Category Archives: Guest post

Youth Ambassador project kick-starts in Romania (supported by great coffee, and Count Dracula)

What happens when you combine the talents of a soft-spoken teacher from Morocco, an experienced and incredibly knowledgeable activist from Romania, a sharp and witty young project coordinator and a fiercely passionate communications manager from Cyprus? The Youth Ambassadorship project is finally on the go – and the characteristically diverse team, got tight and productive in a tiny little village in Transylvania this month, to get the ball rolling. Find out what Kristy Eliades had to say about this exciting new project that was sparked at last year’s Power of One Conference (hosted by Peace-it-Together and supported by UNDP-ACT).

942756_251569334981135_540742211_n“I looked around the room, slightly hurt that I’d just been told that the term ‘youth’ does not actually apply to thirty-something year olds, no matter how young at heart they felt. Katerina laughed so I asked how old she was. She is 24. I nearly fell off my chair.

The mission was relatively simple – create a training manual for Youth Ambassadors to instigate cross-cultural dialogues in their region. The partners (NGO-Support Centre, Resurse Service, Youth Power, Forum De La Citoyennete and Kontea Heritage Foundation) would be nominating young people from Morocco, Romania and Cyprus to become Ambassadors whose role would be to mediate debates and group conversations in an effort to enhance understanding across cultures, challenge stereotypes, and reduce prejudice and xenophobia.

I very quickly realised that the team of partners could not be more diverse in character, appearance and working methods. ‘How brilliant,’ I thought, ‘all the best things come from teams with powerfully individual members – this is going to be great’. And it was.

The team became close very quickly, bound by the urge to get the job done effectively in order to create as much impact as possible. Together, we outlined the manual structure, created terms of reference, branded the project, researched mediation techniques, customized them and started working on the content. After what seemed like hundreds of cups of coffee and flip chart sheets, we took a step back and looked at our work. It was good. Actually it was more than good. Everyone had their own individual expertise and had worked on specific components of the manual that were most suited to them based on both experience and passion. For the short amount of time we had spent together, the four of us had done an amazing amount of work.

The trip was intense, but the long hours we all put in paid off. The project finally had a clear vision, character, image and a training manual that was very near completion. We rewarded ourselves with a half-day visit to Bran Castle (home to Vlad – the Impailer – Dracul – which of course meant Cosmin and I spent the day making ‘Mwahhhahaha’ sounds in every room) and got caught in an incredibly stubborn hailstorm. Thankfully, by then the team was close enough to actually enjoy getting soaking wet in an unknown medieval setting and we made the most of it – Khadija and Katerina did some light shopping while Cosmin and I continued making funny references to Dracula.

Only great things can come from a collaboration like that, so keep your eyes and ears open for much, much more. To catch up on what we are doing and keep yourself updated, please visit (and like) our newly launched facebook page.”

Kristy Eliades
Communications Manager
NGO-Support Centre

History in the Making

Over 500 participants attended the Opening Cermony at Kontea

Over 500 participants attended the Opening Cermony at Kontea


Testimonial: Kontea Church Courtyard Restoration Ceremony

By: Jenne Krey, Germany (Engage-on-the-Move volunteer team)

A few minutes after crossing the check point at Pyla in the morning of December 8th, 2012 people began to get excited. The entire bus began to fill with whispers that soon became open public speeches. Many people were exchanging stories. I heard one older woman describe her first detention in 3rd grade. She laughed, we laughed and the group suddenly became much closer. The church of St. Charalambos seemed to be of special importance to the Greek Cypriot locals because as we parked the excited exchange of childhood memories were collectively directed to various joyous festivals they had experienced at the same church standing before them.  Once we unpacked and the other buses from Limassol and Larnaca arrived, the volunteers had a chance to actually take in the space. Our group from the bus had been joined by another 100 or so people that were all walking in and out of the church and around the courtyard, pointing to various details and smiling.

When visiting the interior of the church I got to hear various reactions from the locals. Most were impressed with the actual physical restoration, others immediately expressed the urgent need for the development of projects like this, all across the island. Many mentioned Apostolos Andreas as an example, and although the guests were genuinely happy to be there, moments of nostalgia could be seen clearly, especially within the church walls.

