Category Archives: Peace education

People united in a country divided

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In the summer of 1974 Nicos Anastasiou bade farewell to his classmates as they all headed off for the summer break. Little did they know a short time after that conflict would divide their country.

“When we went back to school in September there were nine empty chairs in our class and I thought to myself: where are my Turkish Cypriot classmates?” said Nicos.

Twenty years later in 1994, Nicos had the opportunity to attend a bicommunal meeting in Nicosia’s buffer zone under the auspices of the United Nations Mission in Cyprus. He had sent a message with another friend to enquire into his nine friends, to see if they could join the meeting. As he approached the area, the quiet of the dead zone was replaced with voices, many of them and all calling his name. There they were – all nine of his former classmates, waiting to greet him.

“It was as if we never parted. Our friendship was still there like a treasure, intact” explains Nicos.

This personal story is one of many in Cyprus and Nicos’ story of friendship inspired him to create new and more friendships, this time bringing together students from both communities who may not have had the chance to meet each other before. They called it the Cyprus Friendship Programme (CFP) with the slogan “People united in a country divided”.

The CFP) is modeled after the all-volunteer Children’s Friendship Project for Northern Ireland (CFPNI), a peace and friendship building programme that successfully brought more than 2,000 Protestant and Catholic teens (as well as their families and their friends) in Northern Ireland together throughout its 21 year existence – the programme came to its successful completion in 2007. The CFP started in 2009 as an initiative of HasNa, a small US non-profit organisation in cooperation with a Cypriot team of coordinators, including Nicos.

How the programme works: Roommates for a month – friends for life

The CFP works by bringing teenagers aged 15 to 18 years old from both communities together in a series of meetings, with facilitated workshop activities on leadership, communication, reconciliation and peacebuilding skills. At the end of the workshops, each teen chooses one person from the ‘other side’ of the same gender with whom he/she feels comfortable. Each pair of teenagers and their families are introduced and in the summer, each pair of teenagers lives with host families in the United States, sharing a bedroom for a four-week residential.

Four formal activities take place during the residential (team building, conflict resolution training, community service, and civic engagement) and upon return from the U.S. residential, additional activities take place. Prior to the end of the year a CFP Graduation occurs. After graduating, each participant is required to participate in the CFP Alumni Programme and be further involved in bicommunal activities for at least one year.

The success of the first four years of CFP – 158 teens and their families

The bonds that have been created between the pairs, as well as the larger group, their families and friends are an example of the future we all want in Cyprus being brought to the present. They meet regularly both formally but also socially demonstrating to all that peaceful coexistence is possible in Cyprus. The young people who have been through the programme are doing radio and TV presentations of their peacebuilding work as well as conducting bicommunal presentations in schools and youth clubs on both sides of the island.  Bicommunal presentations by youth to monocommunal audiences in schools is a very rare occurrence and in this sense the CFP are true leaders in opening new possibilities in peacebuilding work among the youth.

So one story of friendship has spawned hundreds more in a country where friendship between two communities had become rare because of the decades of division. Nicos’ story is proof that one person can and will make the difference needed!

You can watch Nicos’ full TEDx talk here.

More recently work done by the CFP teens found its way to the BBC and the CNN.

Tweet them right and they will follow

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A little birdy told Peace Exchange that the Cyprus Community Media Centre (CCMC) had offered another packed-with-information workshop last week.

A workshop that introduced participants to the power and many uses of the popular microblogging platform Twitter.

Even though the symbol of the little blue bird frequently shows up on web pages, only one year ago, statistics showed Cypriots had little time for capturing their thoughts or activities, or engaging with ‘followers’, by means of the Haiku-like 140 characters offered by Twitter. It was all about Facebook.

That has changed, and apparently there are just as many of us Tweeting as checking our Facebook feeds these days.

Which means CCMC’s workshop was particularly timely, as Twitter is yet one more tool in civil society organisations’ tool-kits for engaging with and mobilising their stakeholders.

Topics were pitched at the beginner level, but much ground was covered.

Participants learned how to customise their Twitter accounts, harness the power of retweets, hashtags and keywords and try out applications to identify and monitor topics being tweeted about in real time, such as: twitterfall, twendr.comtwinitor.com and twitscoop.com.

They also learned Tweeting strategies to build and mobilise their networks.

A simple tactic is to find (e.g. by using listorious.com) influential Tweeters with many followers in a particular niche, and then follow who they’re following, thereby making the most of similar ‘communities’.

