic Press at the recently held International Publishers Association Seminar hosted in Nairobi, we reminisced on our book experiences. Deborah told us of her commitment to right the wrong of so many African children not seeing themselves in the books they read. We agreed with Deborah. When African children do not see themselves in storybooks, they begin to believe that what they see in the books is what life is and should be and their own African lives, not reflected in books is inferior.


As the tradition of oral storytelling diminishes, many children grow up effectively ignorant of the culture and values passed on through stories. Many people, however, realise the importance of changing this narrative of children not reading or having access to African stories written by Africans and African children still not seeing themselves in enough storybooks. Deborah’s books provide the mirrors African children need of their lived reality. They give children a connection between the past and the present.

In many of our major African cities as well as international markets, it is still not easy to find books written for African children by African writers. However, thanks to among others, Golden Baobab, the situation is changing for the better.

Next time you walk into a bookstore to buy children’s books, ask for books written for African children by African writers. Raise awareness of the existence of these books. Tell schoolteachers to popularise this genre of books.

Deborah, through Golden Baobab and African Bureau Stories, has taught us that a continent cannot outsource or delegate the telling of its own stories and what its children learn.

Read the article here.

We must recognize and honour the teachers who shape a new generation of thoughtful young people

We must recognize and honour the teachers who shape a new generation of thoughtful young people

October 15, 2019


Siva Kumari is a Global Pluralism Award Jury member and Director General of the International Baccalaureate

Teachers have one of the hardest jobs on the planet. In a world where social-media echo chambers reverberate with hyper-partisan rhetoric and sensational voices, teachers are up against an overwhelming tsunami of information – drowning out time for deliberation and discussion to find the middle ground among widely different viewpoints.

Teachers have an opportunity to equip our students – our next wave of humanity – with the empathetic, critical and forward thinking needed to solve today’s local problems with a global mindset.

They must convey to their students that their actions and decisions, as tomorrow’s leaders, will not only affect the people around them – who look and think like them. Because of our interconnectedness, how students choose to invest their money, their time, their attention, how they consume, what they opt to say or not say will have a much wider impact.

Giving our young people a broader appreciation for the different viewpoints and values that exist around the world is crucial to a sustainable, prosperous and peaceful future for all. In the uncertain world that our young people will inhabit, this grounding in humanistic values will serve them ever more.

The Global Pluralism Award, offered by the Global Centre for Pluralism, was envisioned by the Aga Khan, chair of the centre’s board, as a way to celebrate pluralism in action. From among more than 500 applications from 74 countries, today we announced the winners. From the Balkans, Ghana and Myanmar, the winners are truly inspiring examples of educators and leaders shaping a new generation of thoughtful and open-minded young people.

In the Balkans, the challenge of introducing a more tolerant world view is complicated by teachers’ own biases. The “Learning History that is not yet History” project, one of the award winners, is run by history teachers from Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Montenegro and Serbia, who grew up amid the conflicts of the 1990s in former Yugoslavia. They have likely been brought up by family members who malign certain groups and heard their politicians leverage identity politics.

Now, they are coming to terms with the past and teaching their students to embrace the differences in their communities and push back against ethno-nationalism. They are pioneering approaches to teaching about the 1990s wars that critically assess narratives of exclusion. So when their students take on the leadership roles in their society, divisions along ethnic, religious and social lines will not be perpetuated. Such work is closely aligned with the mission of the International Baccalaureate.

Helping students understand multiple perspectives is particularly difficult when the resources are not available. For instance, the vast majority of books for youth in Africa offer only westernized interpretations of the world. How do children come to appreciate the richness of African culture without access to stories from their own continent? Award winner Deborah Ahenkorah of Ghana wants to change this. She started a social enterprise, Golden Baobab, dedicated to bringing African stories, written by African authors, to African children.

When children see themselves represented in literature, they develop a deeper appreciation for their own culture and their place in it, which makes them more open to engaging with the diversity of people around them. Ms. Ahenkorah’s books are making their way into African schools, where children are finally able to access stories they can relate to and develop a more pluralistic view of their world.

When youth are raised with the ability to empathize and build connections across difference, young leaders such as Aung Kyaw Moe emerge. A Rohingya humanitarian, he founded the Center for Social Integrity in Myanmar, the third award winner. He believes that building sustainable peace in Myanmar will require shifting the next generation’s attitudes on diversity. His organization is training youth from conflict-affected regions with the peace building skills to resolve tensions and mediate conflicts.

The only project of its kind in Myanmar, it is often the first opportunity for youth to interact with people from other religions or ethnic groups. Teachers are leading the charge and youth are responding. Inspiring, entrepreneurial young leaders such as Ms. Ahenkorah and Mr. Kyaw Moe are embracing the challenge to build a society that is not just free from harm, but one that is vibrant and cohesive – not despite its diversity, but because of it.

The Global Pluralism Awards will be presented on November 20, 2019 at a ceremony in Ottawa.