Wapikoni’s Story

Quebec filmmaker Manon Barbeau was deeply troubled by the suffering and high rates of suicide she had witnessed among indigenous youth in Quebec. She produced a full-length film featuring the voices of 15 youth and, in the process, formed a particularly strong bond with a young woman named Wapikoni Awashish. When Wapikoni was killed at the age of 20 by a logging truck, Manon felt she had lost a daughter. Two years later, in 2003, she decided to honour the memory of her friend.

Noting the ease and joy that came over indigenous youth as soon as they had a camera in hand, Manon partnered with First Nations of Quebec and Labrador Youth Council and the Atikamekw Nation Council to create Wapikoni Mobile, a non-profit organization that gives voice to indigenous youth through filmmaking.

Wapikoni Mobile is the only mobile studio in Canada that travels to remote indigenous communities to teach youth filmmaking techniques with state-of-the-art technology, which they use to create their own short films and musical works. Wapikoni Mobile then distributes their work, organizing 200 screenings per year at locations ranging from remote high schools to prestigious film festivals. Following the screenings, the young directors are encouraged to speak about their work, which forges new relationships between indigenous and non-indigenous people with a view towards reconciliation.

Wapikoni Mobile has also established the International Network for Aboriginal Audiovisual Creation, which uses cinema to promote respect for indigenous rights and social inclusion throughout the world. Today, Wapikoni Mobile has mentored 4,000 youth from five First Nations in Canada, and 17 communities throughout five countries in Latin America.

Though the organization has won several awards and garnered international acclaim, its success is best measured by the accomplishments of its participants, who are appearing at the Sundance Film Festival and in university classrooms, winning full scholarships at prestigious international film schools, starting the Idle No More movement, and speaking at the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues. Through their films they have contributed to the fight against racism, prejudice and isolation that Canada’s First Nations have suffered for generations. Wapikoni Mobile set out to engage indigenous youth living in remote communities, and in the process it has deeply enhanced filmmaking in Canada with new voices and perspectives.

Afghanistan National Institute of Music

“The Afghanistan National Institute of Music is sharing a critical message of reconciliation, unity and reconstruction. Its achievements demonstrate how music contributes to pluralism – promoting peaceful, inter-ethnic community building, as it encourages students from diverse backgrounds to collaborate in literal harmony.”

Joe Clark, former Prime Minister of Canada and Chair of the Global Pluralism Award Jury.

Afghanistan National Institute of Music’s Story

In a sunlit courtyard, a conductor stands in front of a group of young musicians. With a wave of her baton, music bursts into the air. The song is loud and upbeat, played on a variety of traditional Afghan and western instruments by boys and girls. A group of young girls sings: “I am a girl, a tree in the sun. I stand against repression. I go forth with knowledge.” This particular concert is in celebration of International Girl Child Day, but, like every performance of the Afghanistan National Institute of Music, it is also a celebration of playing music, something these children would be unlikely to have experienced a decade ago.

The Afghanistan National Institute of Music (ANIM) is the first institute of music where Afghan children regardless of their gender, ethnicity, religion or socio-economic background are trained in a co-educational environment in traditional Afghan and Western classical music, while obtaining a high quality academic education. ANIM is particularly committed to supporting Afghanistan’s most disadvantaged youth, namely orphans and street vendors, and to empowering young girls.

Though ANIM has been celebrated internationally, its success is perhaps best measured by the effects it has had on individual lives. These stories include a street-working child who has become concertmaster of Afghanistan’s first all-female ensemble; or a child from the most remote part of Afghanistan who has become the nation’s first female conductor. On a societal level, it has become a leading institution in promoting peaceful, inter-ethnic community building, as it encourages students from diverse backgrounds to collaborate in literal harmony.

Though no longer under Taliban rule, Afghanistan is still a divided nation with many staunch enemies of music and social inclusion. Despite ongoing threats, ANIM strongly upholds values important for establishing a just and pluralistic society. As Sarmast says, “We are standing against violence and terror with our music.” Or, in the words sung by ANIM’s choir: “This bird will always sing.”