Hearing the locals share their memories and discussing the concept of peace with the Engage team, highlighted the fact that I was witnessing history in the making. The fact that so many people had gathered to see a small part of a village restored, made me realise that in Cyprus there is a strong love for simple beauty. All generations from both communities seem to be authentically connected with their history and culture.

When one of the hosts mentioned in her welcoming speech that the restored courtyard was once used for festivals during Easter and Christmas and various other Orthodox holidays, I looked across the area and took a snapshot. True this was one of many ‘panagiria’ I have experienced in Cyprus but this time the courtyard was filled with people and music for the first time in years. Children were writing their messages for peace on our flipchart. Architects and engineers from the Kontea Heritage Foundation were introducing us to their families and it seemed all participants fully realised the significance of the entire experience.

It was an honour to be a part of a true peace-building event in a country like Cyprus. I hope this project – that was so well executed by both communities in a small village like Kontea, can be used as an example and taken to new levels, throughout the island.

Making the moves that matter

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If you haven’t melted away in this heatwave over the past few days, then high five! Peace Exchange really has to applaud you… summer has well and truly arrived.

Luckily, here to share some refreshing news is Jale Canlibalik of ENGAGE, with a look at the Peace it Together partner’s ‘On the Move’ campaign.

Read on!

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Doing away with the traditional conferences and seminars and inviting people to come to us, the ENGAGE team are now coming to you through our ENGAGE-On the Move campaign.

This campaign has seen the team join in various festivals across the island as a way of interacting with the local community and taking part in local festivities while actively promoting reconciliation.

To date, we have ‘drummed’ with the children in Famagusta with ‘DrumInspire’ at the Famagusta Walled City Association’s 4th Annual Children’s Festival.  We have immersed ourselves in the rose waters of Agros at the 6th Annual Rose Festival and we have ridden donkeys while dancing for peace with ‘Dance for Peace’ at the Buyukkonuk/Komi Kebir 10th Eco Day Festival.

We have so far interacted with many new people and received positive feedback from each of the locations we have visited, with one person from Buyukkonuk/Komi Kebir commenting: “this is an excellent project, but why are you not at every festival?” :)

During the design of Phase II of ENGAGE, it was decided the time had come to move away from the traditional Nicosia-based events and really engage with local communities and promote the work we do at a grass-roots level.

It is important to us that this phase of the project is much more inclusive and covers a wider scope of the island in terms of promoting active citizenship, civic engagement and reconciliation island-wide.

For this reason, the ENGAGE-On the Move campaign will see the team take part in a series of localised events over the course of the two-year project.

Next stop is the Dikmen/Dhikomo Festival - running from Friday June 22 from 7.30pm until Sunday June 24.

Here the ENGAGE-On the Move team will be distributing flyers and goodies, discussing how locals can get more involved with the project through our active citizenship campaign and through our Active Volunteer Engage Teams, and lobbying for the policy papers created via our Gender and Diversity-themed Active Dialogue Networks, with members of the network taking part to share their work and experiences.

ENGAGE has also ensured DrumInspire, the bicommunal folklore group Dance for Peace and the Bicommunal Choir will be on hand to entertain Dikmen/Dhikomo festival-goers.

If you would like further information on this event please contact ENGAGE’s Jale Canlibalik at jcanlibalik@mc-med.eu

And for further information as to where our next stop will be, feel free to check out our website or  email the team.

That’s all from ENGAGE at the moment; we look forward to seeing you this week in Dikmen/Dhikomo!

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Thanks Jale, sounds like there’s lots of good things to be shared, so do check out the links above for more information on the Dikmen/Dhikomo fest and beyond.

Join us again soon for more Peace it Together news, right here on the Peace Exchange. Until then, stay cool, remember to carry your sunblock and… see you in the next post!

You can read a Greek version of this post here, and a Turkish version here.

Peace – the writing’s on the wall

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Back in February, Peace Exchange had brought you a post announcing Peace it Together partner Youth Power‘s 2012 Small Grants Initiative.

(And if you missed that post, you can read it here :))

This week, our guest blogger is one of the grant winners, Petros Herakleous who was awarded support for his innovative project – Graffiti for Peace.

Take it away Petros!

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Graffiti is a type of art that always triggers my interest, mainly because of its rebellious nature.

Thus, since the time that I was still an MA student in the Department of Peace studies at Bradford University, I was wondering how the art of graffiti could be used in order to send message regarding the urgent need for peace in Cyprus.

