This article first appeared in our International Women’s Day issue of My Green Pod Magazine, published on 08 March 2023. Click here to subscribe to our digital edition and get each issue delivered straight to your inbox
I ended up on a Fine Art & Critical Theory course in Brighton almost by accident, not sure what else to study.
Instead of listening to my lecturers expounding on Damien Hirst and Roland Barthes, which to me seemed pointless, I would pretend that I needed to go to the bathroom and wander down the corridors, listening to music on my headphones.
When I got terrible marks at the end of the first year, my tutors pointed out that if I spent more time in the classroom I might stand a chance of passing my degree.
Around that time, I met someone who had just returned from volunteering in Kosovo; the moment I heard the name I knew that I wanted to go. That’s how my life changed.
As I drove into Kosovo for the first time, in a UN convoy, I was completely awestruck by the vast plains and the towering mountains. I felt as though I never wanted to leave.
This first visit wasn’t long after the war, which had displaced almost 1.5 million people. Many had now returned and were beginning to rebuild their homes and lives.
Being with people from all communities whose lives were torn apart by war deeply affected me.
My biggest learning at that time was about the power of listening, and of simply being with people, without necessarily needing to do anything other than showing that you cared.
I had only planned to stay in Kosovo for a few weeks, but I ended up spending many extended periods there over the 10 years that followed – I even completed a PhD about the country.
My friendships and learnings from that time have been foundational to everything I’ve done – including in the UK, where I have spent many years supporting local groups in some of the most deprived communities and have advised local and central government on social integration.
In autumn 2022 I took on a new challenge: leading the global charity Plan for Peace, founded by three-time Nobel Peace Prize nominee Dr Scilla Elworthy.
Our goal is to build and strengthen peace infrastructures around the world, and ensure that peacebuilding is properly resourced and understood.
We’re working with everyone – from small neighbourhood groups through to policymakers, major global corporations, the military and governments.
It’s an incredible team with some of the best peacebuilders in the world, including Nobel Peace Prize laureates and individuals with their own courageous stories.
The UK may not be the first place you’d think of launching a peacebuilding programme, but this March we’ll kick off Changemakers in Turbulent Times.
The initiative will resource those tackling some of the UK’s most challenging issues – from knife crime to food poverty – in order to relieve the burnout, isolation and overwhelm that many are currently experiencing.
Changemakers in Turbulent Times will be a transformational 10-week journey led by some of the world’s most inspiring activists, including incredible women such as Selina Hales and Jo Berry.
Selina is a Glasgow mum who set up ‘Refuweegee’ from her living room after seeing disturbing images of the refugee crisis on the news.
Her organisation ensures that no person arriving in Glasgow goes without the warm welcome they deserve, and it is now one of the leading providers of support to asylum seekers and refugees in Scotland.
Jo, whose father died in the 1984 Brighton bomb, has dedicated her life to building peace around the world, demonstrating the power of listening and empathy in building understanding across divides by working alongside Patrick Magee, who planted the bomb that killed her dad.
Participants of the programme will learn crucial skills from the field of conflict transformation, such as deep listening and non-confrontational communication, and will explore themes like ‘heart-led leadership’ and ‘cleaning anger’. All those taking part can apply for a seed grant at the end.
This pilot is the first step in supporting, connecting and resourcing UK changemakers, drawing on skills from conflict transformation and building a community of peacebuilders worldwide.
I hope everyone can experience the life-changing magic of peacebuilding – as I have.
Click here to find outmode bout Changemakers in Turbulent Times and how to get involved.