For centuries, a rich and diverse musical culture was at the heart of Afghanistan. But under the Taliban’s brutal regime in the mid-1990s, music was completely banned and educational opportunities, especially for women, were drastically reduced. When the Taliban fell, Ahmad Naser Sarmast, an Afghan musicologist who had sought asylum in Australia, returned determined to restore music to Afghan society and use its soft power to transform lives in a country torn apart by war. He established ANIM in 2010. Today, ANIM is defying cultural taboos and creating a new image of Afghanistan both nationally and abroad.

Deborah Ahenkorah

“I feel incredibly blessed to receive this award and after a decade of work championing the importance of African literature for children, this honour highlights how much closer we are to the goal of placing African children’s literature on a deserving global pedestal. I continue to look forward to that day when you can walk into a bookstore anywhere in the world and find incredible African stories available for all.”

Deborah Ahenkorah

Deborah’s Story

Deborah Ahenkorah understands the power of books. As a child, she spent her days pouring over the pages of books she found in local shops and libraries. Inspired by these stories, she imagined starting her own babysitting empire, just like the girls from The Baby-Sitters Club, and she dreamed about cold, wintry holidays. But Deborah had never actually seen snow. And babysitting was not something that young girls did in her community. Growing up in Ghana, the books that Deborah read were imported from abroad and were full of foreign characters with foreign names and foreign problems.

Deborah grew to believe that her culture and its stories were not important. When she thought about her future, it was not in Ghana – she wanted her own apartment in River Heights, U.S.A., the hometown of her childhood hero, Nancy Drew. Deborah envisioned a future far removed from her own culture, history and homeland.

Years later, while studying in the United States, Deborah wanted to make sure that other African children had access to books, just as she had. She began an organization that collected donated books and shipped them to different African countries. One day, as she was packing boxes, she came across a book with pictures of a little African girl. That was when she realized that of the thousands of books her organization had shipped to numerous African countries, this was the first one that reflected the realities of the people who would be receiving it.

A social entrepreneur and children’s book publisher, Deborah created Golden Baobab in 2008 to empower African writers and illustrators to tell African children’s stories. Through Golden Baobab’s books, children are exposed to characters from different countries, cultures, languages, religions and ethnicities. This leads children to develop positive views of difference and the critical thinking required to challenge stereotypes and prejudices.

This literary non-profit organization offers the world’s only prize inspiring and celebrating African writers and illustrators, the Golden Baobab Prize. Now in its 11th year, the Prize has inspired submissions of over 2,000 new and original African children’s stories and illustrations and offered monetary support as well as publishing opportunities. The organization also offers training for African writers and illustrators, and works to connect publishers worldwide with African children’s stories.

To help share these authors’ stories with more readers, Deborah created African Bureau Stories – a children’s publishing house and social enterprise that publishes stories from different cultures and ethnicities across Africa. The stories reflect the wide range of African experiences.

Deborah set out to ensure equal representation in children’s books; in the process, she has deeply enriched children’s literature by infusing it with new voices and perspectives. Through her work, Deborah is showing children that the world is a stronger, more interesting place when we value and uplift diverse cultures and stories.

Literature shapes how children see the world and how they understand their place within it. If they are absent from the stories they cherish, they may begin to believe that their culture and voices do not matter. Deborah wants to give all children the opportunity to see themselves reflected in the books they read. She hopes to ensure that young readers everywhere have access to accurate portrayals of Africa produced by Africans.

Research has shown that a strong sense of belonging and inclusion improves mental health and wellbeing in children, which in turn leads to wider acceptance and sensitivity to the needs of others. Deborah’s belief is that when African children see themselves represented in arts and literature they develop a deeper appreciation for their own culture, which makes them more open to engaging with the diversity of people around them.

Trésor Nzengu Mpauni

Trésor’s Story

On a large stage, Congolese singer and rapper Ced Koncept plays to an enormous crowd of dancing fans. He is followed by a Malawian gospel singer, who then passes the stage to a reggae band. Up-and-coming youth performers from around the world occupy a neighbouring stage. Push your way through throngs of cheerful festival-goers and you will find other vibrant cultural presentations, from theatre productions and poetry recitals to fashion shows and craft booths. This joyful celebration of music, arts and culture is the Tumaini Festival, and it is all taking place in a refugee camp.

