Alice Wairimu Nderitu

Alice’s Story

As a child growing up in rural Kenya, Alice Wairimu Nderitu used to climb up into the branches of a large tree to eavesdrop. Below her was a group of elders gathered to deliver justice on matters concerning the community. As Alice watched them come to consensus from her perch, she decided that one day, she would be one of those elders promoting peace in her community. All of the elders were men, however. She was told that making peace was not women’s business.

Decades later, in 2010, as Commissioner of the National Cohesion and Integration Commission, she took a seat at the peace table with 100 elders from ten ethnic communities who had never negotiated peace with each other before. Only a year and a half earlier, in 2007-2008, violence erupted in Kenya’s Rift Valley after the results of a flawed election were announced. The election ignited historic grievances over land and deep-seated ethnic tensions. By the time the post-election violence had abated, more than 1,300 Kenyans were killed and 600,000 displaced. In 2010, with a constitutional referendum on the horizon, tensions soared. Would the region again tear itself apart along ethnic lines? Or would it unite in peace? That was when Alice took her place at the table and began the 16-month peace process. As the only woman among the three mediators, they led the elders in a dialogue that resulted in the region’s first peaceful elections in 20 years.

Alice was also one of the founders and first co-chairperson of the Uwiano Platform for Peace, a conflict prevention agency that was the first to link early warning to early response in Kenya and is largely credited with leading efforts in ensuring peaceful processes during the 2010 Constitutional referendum and 2013 elections.

Alice is a tireless peacemaker, conflict mediator and gender equality advocate who believes that differences can be strengths, not weaknesses. She encourages a wide range of people with different identities to participate and feel valued in the peace-making process. In Jos, Nigeria, for example, Alice led in bringing women into all levels of the peace process in a dialogue between nine ethnic communities.  In Southern Kaduna, Nigeria, she was the lead mediator in an armed conflict between 29 ethnic communities, successfully insisting that women and youth be included in the process. The result was the Kafanchan Peace Declaration, signed by two State Governors Nasir El-Rufai of Kaduna and Simon Bako Lalong of Plateau in 2015. This was the first time in Nigeria that a woman has played this role. In 2017, in Nigeria’s Southern Plateau, she was again, lead mediator of an inclusive dialogue between 56 ethnic communities, signed by Governor Simon Bako Lalong of Plateau and all the traditional rulers in which again, for the first time, women were included at all levels of the peace process.

Alice has worked to promote pluralism at all levels of mediation and conflict prevention—not only for the sake of those who have historically been excluded, but also because she knows that having diverse voices meet in respectful dialogue is the only way to achieve long-lasting peace. To perpetuate respect for diversity, she develops peace education curricula and trains other female mediators.

As a child eavesdropping in a tree, Alice was told that as a woman she could not participate in the work of making peace. Today, as a lead mediator brokering peace throughout Africa, she has proven again and again that making peace is very much women’s business. In fact, long-lasting peace requires the participation of all members of society.

Leyner Palacios Asprilla

Leyner’s Story

Chocó is one of Colombia’s disadvantaged departments. Situated in the north-western region of the country, it is inhabited primarily by Afro-Colombians and Emberá Amerindians, some of the most marginalized and excluded communities in the country. The region’s isolation and lack of government support left it open to decades of violence and exploitation by battling guerrilla and paramilitary forces. The communities in Chocó saw more than 15,000 deaths in Colombia’s 52-year internal conflict.

The municipality of Bojayá, in Chocó, suffered constant violence from both sides. In the spring of 2002, Bojayá’s citizens again found themselves caught in the middle of a battle between the paramilitary group United Self Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC) and the guerilla group Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).

Community members, the United Nations, and the Ombudsman’s Office of Colombia had warned the government of the dangers a battle would inflict on nearby civilians. On the morning of May 2, as community members were taking cover in a church and the house of the Augustinian missionaries, the AUC occupied an adjoining school, using the residents as a human shield. What followed was the most brutal attack in Colombia’s 52-year conflict. The FARC guerilla forces bombed the church, killing 79 people, including 48 infants and children. One of the people to survive was Leyner Palacios Asprilla. He emerged to find that 32 of his family members had been killed.

