Trainer Spotlight: A Meaningful Conversation with Meg Villanueva

MegHello and welcome to the Trainer Spotlight! Why don’t you tell us a bit about yourself?

Hello! My name is Meg Villanueva. I consider myself a strategist in sustainable peacebuilding and youth work, having worked in both sectors in the past 10 years. In the past 2 years I´ve been exploring and professionally learning about how to bridge sustainability and peacebuilding, with a special focus in the youth work sector.

I am also a freelance trainer and peace educator, mainly working in the fields of conflict transformation, nonviolent communication and advocacy. I have an extensive background in grassroots peace and conflict work especially in Asia (Philippines and Indonesia), Europe (South Caucasus region), and the Mediterranean (MENA region).

I have a master´s degree in Peace and Reconciliation Studies from the Philippines (2008).

I am also a Yoga Alliance certified RYT-200 yoga instructor, specialising in yoga as a healing and self-transformation practice. In September 2015, I moved to Zugdidi, Georgia where I slowly started a local yoga community, and where I am using yoga, mindfulness and environmental sustainability as tools for inspiring others to live a healthier and happier life.

I founded the project 366DaysofGratitude, an online community journal promoting happiness and gratitude. I also co-founded Mind and Surf, a social enterprise start-up organising personalised eco-retreats on surfing, yoga, meditation and sustainability.

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How did you start working in peace education? When, why, how did it evolve and what motivated you to stay?

I can say I am lucky enough to have both parents working in the same field as I do. They were the ones who inspired me to pursue peace work through their own project engagements and dedication, as well as through their examples of a simple and good lifestyle.

Since the age of 15, I started tagging along with my father in his community outreach programmes (streetchildren summer camps, mangrove reforestation projects, coastal clean-ups, etc), you name it, I was there. One day, he asked me to do a documentary film of one of his projects, a 10-year coastal community empowerment programme in Cauayan, Philippines. I was taking a shot a filmmaking then, so I gladly agreed. Living with the community for a weekend to capture their stories for the documentary, I realized how lucky I was to have my basic needs, and felt that I need to do something more to make a difference in other people´s lives. I started becoming more and more involved with the projects my parents were involved in, and when I was in university, I decided I´d like to focus on disarmament advocacy, specifically on small arms and light weapons (SALW) and landmines.

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 How does peacebuilding work relate to environmental sustainability?

To answer this question, I would like to open sustainability in its broader sense instead of just limiting it to its environmental aspect. Sustainability for me includes economic, socio-political and environmental dimensions. Economic sustainability is about a society´s economic equity and well-being, where there´s equal access to resources, basic needs and services, health, wealth (rich/poor gap) and livelihoods, as well as the efficient use of natural resources. Socio-political sustainability is about social equality – having equal participation in society, pluralism, respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, non-discrimination, respect for diversity in terms of race, background, etc. Lastly, environmental sustainability is about the conscious use of our resources for the present and future. Sustainability in this sense, goes hand in had with peacebuilding by promoting its shared core – sustainable peace. This means that in any peacebuilding effort, sustainability in its broadest sense should be consciously promoted, because the main goal of peacebuilding is to establish/create positive peace – a stable environment where there is the absence of direct, structural and cultural violence (sustainable peace) through nonviolent/peaceful means. More often than not, sustainability is just defined in its ‘environmental’ sense, when in fact, it is a cross-cutting/transversal concept that should always be considered in any conflict/peacebuilding intervention. Peacebuilding is not just about fixing the root causes and core problems that underlie a conflict, but is also about changing patterns of attitudes, behaviors and context that are linked into it.

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Have you ever had something extraordinary happen during your trainings?

Every training I run and facilitate has their unique and special characteristics. They are all meaningful to me in their own ways, as much as they are all different – thanks to the diversity of participants, the diversity of the theme we tackle, the environment, as well as the co-trainers and organizers I work with. I once shared with a co-trainer that in every training, there is always this special moment that I look forward to, and it is during the closing circle of the training (the last circle with the participants) where participants share with everyone what they have learned, their reflections of the week, or simply some things that they discovered. It is this moment of every training when I feel and realize that I have done a meaningful job. It is in this moment that I gather strength and inspiration again to continue what I am doing (despite the challenging situations around us). And most importantly, it is in this moment that I feel grateful for being given the opportunity to do what I love to do.

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Do you think it is important for young people to be involved in promoting peace and non-violence?

Yes of course! It´s not even a question to me anymore =) Young people are part of the present (contrary to what we always hear that “youth are the future”). Youth as actors of peace and of change, are responsible in transforming the society they live in. Concretely, there are many ways, first, I believe, is to be at peace with oneself, as it is through one´s way of living the values of peace, can peace be spread around the world.

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What are you planning to deliver this year at Global Youth Rising?

I will deliver a workshop on the link between sustainability and peacebuilding, especially in the field of peace work. I am very excited about this theme, because I still continue to learn more and more about it, and sharing it with people from other cultures and backgrounds in the Global Youth Rising would be such an enriching experience.

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What does „peace” mean to you? 

Peace for me is the absence of direct, structural, socio-political, cultural and environmental violence, and the presence of positive conditions that support the well-being of a just and sustainable society. Yes, sounds like Galtung, but hey, it makes sense to me!

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What is a peacebuilder? 

A peacebuilder is someone who 1) believes that peace is both an aspiration and a process towards that goal; 2) works towards sustainable peace through his/her own examples, initiatives and actions; and 3) rejects violence in all its forms! (peace is the only way, no matter how difficult it is).

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I have met so many people who were skeptical about the real impact that one person or a group of people can have in changing the world, and in creating peace. What is your take on this? What would you reply to the skeptics?

I have met many of these people, too! Impact is very long term, and therefore challenging to measure. We should all understand that peace is a process – and dynamic and a long one. What is important is living the now (present) with such conviction that we are doing our part to make this world a better place. It’s good to think about impact, to think about a vision and a mission for what you do, it guides us, but to talk about impact like we have achieved it already is like writing a fantasy or fiction book because it is not there yet. To me, it is not just about the changes we can make in the future over-all, but also the little changes that we are making at this very moment. I don´t know if we can ever change the world 100%, what is 100% change anyway? The world is always changing and moving. But what I do know is that every step counts, and it is also important not to overlook the day to day that we live not just for ourselves, but for the benefit of the rest of humanity….

….and this is why I like to explore the theme of sustainability and peace work together!

So my reply to the ‘skeptics’ – I am sure we all want a better world, a peaceful world, a happier world – we want it for ourselves and our families, communities, countries. And we are all part of making it happen, not for tomorrow, not for next year, but now, and I think this is where each of us matters.

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A message for the young people out there who are considering joining us…

There is a peace superhero in each and every one of us. With this, we can create a movement that will rock this world!

One thought on “Trainer Spotlight: A Meaningful Conversation with Meg Villanueva

  1. this is such an inspirational article that i would love my daughter and son to read and to take your example.For me it gives me hope and happiness that there are people there to represent peaceful outcomes.
    I would like to thankyou for reigniting my hope,
    Yours Sincerely,
    Miss H L Maher

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