The Tumaini Festival is the brainchild of Trésor Nzengu Mpauni, also known by the stage name Menes la Plume, a popular Congolese hip-hop artist, writer and slam poet. Forced to flee his home country, Trésor came to Malawi as a refugee, relocating to the Dzaleka Refugee Camp. As Trésor quickly discovered, refugees face many barriers to integration in Malawi. The country’s encampment policy restricts refugees’ rights to move freely, gain employment or access education outside of the camp, leaving the population cut off from opportunities to improve their lives and contribute to their host society. Understanding that Malawians would benefit greatly from the talent and diversity he saw all around him in the camp, Trésor founded Tumaini Letu (Swahili for “Our Hope”), a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting the social, economic and cultural inclusion of refugees through arts and culture. Two years later, in 2014, Trésor organized the first Tumaini Festival as a platform for intercultural harmony, mutual understanding and peaceful co-existence between Malawi’s refugee and host communities.

Over the course of six three-day festivals, Trésor has united over 300 performers from 18 countries and attracted more than 99,000 attendees from around the world. The Tumaini Festival is not only the world’s lone music festival hosted in a refugee camp, but it has also become one of Malawi’s premier events. As the main source of revenue for Dzaleka, the festival offers employment and business opportunities for refugees before, during and after the event. In addition to performing, many refugees sell food and crafts to festival-goers or welcome them into their homes through the festival’s home-stay program.

Through his work with Tumaini Letu, Trésor has inspired a tremendous shift in societal views of refugees in Malawi and throughout the world. He has shown that a refugee camp can be a vibrant place where people gather to celebrate diversity. He has shown that when societies open their doors to refugees, they are inviting in incredible resilience, talent and opportunity.

Located about 40 km outside Lilongwe, Malawi’s capital city, the Dzaleka Refugee Camp was established by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in 1994 in response to a surge of forcibly displaced people fleeing genocide and conflict in Rwanda, Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Prior to becoming a refugee camp, the Dzaleka facility was a political prison housing some 6,000 inmates. Today, Dzaleka is the only permanent refugee camp in Malawi. The camp hosts over 50,000 refugees and asylum seekers from approximately 15 nationalities, with hundreds more arriving each month. Malawi’s encampment policy bans refugees from residing outside the camp, restricting their access to tertiary education and formal employment.

Carolina Contreras

Carolina’s Story

Born in the Dominican Republic (DR), Carolina Contreras immigrated to the US as a young child. As an adolescent, she faced the strictly enforced hair culture that leads many Afro-Latinas to straighten their hair to avoid ostracism at work and school. As in many places around the world, white European beauty ideals, such as sleek, straight hair, are celebrated in the DR and by the Dominican diaspora in the US, while afro-textured hair is seen as unkempt, unclean and undesirable.

Following her post-secondary studies, Carolina embarked on a journey of self-discovery which took her back to the DR. It was around this time that she started to question the deeply embedded colonial narratives that are prevalent in Dominican society. After years of relaxing and straightening her hair, she decided to embrace her natural hair as a celebration of her identity as a woman of colour.

Carolina started a natural hair care blog for women and girls who might want to do the same. Her blog quickly expanded into a global movement, reaching thousands of people in countries all over the world. In 2014, Carolina opened Miss Rizos Salon, the first all-natural hair salon in the DR specializing in curls. The salon, which grew from a team of two to a team of 20, has sparked a trend of curly hair care and celebration, inspiring dozens of natural hair salons across the country. In 2020, Carolina opened a second salon in New York City’s Washington Heights neighbourhood, home to one of the largest Dominican communities in the US.