Over a decade later, in 2014, Leyner co-founded the Committee for the Rights of Victims of Bojayá, which represents 11,000 victims of the Colombian conflict. For centuries, because of their poverty and isolation, the communities in the municipality of Bojayá had no voice. Each community would act independently, representing only itself before the government, the FARC or international organizations. Because the Afro-Colombian and Emberá communities were culturally and linguistically distinct, they were often wary of one another. However, Leyner understood that many voices raised together would be louder and more powerful than each voice struggling to be heard alone. He united all of the communities under the common goal of stopping the violence and fighting for their human rights. He organized assemblies with representatives from every community in Bojayá, even the most remote, and encouraged each community to include a female representative. Now, these remote communities have created a collective voice that takes their demand for human rights to the highest levels of government, and around the world.

As a result of his fight for social justice, Leyner was asked to represent Bojayá massacre victims during peace negotiations between guerilla forces and the government. For his role in the process, he was nominated for the 2016 Nobel Peace Prize. A further result was that the FARC publically acknowledged their role in the 2002 tragedy and, in a private ceremony in a Bojayá church, requested forgiveness.

By bringing communities together in the fight for social justice, Leyner realized how powerful a chorus of diverse voices can be. Today, he continues to demand that Colombia embrace diversity by respecting the rights of all its citizens, particularly its most marginalized.

The “Learning History that is not yet History” Team

“It is very significant to our team to be receiving international recognition for work we have been developing with minimal support for over 16 years. Dealing with the sensitive history of the 1990s Yugoslav wars in our classrooms is very difficult for teachers. We have personal connections to this topic and many, including this team, have buried the topic for decades. It is now the moment to face the past responsibly and to teach about the 1990s conflicts, in order to build a future of mutual understanding, peace and reconciliation.”

Bojana Dujkovic, representative of the award winner, the ‘Learning History that is not yet History’ team

The Team’s Story

A group of students bend over a picture depicting a Bosnian soldier from the 1990s conflicts. Another group studies an image of people walking through the rubble-filled streets of Vukovar, Croatia in 1991. “What do you see?” they are asked. “How does it make you feel? What do you think the photographer is trying to show you?” Discussing a photograph may seem like a straightforward learning exercise, but in the states of the former Yugoslavia, it is much more complex.

In schools, the wars are either ignored or taught in simplistic, one-sided ways, which hinder compassion for people of other ethnic groups. A group of history and education specialists from across the Western Balkan region want to change this. In 2003, they formed a unique regional network which has since expanded to include members from Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, Montenegro, Serbia, Macedonia, Kosovo and Slovenia. The teachers originate from different cultural, ethnic, professional and religious backgrounds. Having all lived through the 90s conflicts in their countries, they have put aside their personal biases to come together to promote the responsible teaching of the past.

Recognizing the danger that simplistic and nationalistic narratives pose to a peaceful society, they set out to provide an alternative approach. They believe that teachers and students must be presented with multiple perspectives on the wars and encouraged to think critically and empathetically about history.  

In 2016, the network of historians and educators from Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, Montenegro and Serbia partnered with the Association of European Educators of History (EUROCLIO) and launched a project that later gave its name to the team, “Learning history that is not yet history” (LHH).

Recognizing that teachers often feel ill-equipped and unsupported to teach these sensitive topics in a way that goes against a dominant, ethnocentric story, LHH created an online database of free resources. These books, articles, videos and photographs support and motivate educators to teach about the 1990s wars using multiple perspectives in ways that do not victimize or blame others. Instead of presenting a specific interpretation of events, LHH focuses on the daily lives of people involved in the conflicts to foster a sense of shared experience.

The partnership and collaboration of LHH represents the first time that history educators from the countries involved in the 1990s wars have reviewed the available educational resources on the topic. The results of their project – a database, teaching materials, and training sessions for teachers – provide the only non-biased approach to learning and teaching about the recent wars.