Another key practice is to develop a distinct ‘voice’ and to listen and respond to followers, without merely blasting them with information.

The workshop also stressed that while Twitter was a very valuable tool for activists and civil society organisation to reach people and affect change, it could not simply replace grassroots mobilisation of stakeholders.

One of the case studies used that illustrated this point well was the recent uprising in Egypt. While Twitter certainly played a key role in coordinating people, protesters in the street were still also verbally communicating to those not online about where and at what times to gather.

A lot of material to cover in the space of two short hours, but those attending the workshop were certainly left with an array of knowledge and tips to put into use.

As one participant noted: “Inspiration and change can start online, and the momentum can be increased through grassroots activism and physical gatherings or events – this is the change process in our century.

“We were so excited after the training and we hope we see a Twitterstorm – where people come together to tweet on the same topic at the same time – in Cyprus really soon.”

Good stuff indeed, and you can be sure CCMC will be offering more tools, tips and insight in the months ahead.

That’s all for this week, but we’ll be back again shortly, so watch this space!

(And, for those who want their own Twitter overview, check out the videos here  and here.)

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

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.

Tools and strategies for the work ahead

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The good folks at the Cyprus Community Media Centre (CCMC) recently completed a particularly busy week, equipping attendees of two key workshops – electronic newsletter creation and online activism – with the training to maximise their outreach and mobilise their stakeholders.

The first workshop focused on introducing participants – a mixture of NGO representatives, Peace it Together project partners and social activists – to the free online platform MailChimp, which allows users to design email newsletters, share them on social networks and track their results.

Attendees were led through a series of exercises to make the most of MailChimp’s wide array of pre-designed and customisable newsletter templates.

Tips and hints to remember in particular were:

  • To be meticulous in compiling the newsletter’s list. Far better to have fewer contacts who are genuinely interested in the content than a massive list of folks who are, at best, apathetic about what you’re sharing, or, at worst, likely to resent the intrusion into their already-overloaded inbox
  • To make subject lines catchy, so the target reader is more tempted to open the emailed newsletter
  • To make content attractive with hyperlinks and lots of bold visuals
  • To make content succinct and easily scanable
  • To ensure newsletters really contain ‘news’ – and if there isn’t enough newsworthy material to share, to consider delaying sending out the newsletter until there is – or simply adopt a less frequent emailing cycle

After an overview of the range of social media tools available, the second workshop exposed participants to both online and offline strategies for activism, with case studies compiled from the regional players in the Arab Spring, as well as Cyprus.

Among the steps in digital activism outlined by the workshop, were:

  • Documenting: digital content creation – text, audio, video
  • Mobilising: information sharing with a call to action
  • Synthesising: aggregation and combining of content

The workshop stressed that activism was more than simply posting a link on Facebook or Twitter, or ‘liking’ the content of a site, and that the internet was just the starting point for coming together to create change.

Ultimately,  focusing on the technologies people were already using was what was rewarded by outreach and mobilisation, rather than utilising tools whose function was unlikely to reach target stakeholders.

“People living in Cyprus are very active online and already use tools of online activism without the methodology of affecting social change,” noted CCMC’s Beran Djemal.

“This workshop helped to convert the tools into strategic action, and helped Cypriot activists better position themselves in the regional context using best practices from other online activism initiatives around the world.”

Attendee Sophia Arnaouti, from Cyprus Islandwide NGO Development Platform (CYINDEP) and Peace Centre agreed. “The workshop really built our capacity even more to be able to campaign in a dynamic way,” she said.

So much to take in, but well worth the effort – thanks CCMC!

That’s all for this time but, as always, stay tuned and we’ll see you in the next post.

You can read a Greek version of this post 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.

GUEST POST: celebrating a year of cooperation

The Buffer Zone’s cool factor went up several notches last Sunday, when Home for Cooperation (H4C) threw its ‘first birthday’ bash. After all, who doesn’t like a good party?

Silly question!

For those who couldn’t be there in person, Leslie Frost, a friend of the Association for Historical Dialogue and Research (AHDR) – and Peace Exchange’s guest blogger this week – is here to give us all the details. Read on!

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A street party can’t change the world. But at H4C’s celebration of its first anniversary on May 6, there was a greater sense of possibility and genuine commitment to peace and goodwill across the Buffer Zone than overtly displayed in years of political negotiations.