Today, Carolina’s work has moved beyond the walls of her salons. Through online advocacy, summer camps, school workshops and a comic book starring a Black, curly-haired female superhero, Carolina’s organization has empowered thousands of girls to celebrate diversity, challenge stereotypes and reconsider long-held ideas about what it means to be beautiful and worthy of inclusion. The organization has also trained Peace Corps volunteers to teach a Miss Rizos-based curriculum of self-empowerment, identity and constitutional rights in workshops across the DR to empower women and girls to challenge anti-Black discrimination by standing up against those who perpetuate harmful prejudice against curly hair.

Discrimination against curly hair is prevalent across the Americas, including in countries with large Black populations. The Dominican Republic, which has one of the largest Black populations outside of Africa, has a long history of anti-Black racism as a legacy of hundreds of years of colonialism. White Eurocentric beauty standards are celebrated in media and popular culture, with many black Dominicans traditionally being pushed to deny their own identity in order to gain access to higher spheres of public life. Despite their long historical presence and their fundamental role in shaping the identity of the region, Afro-Latin Americans continue to face widespread discrimination.


ArtLords’ Story

A grassroots social movement that combines art and activism, ArtLords was founded in Kabul in 2014, when ArtLords’ “artivists”—artists and civil society activists—began painting murals on the city’s bomb-blast walls. Since then, ArtLords has been using street art, theatre and community outreach to campaign for peace, social transformation and accountability across Afghanistan and around the world.

When the Taliban advanced across Afghanistan in August 2021, ArtLords kept working. On the morning of August 15th, with the Taliban at the gates of Kabul, ArtLords’ artivists picked up their brushes outside the governor’s office, painting, as always, in celebration of diversity and unity. When they saw panicked people rushing from the building, they struggled, through chaotic streets, to return to the ArtLords gallery, where they learned that Kabul had fallen.

The Taliban has painted over many of the murals, replacing them with religious poetry or pro-Taliban messages, but ArtLords’ influence is not so easily erased. With over 2,000 murals across 20 Afghan provinces, the movement has spread messages of peace, justice and inclusion throughout the country, promoting and facilitating dialogue between Afghans. While painting a mural, ArtLords’ artivists urge passersby to pick up a paintbrush and join in. They encourage Afghans from all religions, tribes and ideologies to develop the murals collaboratively and to discuss them openly. ArtLords has turned blank walls into vibrant spaces for collaboration, reflection and conversation, giving Afghanistan’s diverse communities opportunities to connect and build trust.

ArtLords has also launched an art gallery, an arts-and-culture magazine, a café and a wide range of outreach programs, including theatre and painting workshops. In partnership with Afghanistan’s Ministry of Education, ArtLords worked with 38 high schools, co-developing murals with students to spark discussion and reflection on key social issues. ArtLords’ Let’s Talk Afghanistan campaign empowers youth from diverse communities to come together to envision and work towards a democratic, inclusive future for their country.

Today, the work of ArtLords is continuing from exile. With galvanized commitment to freedom of expression and renewed belief in the transformative power of art, they are coordinating new murals in Albania, Italy and the United States (US), and have begun a campaign to start art therapy sessions for Afghan refugees in camps across various countries.

Afghanistan is a diverse country made up of numerous ethnolinguistic groups with an incredibly rich cultural history. The country was under the control of the Taliban from 1996 until the United States-led invasion in 2001. The Taliban regained control of the country in August 2021. In the intervening 20 years, Afghanistan experienced significant advancements in civil society, media, education and knowledge, along with a vibrant re-emergence of arts and culture. Violence over the past decade has impacted the lives of all Afghans, regardless of ethnicity, language or location. The effective and equitable management of Afghanistan’s rich diversity will be critical to the country’s future stability—and central to sustaining peace and prosperity in the country and the region at large.

Lea Baroudi

Lea’s Story

In 2015, Lebanese youth from two sides of a decades-old conflict came together to stage a play. Love and War on the Rooftops – A Tripolitan Tale is a comedy inspired by their lives in the northern city of Tripoli. At first, the youth came to rehearsals armed. They had to leave their knives and guns in a garbage bag at the door. After months of rehearsals, they went from enemies to friends and performed to sold-out audiences across Lebanon. At the final performance, one of the actors takes a selfie with the cast. Behind them, a diverse audience gives a standing ovation. In the centre is Lea Baroudi. 