LHH is giving students and teachers the tools to fight against the kind of division and narrow thinking that could lead to new conflicts. By stimulating discussion, reflection and the recognition of shared experience, LHH is using history as a powerful tool to build sustainable peace in their region.

The conflicts that took place across the Former Yugoslavia during the 1990s continue to have a deep impact on people’s lives. Relations between different states and ethnic groups are sensitive and discussions around the wars remain controversial. The 1990s are remembered across the Western Balkans in uneven and often conflicting ways. Efforts to face the past have been very slow and one-sided. The wars have not been taught in schools until recently. Certain interpretations of history are promoted by political elites as the “official” story. This history is then used to re-shape ethnic and political identities in ways that marginalize and exclude certain groups while amplifying nationalism. These narratives carry over into the education system.

Community Building Mitrovica

The Team’s Story

In northern Kosovo, the Ibar River splits the city of Mitrovica in two. Ethnic Albanians live in the city’s south, and ethnic Serbs live in the north. Although a bridge connects the two sides, it has become emblematic of conflict, rather than a means to connect. The bridge is patrolled by heavily armed international forces, and vehicular traffic is blocked by piles of concrete rubble. Few pedestrians dare to cross it, and some young people in Mitrovica have never encountered anyone from the other side of the Ibar. Against a backdrop of fear, mistrust and division, Community Building Mitrovica (CBM) works to rebuild community links, facilitate inter-ethnic dialogue and promote social integration.

CBM was established as the first grassroots civil society organization in Mitrovica following the 1998–99 Kosovo War. After opening their doors in 2001, CBM facilitated the first contact between the city’s two groups and have been a leader in the region’s inter-ethnic co-operation ever since. Most of CBM’s work is focussed on providing safe spaces for residents of Mitrovica, both ethnic Serbs and Albanians, to connect and establish relationships based on a shared interest or need.

The organization’s activities have often led to sustainable initiatives that continue for years after a project ends: for example, the multi-ethnic Women in Business network which supports female entrepreneurs; the Mitrovica Women Association for Human Rights which actively promotes women’s participation in peacebuilding; and the Mitrovica Rock School, which, in a nod to the city’s history as a rock music hub, brings Serb, Albanian, Macedonian and Roma youth together to play music. CBM is currently working with the University of Pristina, a public education institution in Kosovo, to establish a master’s program in Peacebuilding and Transitional Justice.

CBM has gone beyond its mandate to connect diverse communities, going above and beyond to empower community members as active participants in decision-making processes for community projects and interventions. The organization has become a reliable information source for international and local organizations working on peacebuilding, human rights, economic development and social cohesion. Through years of building trust with communities on both sides of the Ibar, CBM has changed the mindsets of thousands of citizens and contributed in tangible ways to advancing pluralism in Mitrovica and throughout Kosovo.

Following the 1998–99 war in Kosovo, Serbs moved from the south of Kosovo to the north, while Albanians moved from the north to the south. This division was echoed in Mitrovica, which remained a hot spot for ethnic tension in Kosovo. There was limited interaction between the communities, except when they collided in violent and sometimes deadly conflict. Today, tensions between the two groups remain high. Rioting in October 2021 reignited fears of escalated violence in Mitrovica.

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. 

Build Up

Build Up’s Story

Imagine a peacebuilding organization in Jordan wants to understand how polarization around religion and tradition is playing out on social media in their country. Are religious and traditional norms affecting how people express themselves? What terms are being used and by whom? For answers, the organization turns to Phoenix, an open-source social media analysis tool created by the non-profit organization, Build Up. 

Phoenix collects data from a hundred Facebook pages and Twitter handles. It organizes the data, anonymizes it, and classifies and labels it in a number of ways. For example, who made the post? A religious leader? A social media influencer? A governmental organization? Next, Phoenix arranges the data into graphs by engagement, sentiment and network. This helps identify patterns. Thanks to Phoenix, the Jordanian peacebuilding organization now has a deeper understanding of social media conversations about religion and tradition and, crucially, where there are opportunities to intervene.  