And I’m here to report it was a rockin’ good time.

The genius of H4C is that it brings together many disparate groups, working toward common causes, and centred on values of knowledge, peace and tolerance.

Organisations like AHDR – the driving force behind H4C’s creation – co-exist with Peace Players, ENGAGE, Hands Across the Divide, Interpeace and Future Together, along with other civil society organisations, citizen groups and individuals who host their activities there.

(Not to mention, H4C recently opened a highly popular café where people gather daily for lunches, meetings, or simply a good chat over coffee and muffins.)

On Sunday, H4C’s resident NGOs had a joint display set up to inform revelers about the work of each organisation. On the less serious side, there were also games and activities for kids and adults alike.

For example…

Bike for Cooperation sent out more than 40 people in bright-yellow safety vests with orange balloons tied to their bikes, to ride around and through the old city of Nicosia.

There was also a flash mob, and street ‘artivists’ organised a Word Carrier activity, collecting opinions on what cooperation means.

Children sang “Happy Birthday” in Greek, Turkish and English; we took part in laughter yoga and danced in the street. And there was enough barbecued souvla for all – a minor miracle when the crowds come in numbers far larger than expected – more than 500 in all!

And for those who were volunteers, the event was particularly memorable.

“This for me was the peace activity of all times and I now believe in a positive change even more,” said Tevfik Ioannis Aytekin.

“I am grateful to the AHDR for giving me the opportunity to supervise the painting activity, through which three fantastic murals were prepared by motivated and  talented kids working on the idea of cooperation,” added counterpart Iacovos Psaltis.

As both event and symbol, the day was amazing.

You can’t solve the Cyprus problem with a street party, but Cypriots from all over, and guests to this beautiful island like me, came together Sunday, May 6 to support a vision of building something better.

If to imagine a better future seems like a utopian dream, that dream has a tangible home that is one year old now.

With a dream, and a space for dreaming, and the committed work that makes even such dreams possible, who knows what can be achieved?

I believe in the power of those who have a dream today. Happy birthday, Home for Cooperation. Many happy returns.

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Thanks, Leslie! You can check out lots more photos from the event here.

And if you’ve liked what you’ve read, please show some love and share it on Facebook and Twitter :)

That’s all for this time. See you in the next post!

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

GUEST POST: Nicosia – a hub of CSO innovation?

All kinds of shoes have trod the streets of Nicosia over the decades. Peaceful, hostile, curious, transitory, permanent, reconciliatory… And throughout its checkered history, the city has brought together innovators of all kinds.

In its most recent decades, such innovators have been drawn from civil society.

Peace Exchange hosts UNDP-ACT’s Christopher Louise this week, who offers a suggestion on why Cyprus is perfectly positioned to leverage civil society peace efforts for the benefit of the wider region.

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Civil society in Cyprus has been able to change the dynamics of the island’s conflict and the relationship between the two communities in the last few decades.

The Peace it Together network, supported by UNDP-ACT, has amassed a wealth of resources regarding the role of civil society in peacebuilding and reconciliation.

The future role of Cypriot civil society in pushing for peace on the island will depend on the ability to sustain a pluralistic political narrative and press for progress in both national and international fora.

A chance for this will come this month (May  15, 2012), when representatives of civil society organisations, supported by UNDP, will speak at the British Parliament in a public debate.

Considering the United Kingdom’s central role in efforts to resolve the Cyprus conflict, this will be a prime opportunity to elevate the critical role of civil society in peacemaking to the international level.

Later this year (October 9-11, 2012), civil society leaders from Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) and the Arab states will meet at an inter-regional conference in the UN Buffer Zone in Nicosia to exchange experiences and ideas on how civil society can contribute to post-conflict and other complex transitions.

But why a Cyprus summit, and why now?

Put simply, UNDP’s local civil society partners want to tap the island’s potential as a cultural and geographical crossroads between Europe and the Arab world.

Meanwhile, Cyprus continues to play host to one of UNDP’s most concentrated and long-serving civil society-strengthening programmes, resonating with the current priorities for the role of civil society in the two regions:

So, where can we find the civil society innovators to make contributions to the inter-regional conference? What can Cypriot civil society learn from other countries in the two regions? How can inter-regional efforts bolster and support local efforts?

The Peace it Together Network welcomes all ideas!

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Peace Exchange thanks Christopher, and will of course update you on all related developments as they arise.

Until next time, stay tuned, and… see you in the next post!

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