This March, the Youth Power Small Grants gave me the opportunity to pitch a project in which graffiti would be the main activity.

More specifically: Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot youths, inspired by graffiti artists such as Banksy and Blek Le Rat, would send out a message for peace and reconciliation.

And this is how Graffiti for Peace was born.

Greek graffiti artist bleeps.gr in a statement regarding Graffiti for Peace noted: “Walls are something more than urban canvas. They are a potential information board, offering the possibility of analysis and the chance to put our thoughts and philosophical quests up for public display.”

In this way, the participants of Graffiti for Peace will have a chance to express their thoughts, feelings and perceptions on issues related with peace and the reconciliation process in Cyprus.

In my personal view, the people of Cyprus, Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots, have to realise they have a lot to gain by strengthening the peacebuilding process between the two communities.

Therefore, by using the universal language of art, Graffiti for Peace aims to aid the young people of both communities to send out their messages of hope and peace for the future of their country.

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Thanks for sharing that with us Petros. It just goes to show that any passion can become an agent for peacebuilding.

And by extension, all creativity and innovation can be a potential resource towards breaking down barriers and bringing diverse groups of people together towards a common goal.

Looking ahead then, we can expect bold designs challenging our perceptions about Cyprus reconciliation, coming to a wall, near you :)

That’s all for this time. Peace Exchange will be back with more good stuff soon.

Till then, enjoy the weekend and… see you in the next post!

You can read a Greek version of this post here, and a Turkish version here.

Knowledge and Innovation, the Cypriot way

This week, Peace Exchange hosts Mehmet Erdoğan and Ellada Evangelou, Knowledge and Innovation officers of the Peace it Together network (and, respectively, the lovely people to the right of each of the stylish frames above), who offered the following post after mapping past and present civil society peace efforts in Cyprus.

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Civil society in Cyprus, working for years on peacebuilding, is mostly tired. Most people have been at it for years, and quite a few of them have found out that hope can really wear you out. So many relationships blossom, develop and die out.  There are always obstacles to conquer, whether in the form of politics or politicians, challenging educational systems, families and communities, even our own personal preconceptions: and most times overcoming these obstacles is quite a difficult task.

Mostly.

Most times.

Most.

But not all.

And in that space, the margin where exceptions are found, as well as exceptional people and exceptional situations, that’s where knowledge and innovation lies in Cypriot civil society in 2012. In the process of “cherchez l’ espace” one realizes the amazing qualities of Cypriot civil society exceptionalism: the strength and vibrancy of its nature, the determination and captivating qualities of its people, the overwhelming expertise and experience accumulated and utilised in creative and open-hearted ways, the compassion and love for the people and the island.

Getting rid of the insecurity of being “one of some”, as opposed to the safety of “one of most” defines civil society work in Cyprus.   After that first defining leap, you must secure your position in order to move forward: embrace the past through knowing it and the future by anticipating it. In Cyprus, knowledge and experience about the past is invaluable, a basis and a strength. Mapping the civil society contribution to peacebuilding and reconciliation, through the individuals and groups who have worked on the Cyprus problem over the years is, therefore, crucial.

Understanding and managing lapsed time is a first step: Imagine that many civil society agents of the present were newborns while the first wave of pioneering work was carried out.  Generations of Cypriots have put their heart and soul into bringing divided communities on the island together – though they may have little interaction with each other now. What if the leaders of the past could become mentors to the young and motivated folk? What if the new generation of peace-oriented civil society activists could help the previous generation discover the new creative interventions practised?

These are two reasons we have been busy at work lately. What often seems a daunting and exhausting legacy of work to many, seems to us to hold a sea of potential.  We have rolled up our sleeves and have sipped countless coffees during interviews with civil society representatives.  We have got to know their work: their dreams and joys. How they failed when they failed. Their contributions, reports, books, films, youth camps… Hours, months, years spent, bringing ordinary people together, in the most extraordinary of ways and circumstances.  These are people who know that no matter what happens in the political sphere, turning back is not an option, that idleness (even if that is of the mind) has disappeared from their scope of possibilities.

We are enjoying getting to know them, it is a rare pleasure to sit around hearing stories, pieces of the puzzle that make up your history. And then piecing Cypriot (civil society) history, together.

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Humbling and inspiring thoughts – thank you Mehmet and Ellada.

We hope you’ll join Peace Exchange for more good stuff, coming soon.

