The United Nations designates September 21 every year as the “International Day of Peace” to focus the world’s attention on unity and reconciliation by observing 24 hours of non-violence and cease-fire. United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres said, “Peace is needed today more than ever. War and conflict are unleashing devastation, poverty, and hunger, and driving tens of millions of people from their homes. Climate chaos is all around. And even peaceful countries are gripped by gaping inequalities and political polarization.” Read on for messages of peace from some of Global Volunteers’ community partners and volunteers. (Banner photo: Humphrey Muleba on Unsplash)
At the core of sustainable development is the absence of all forms of violence, and collaboration within governments and communities to end conflict and insecurity. Goal 16 of the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals aims to cultivate peace, justice, effective, accountable and inclusive institutions, and societies free from fear and violence. Global Volunteers’ vision is simple: To wage peace and promote justice worldwide through mutual international understanding by nurturing genuine community development partnerships.
Building Community Development Partnerships
Genuine development mobilizes empowered people: Both those seeking assistance, and those who seek to serve. And long-term relationships are central to our, and our community partners’ success.
Global Volunteers’ Cuban host partner and president of Baptist Worker and Student Coordination of Cuba (COEBAC) calls peace a “painful fruit” born from sacrifices and efforts of people’s search for justice, freedom and solidarity.” He says, “these are values that for many years, Global Volunteers and COEBAC have been seeking by putting people together to serve each other. Volunteers help plant gardens, paint community centers, care for elders, and teach English learners. Each of these tasks are not so important in what they represent in themselves, but as an excuse to build bridges of love and understanding between people – through which opposed governments, like the US and Cuba – can walk to bring peace and justice to their people.”
Global Volunteers’ Philosophy of Service is based upon the recognition that war and injustice are born of insufficient human and economic development, and that individuals from any community working as volunteers can assist people from other communities and cultures in their human and economic development. It is a person-to-person strategy building a foundation for world peace and justice by encouraging and enabling people throughout the world to spend short periods working with and learning from local people in communities other than their own.
“Walk together, talk together, people of the Earth. Then, and only then, will you have peace.”14-Time Alumni Volunteer Marcia Potvin
There are times when this core concept is evident. One of Global Volunteers’ community partnerships stands out in this regard. In Siedlce, Poland, our long-time Host Partner Marek Błaszczyk says: “I was born in 1956. Despite communism in Poland and various smaller and larger wars in the world, it seemed to me that ‘the memory of World War II and the millions of people killed’ would change the image of the world and that people would never allow such large conflicts and such tragedies to happen again. However, evil does not sleep. There are still those for whom their own interests are more important than the lives of others. They do not take into account the tragedy of other nations. That is why helping Ukraine is so important at this time. Ukrainians die defending their country but also peace in Europe and in the world. They are fighting for us too. The Polish people opened their homes and hearts to them. We, living so close to the border with Ukraine, together with Global Volunteers, are trying to help them here on the ground by supporting refugees and sending humanitarian aid to Ukraine. It is also very important what Global Volunteers is doing. Every help is important.”
“When you know people and develop friendships with them, peace is inevitable,” stated Kelly Cunningham onsite in Cuba this year. “Peace is one of the most important ingredients to setting the stage for children to thrive. Peace creates an environment for collaboration and better health. Peace allows for education and creativity to thrive. Children thrive in peace.”
“Peace is a painful fruit born from sacrifices and efforts of people’s search for justice, freedom and solidarity.”Eduardo Gonzalez, Global Volunteers’ Cuban Host
Honoring the Wisdom of Community Leaders
We recognize that the mere absence of war is not peace and peace without justice is no peace at all. As volunteers, we follow the lead of local people, who hold the wisdom of the community about how to approach their greatest societal challenges to peace, justice and development.
Says Buddhi Man Shrestha, our Nepal community partner and Country Manager Assistant: “Peace in any community is very important. Peace begins with oneself. When we love people, then there is peace in life, home, society, country and world. Jesus said to love your neighbor as yourself; ‘I will give you my peace, not as the world gives.’ It is more helpful to others to live a peaceful life.”