Lea Baroudi is a peace mediator and the co-founder and director of MARCH, a non-profit organization that uses art, culture and social enterprise to foster reconciliation and dialogue between opposing groups in Lebanon. 

In Tripoli, the predominantly Sunni neighbourhood of Bab al-Tabbaneh and the Alawite-majority Jabal Mohsen neighbourhood are separated by a single street. Once a symbol of the city’s prosperity, Syria Street became a demarcation line in the Lebanese Civil War (1975-1990) and has served as the front line in a generations-old conflict between these two communities. Between 2008 and 2014, violence erupted repeatedly, leaving hundreds dead, thousands displaced, and the city’s infrastructure destroyed. When war broke out in neighbouring Syria in 2011, hostilities intensified and Tripoli’s neighbourhoods became the site of proxy battles. The gun battles abated in 2014, but an economic crisis and deep-seated sectarian divides remain.  

While working with youth in the play, Baroudi saw that the sectarian conflict was primarily caused by extreme poverty and marginalization. Youth had no community spaces or means to earn an income apart from fighting. In response, she opened a cultural café on the former frontlines of the conflict. More than a café, Kahwetna is the first space for members of both neighbourhoods to collaborate on creative projects and access economic opportunities. MARCH also created two social enterprises: Kanyamakan Designs, which teaches furniture-making, embroidery and wood painting; and the BEDCO Construction Initiative, which involves youth in restoring homes and businesses damaged by conflict.  

For her courage and commitment to building trust between warring communities, Lea Baroudi has received numerous awards, including being recognized by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II as an Honorary Member of the Order of the British Empire. For Baroudi, however, the most powerful reward comes from witnessing the personal transformations: seeing gun-wielders become actors, artists and carpenters, or high-school dropouts become leaders of reconciliation. 

Deeyah Khan

Deeyah’s Story

In a small motel room, filmmaker Deeyah Khan sits across from Jeff Schoep, her camera rolling. He is the leader of America’s largest neo-Nazi organization. She is a Muslim woman who has faced racism and misogyny throughout her life, and yet she has initiated this meeting. He has agreed to speak to her, for one hour only. Khan and Schoep end up talking for five hours. At one point, she shows him a picture of herself as a six-year-old at an anti-extremist rally with her father in Norway. “People who represent what you represent made a six-year-old child feel hated,” she says. “How does that make you feel?” For a moment, Schoep does not speak. Finally, he says, “Uncomfortable.” Two years later, he left the movement, crediting Khan with changing his life and worldview. 

This scene, from Khan’s 2017 film White Right: Meeting the Enemy, is one of many uncomfortable conversations Khan has sought out in her search for solutions to hate and extremism. For over a decade, she has been making documentary films that challenge stereotypes and foster understanding across some of the most extreme ideological, religious and racial divides. She has received numerous awards, including two Emmys and a BAFTA. 

With the rise of misinformation and online conspiracy theories, many societies are experiencing polarization, fragmentation and rising populism that get reinforced by online echo chambers. Finding ways to reach across these divides and respectfully disagree while still being able to work together to resolve problems is critical. When this effort fails, pluralism breaks down in very violent ways. 

Through seven documentary films and Fuuse, a production company she founded in 2010, Khan has examined many troubling threats to pluralism. She has facilitated dialogue with jihadists, members of armed militia groups, American domestic terrorists, white supremacists, anti-abortion activists, and perpetrators of intimate partner violence and even murderers. Along with her profound courage, her approach relies on listening with unflinching curiosity and empathy to locate the humanity behind the hateful rhetoric and to find common ground.  

Against the backdrop of extremism and radicalization, Khan offers innovative solutions for living peacefully together. Her films have transformed countless people, from individuals like Jeff Schoep, to tens of millions of viewers around the world. By making an effort to hear and understand every voice, including those she disagrees with, Khan has shown the power of compassion and respectful dialogue in overcoming prejudice.