Peace is possible

Date: 07 July 2022

YMCA peace-building Engagement Panel

6 July 2022

By Maggie Franzen

“Conflict cannot be characterized by its borders” said Dr Emma Leslie, General Secretary at the Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies, during the Creating Peace Engagement Panel at the 20th YMCA World Council, as she discussed some of the most violent conflicts the world has seen in decades. The question Emma posed was: “what is the fire that is burning? what does it look like?”

She believes that young leaders understand that conflict is complex and borderless, and realize that before any efforts are made to stop conflict, we need to understand what kind of peace we are collectively looking for, and how we can collaborate to create that peace. Emma stated that “collaboration is the essence of how we share power’. Marta Hureska, a national board member of YMCA Ukraine, was asked what she would like to see in the future in the year 2030 in Ukraine. She responded by saying the most important thing is “to reintegrate people back into the communities”: she believes we all have a part in creating peace in our communities, especially in Ukraine. “We need to focus on creating things and building things out of the ashes”, and to focus on the opposite of destruction and war.

Rami Khader was asked if he were to write a book in the year 2030 about the four things he deems most important about peace building, what would those four things be? His response to this question was:

deal with and prevent generational trauma

create a world of understanding, not of feeling

protecting children from losing their childhood

talk about the issues in the world


Xavier Castelllanos, a Director at the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, added a fifth point, and that was “having the ability to be silent when we need to be silent”. He believes the YMCA and other neutral organizations need to understand when to speak up.

The last question presented to the panellists was: ‘if the YMCA were to be given the Nobel Peace Prize in 2030, what would you think it would be for? The response provided by Kim Kyung min – National General Secretary and CEO of YMCA Korea – was that he hoped that all of the YMCAs came together to build a positive and united plan to combat global issues such as the number of war refugees that don’t have a home, and climate change.

Peacebuilding is a burning topic for young people. Peace should be the future. There are multiple ways youth can participate, and all efforts – however small – are valuable. Every step counts. A few ways young people can make a difference are by creating bonds and partnerships, volunteering for the YMCA, and helping with peace efforts through the different opportunities and programs it runs.

Some examples of the YMCA doing what they can in relation to peace building worldwide include work done in conflict zones. There have also been long-term conflict resolution programmes implemented, like YMCA Europe’s Roots for Peace. Since 2007, 15,000 young people have linked up to put the best and strongest foot forward in post-conflict rehabilitation initiatives. The YMCA is dedicated to building healthy communities, and peace is fundamental if communities are to remain strong, happy and healthy. For the YMCA, peace doesn’t just mean the absence of war. It also means fairness, inclusion, empathy, security and respect for diversity. At many YMCAs, there is an Acronym for Peace Participation, Empathy, Advocacy, Community, and Empowerment. The YMCA also awards a peace medallion award each year: the award is handed out each year during Peace Week. It celebrates people or organizations without unique resources who have demonstrated a solid commitment to building peace in their community or the world. Nationally, over 1,500 have been awarded.

After the panel, I asked Mustafa Sharif, an 18-year-old participant, his thoughts on the panel. “The story I found most impactful was the story about war and violence ruining Christmas”, he said. In the story, the panellists’ home was invaded by soldiers who came to take his brother to prison. He never viewed Christmas the same again. “For the soldiers, maybe it was not that big a deal, but it’s something tragic that will impact that family for the rest of their lives”. It’s just one story of how violence ruined something that was supposed to be fun and full of love. It exposes that this is the tragic reality that many are living through every day, and that’s why building peace is so important.