Lizette Melendez, 2023 Puerto Rico volunteer agrees, reflecting: “Peace is only possible when we act on it. Service allows us to demonstrate we care. When our society chooses to care and help children reach their full potential, peace is possible.”
Cuba Volunteer Mitch Menendez asserts that focusing on children is key to development, and key to peace: “I believe that if we can set positive examples of peace and collaboration for children, our work and ways will be noticed and, eventually, modeled by future adults.”
“Peace is only possible when we act on it. Service allows us to demonstrate we care. When our society chooses to care and help children reach their full potential, peace is possible.”Puerto Rico Volunteer Lizette Melendez
Working Hand-in-Hand with Local People
We strive to help local people deliver essential services equitably throughout the community, in order to lift up the total community and achieve a safer, respectful and supportive society for everyone.
“Peace for me is something important,” says Tenia Vigla, teacher and Greece community partner. “When someone is free to lead a decent life then there is peace in every part of it. It’s when someone can make their own decisions and express herself/himself the way they wish on condition that they respect the rights of other people. Peace is the period when people live in harmony with other people and can work and be creative and can have access to free education and health care and enjoy life as much as possible.”
Recent Greece Volunteer Susan Menendez echos Tenia’s sentiment: “I believe by mixing our cultures at an early age, we show that cultures and countries can be friends and that there’s really nothing to fight about. If we can work on puzzles, word searches, play bingo and “spoons” while encouraging good manners and positive sportsmanship, we can do the same at a higher level without fighting.”
Continuing this line of thought, Greece Volunteer Jim Detien said: “This is a powerful way to wage peace by improving cultural understanding between people from other countries. Out volunteer service shows that Americans want to help people in other countries and are doing so through Global Volunteers’ service programs.” Agreeing, Greece Volunteer Bonnie Studt added: “In all cultures, adults are the role models for the children we interact with. The children observe if we demonstrate kindness, calmness, humor, and confidence to handle adversity. Those behaviors go a long way to hopefully help them develop their own skills and bring peace and positive change to their world.”
“My favorite quote about peace is from Mother Teresa,” said Pearl Regis, Principal of Roseau Combined School in St. Lucia. “She said ‘Peace begins with a smile.’ Working alongside Global Volunteers we get lots of smiles, smiles are infectious, one smile will lead to another and another, I like to think this helps promote peace in our community.”
Sustaining Community-Based Projects
“It is very beautiful to remember one more year the international day of peace,” says Global Volunteers’ Community Partner Miguel Rodriguez, Director and Founder of Sagrada Familia. “But more beautiful would be to live peace every day, sowing and giving love, using all our resources to make everyone feel like family, that the world is a privilege and we must take care of it, that all of us who live in it, are responsible where we are with the charge we have to always put our best version, And our best version is nothing more than loving peace, therefore living peace and dying for it.”
We know that local communities embody their cultural, social, and economic reality, and know their needs and priorities. They realize the barriers to, as well as the possibilities for, their advancement. This local wisdom guides their development projects and is central to Global Volunteers’ work. Our dedicated community partners ensure volunteers’ assistance is appropriate, meaningful, and measurable.
Global Volunteers strives to provide volunteers the opportunity to be genuinely helpful in every work assignment in every partner community. “I believe the only way we can achieve peace in the world is by truly understanding and experiencing other people’s lives and needs as much as we can, said Texas Volunteer Cheryl Allen. “To do this, we must keep an open mind, avoiding judgment of either side. We are all human, and we are all seeking happiness. We can set this example for children and other adults.”
Montana Volunteer Michelle Lindquist agrees. “I think it’s society’s job to wage peace through service and help children reach their full potential because children are the future. Some communities lack resources, which mean their children may have limited opportunity. Service helps fill those gaps and models compassion and empathy, which is sorely needed in the world today.”
Summing up, Peru Volunteer and Global Volunteers Volunteer Coordinator Erika Liedtke asserted: “Waging peace through service to children has a ripple effect. Focusing on their well-being and development can break cycles of poverty, inequality, and violence that often perpetuate across generations. When children are raised in a nurturing and supportive environment, they are provided with an opportunity to grow into compassionate and empathetic individuals who can promote peace in their communities and beyond.”