Have a great week and… see you in the next post!

A Greek version of this post may be found here, and a Turkish version here.

Making the case for change on the road to peace in Cyprus

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Peace Exchange promised you an in-depth account of last week’s address by Cyprus civil society representatives to the UK parliament and London School of Economics (LSE).

(And in case you missed the blog’s preview of the trip, you can find it here.)

Bringing you that account is Michalis Simopoulos of the Cyprus Community Media Centre, so read on!

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There really is no substitute for practice. No matter the frequency, intensity, or ferocity of in-house discussions and deliberations; it is the delivery when it matters most that makes or breaks a message.

And this is exactly what happened in London last week, when seven Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot civil society representatives stood up and outlined their vision to two different audiences that serious structural reform of the Cyprus peace process is required for there to be a truly owned peace on the island.

And trust me, as an observer looking in on two packed-out gatherings, this was no easy undertaking. It is hard enough for one person to deliver a concise message about a topic as sensitive as this, let alone seven individuals piecing together and conveying as convincingly as they did a message of change.

May 15, 2012 first stop: The Houses of Parliament, and Yeshim Harris, whose organisation ENGI was so instrumental in getting this visit off the ground, was right about the weather! Light drizzly rain and a chilled wind greeted the team as they gathered outside the Cromwell Green entrance of the Houses of Parliament.

But the meeting that followed warmed everybody up, with Jeffrey Donaldson, MP joining a team discussion about how civil society can have a positive impact on peace processes.

Everyone was pleasantly surprised by his admission that, during his involvement in the Northern Ireland peace process, he started off regarding civil society as more of a nuisance than a voice to be taken seriously, but that in time, he and his colleagues came to realise “a challenge to the official rhetoric” was not such a bad thing after all, and that “raising the positive voices” through the vehicle of civil society was not only important but necessary to get to the 1998 Good Friday agreement.

After a traditional English pub grub lunch, the team met Simon Hughes, MP, the chair of the visit’s headline event, an open discussion on the topic of Cyprus: Tired of talking? Civil society to bring life to a stagnant process, organised by the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Conflict Issues (APPGCI).

Joining Mr Hughes, who is also the co-chair of the APPGCI, was Baroness Meral Ece, herself a Cypriot by birth with strong views on the current status quo in Cyprus.

Despite the fact that the negotiations appear to be heading for deadline, both Mr Hughes and Baroness Ece agreed that “civil society’s voice needs to be heard and encouraged to come forward” and urged those present to ‘keep the dialogue going’ despite the presumed impasse.

And so to Committee Room 12, and a packed auditorium, including parliamentarians Nick de Bois and David Burrowes, as well as Lord David Hannay. Some 30 minutes later, and the message was clear, as the following quotes from members of the visiting team, attest:

 “The positions of the two sides are increasingly arbitrary and fail to reflect what the people actually want”

Alexandros Lordos

“Actions are not suspended until the compilation of a master text by the leaders”

Marios Epaminondas

“Need for CSO activism is evident in polls, which show strong support for any proposal that would give the public a greater say in the peace process”

Bulent Kanol

 “The irony is that, although civil society offers the grounds to youth to challenge conventional realities and make a difference, civil society remains handicapped within the political sector”

Katerina Antoniou

“A paradigm shift is required to allow ordinary people a voice in such processes”

Rana Celal

“The business leaders continue to meet to find new ways of flourishing business between the two communities, but they have hit a brick wall, due to political circumstances”

Meliha Kaymak

“Structural reform of the peace process is needed, in order to allow a harmonious collaboration of track 1 (the leaders), track 2 (civil society) and track 3 (the wider public)”

Michalis Avraam

16 May 2012 started with a show of dedication – Alexandros getting up at 6.30 am to answer the call of 107.6FM and speak on behalf of the group about the message of the London visit. Kudos Alexandros!

In the morning, the group gathered for a debrief of the night before with Simon Hughes, MP, who said that he had been “hugely encouraged” by the response of the audience, and expressed his commitment to “carry the message forward” in meetings with the relevant stakeholders in the weeks to come.

Yeshim shared with the group some very encouraging feedback from participants, and outlined how both ENGI and APPGCI could stay involved with Cyprus in the near future.

The positive messages continued to flow in the afternoon meeting with the UK Minister for Europe David Lidington, MP, who offered his support to the initiative and requested that he be kept informed once a plan of future engagement had been set up.