Phoenix is one of many tools created by Build Up, a global network of peace innovators who are using technology to build peace. 

Polarization is one of the most pressing issues around the world, and the digital space is a key contributor. Social media can fuel intense animosity between political groups. The algorithms promote divisive content that stirs up emotions and drives engagement. When this is combined with misinformation and micro-targeting—i.e. data-driven personalization—different online realities are created depending on who we are. This makes it much harder for different groups to find common ground. 

Build Up focuses on peacebuilding interventions that address hate speech and polarization by harnessing technologies to foster inclusive dialogue and social cohesion. It partners with organizations around the world to design and implement innovative technology-based solutions to conflict. Build Up’s work is extensive, ranging from helping an electoral commission in the Somali region create a WhatsApp bot to deliver voter education to remote communities, to supporting grassroots peacebuilding organizations to amplify the voices of youth and marginalized ethnic and religious groups. Other examples include online games that challenge stereotypes amongst Syrian youth, a chatbot that fights online misinformation in Myanmar, or digital consultations with women in Yemen to understand the gender dimensions of war. 

While digital technologies can be a threat to pluralism, Build Up has shown that innovative use of these same technologies can create countless opportunities for connection, collaboration and inclusion around the world. 

Esther Omam

“This award is a reaffirmation of the value of the concept of ‘Leave no one behind’. That humanity, more than ever before, should always come first. That our diversity is our bond and that, with pluralism, everyone can have a voice. This award symbolizes all that I fight for as a woman, a peacebuilder, and a leader in Cameroon, a country where the acceptance of our diversity and plurality can be a solution to our plight”

Esther Omam

Esther’s Story

Women peacemakers, local council authorities, local residents, and internally displaced persons (IDPs) who have fled their homes amidst Cameroon’s Anglophone crisis sit at tables arranged in a circle. In a village in the South West region of Cameroon, Esther Omam’s non-governmental organization, Reach Out Cameroon, has brought these participants together to address the various challenges they face. They discuss tensions between host community residents and IDPs, women and girls forced into early marriage and support for the most vulnerable community members. Esther listens carefully before helping the participants outline the steps to bring their concerns to the chief. The dialogue lasts for hours and is accompanied by the distribution of donated clothing and a visit from Reach Out’s mobile ophthalmology clinic. This initiative is one of the myriad ways Esther, an award-winning peacebuilder, mediator and human rights defender, is fostering a culture of peace in Cameroon. 

The Anglophone crisis began in 2016 when Cameroon’s Anglophone minority began protesting against the marginalization they were experiencing in the majority Francophone country. Since 2017, the country has seen an escalation of violence between government forces and non-state armed groups who are demanding secession of the Anglophone North West and South West regions from the Republic of Cameroon. The civil war has claimed the lives of more than 6,000 people, led to the internal displacement of over a million people, and left 4.7 million people in need of humanitarian assistance. 

Esther Omam founded Reach Out Cameroon in 1996 to support vulnerable populations in underserved communities during the HIV epidemic. In response to the Anglophone crisis, she shifted focus to integrate humanitarian programming. Today, the organization has served over 1,700,000 people in hundreds of remote communities, some of them still untouched by any other organization. As the Anglophone crisis intensified, Esther incorporated peacebuilding into her approach, mobilizing and empowering women and youth to contribute to ending the conflict. Her impact is expansive, ranging from coordinating the first civilian action that denounced the violence, to facilitating the participation of women in local and national dialogues for peace, to opening “Esther’s Brave Space”, a peace house that offers temporary accommodation and counselling for survivors of gender-based violence. She has brought together thousands of women through peaceful protests and conventions to collectively demand an end to violence.  

Even in the face of great personal danger, Esther continues to champion pluralism by improving the lives of women and children, strengthening communities and uniting a wide range of voices for peace and social cohesion in Cameroon.