And so to Cowdray House at the London School of Economics (LSE), where Dr James Ker Lindsay, himself a long-time follower of the Cyprus peace talks, welcomed an audience of London-based Cypriots to the concluding event of the visit.

The audience listened intently to the group outline their message of change to the peace process, but the focus of the Q&A session that followed was how the model of collaboration can be taken forward or even replicated in London.

Speaking as someone who has interacted with the Cypriot communities in London, the audience’s interest in the work of the island’s civil society was as important as the message on the peace process. You can listen to a podcast of the event here.

17 May 2012 final stop: Heathrow Airport for the return journey.

Without doubt, this was a step up from the grass-roots activism which has characterised the work of the network and its partners thus far – a first navigation into the unchartered waters of advocacy, diplomacy, and targeted messaging about what needs to change in Cyprus if this country is to become one again.

This brave new world, however, will open up the network to a whole new set of questions about its accountability to the wider public, its position vis-a-vis issues such as human rights and the role of external actors in the conflict to mention just a few.

But it is a challenge that the network must meet if this proposal is to succeed and generate the necessary traction across Cypriot society.

Here, a final word of thanks to Yeshim Harris. In Yeshim and ENGI, ably supported by Sarah Blair, Cyprus’ CSO network has found an important ally, eager to support the work of civil society and promote its message to a wider audience.

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A big thanks to Michalis for sharing that with us! Join us again for more good stuff in the next post, coming soon.

Oh, and… if you’ve liked what you’ve read, please go ahead and share this post on Facebook and Twitter ;)

You can read a Greek version of this post here and a Turkish version here.

Civil society to address UK parliament

Stop press! The Peace Exchange wanted to grab your attention bright and early this week, to let you know about something very important.

Civil society representatives from Cyprus are set to address the House of Commons in London tomorrow,Tuesday May 15, and will also be speaking at an open event at the London School of Economics the following day.

Youth Power’s Katerina Antoniou, who is part of the team that travelled to the UK capital, brings you the details…

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Youth Power has put some pretty exciting events in the pipeline, and they ‘ve got me anticipating for an eventful summer. Activities like entrepreneurial trainings, social innovation workshops and trips for regional socialising provide a good basis for skills development, exchange of ideas and new partners for social action.

I must admit though, what’s got me most excited is the chance, on behalf of Youth Power, to present on the role of civil society in Cyprus, along with six other civil society activists on Tuesday, May 15.

The seven-member advocacy team will have the chance to present its work and suggestions at the UK Parliament and the London School of Economics, to British politicians, the local Cypriot diaspora, academics, activists and the wider public.

The key message being conveyed is that it’s time for civil society to directly get involved in the Cyprus peace process, putting an end to a decades-long stagnation.

This will be achieved by making the peace process more transparent, more inclusive and representative of public opinion, and by creating direct links between the process and politically under-represented groups, such as youth.

Opportunities for promoting fresh ideas and airing  the voice of new generations are unfortunately minimal within the traditional political scene on the island, leading young people toward political pessimism and apathy.

Yet the peace process is in vital need of new voices and fresh ideas, as the island’s youth today appears more ripe to negotiate and reunite than our political leaders ever did.

The voice of youth has been traditionally marginalised with regards to the local political discourse; perhaps youngsters are considered less experienced, often with unrealistic expectations, and would be better off reinforcing existing momentums.

Yet young people offer a lot more than that: they offer ideas and provoke immediate action; they don’t mind challenging conventional norms nor being cynical towards traditional practices.

In other words, young people are more free to express opinions and provide solutions away from any ideological, political and/or societal restrictions.

Today, many young Cypriots choose to remain politically aware and socially active. Yet youth activism goes beyond reading a book, engaging in a political conversation, criticising leaders or organising social events.

The island’s youth has the potential to bring a new vibe to a malfunctioning peace process, and requests for its voice to be heard and heeded.

I do hope the London presentations will be one of many, where the message of inclusion can be successfully conveyed to provoke thought, generate reaction and achieve change.

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Thanks so much Katerina. Stay tuned for more reports and photos coming from other members of the London team later this week.

And meanwhile, won’t you share this post on Facebook and Twitter?

That’s all for right now… see you very, very soon!

You can read a Greek version of this post here, and a Turkish version here.