Trainer Spotlight: a Valuable Contribution from Alexandra Matei

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Alexandra MateiTell us a bit about yourself. What is your background?

Hi peacebuilders! I am Alexandra Matei, policy expert on peacebuilding and disaster management currently working in Brussels while proudly wearing my Romanian nationality.

For the past 3 years I’ve been working as a Policy Officer with the European Union institutions both as “an insider” as well as an NGO partner in policy decision-making. Currently I am working with World Vision covering four sector areas – peacebuilding & conflict prevention, disaster management (including resilience), child protection and child participation.

My work experience in these sectors tracks back to my academic background having studied my BA in Political Science at University of Babes-Bolyai, Romania and Masters in Human Rights Law and Research at The University of Manchester, UK. The knowledge acquired provided the opportunity to publish the book “United Nations: The Legal Responsibility for Peacekeepers’ Human Rights Violations” in 2011 after embarking on a postgrad course on Peace Research at University of Oslo.

Before joining the “EU Bubble”, I lived and worked in China, France and obviously, Romania where I served as an analyst, coordinator and/or trainer in the youth rights sector.

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

Weirdly enough, I don’t think there was a moment zero when I decided working in this sector – it was more like a self-discovery process. Peace is not similar to a business that you want to join in or stay out of it. It is the motivation, the work and the result. It is a horizontal and vertical process. So, if I were to think of a precise moment I started identifying myself as a peace worker – it is probably the moment I decided to study political science, with the conviction that this is the one way to reach out to the most vulnerable in our communities and contribute to the cohesion of the society.

It surely was not an easy decision as for most people “peacebuilding” is a utopic concept that no one can grasp, materialize or make much sense of. Living in a world that puts the emphasis on quick fixes and results, peacebuilding is often deprioritized and under-funded. Not only personal experience but also hard evidence shows the long-term generational benefits it brings for communities worldwide, especially the younger generations. This motivated me all along – the work I do NOW that reflects in TOMORROW’s unquestionable positive impacts on children and young people who build a safer environment for themselves and their peers.

Tell us a bit about World Vision and your work there. What was it and what motivated you to work on it?

World Vision is a relief and development organization with footprint in almost 100 countries worldwide. We are dedicated to working with children, families, and their communities worldwide to reach their full potential by tackling the causes of poverty and injustice. Through our work, we aim to build peace with and for children by weaving a fabric of resilience through their communities. From Bogotá to Beirut and from Bujumbura to Banja Luka and beyond, our peacebuilding programs help communities protect and empower children affected by violence.

Our tools aim to help these communities: resolve their own conflicts, build capacities to heal broken relationships, and nourish more just systems and structures.

When I first started with World Vision in Brussels, peacebuilding was not a priority for the external engagements we had with the EU. Things changed quickly when we strategically engaged and empowered children and young people from Lebanon to Zambia to inform EU decision-makers of their efforts to build social cohesion in their own contexts. The goal we have set is to facilitate this dialogue either directly or indirectly as well as support the other World Vision offices to profile their work towards the EU as a policy and donor agency.

To achieve this goal I provide input into EU’ development, humanitarian and peacebuilding policies. This means, analyzing existing policies, drafting position papers to influence EU’s priorities in the sector as well as coordinating other peacebuilding organisations to share their know-how of working in fragile contexts with the hardest to reach and most affected communities. In the long-term, our work empowers children and youth in conflict areas, educating and mobilising them for peace. The satisfaction of seeing them thrive and secure a just world for themselves is the most rewarding result of our work.

Have you ever had something extraordinary happen during your trainings? A favourite moment, something that you will always remember? What did you learn from it?

Last year’s event that World Vision jointly organized with United Nations in Brussels and the European Commission at the request of the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon brings a smile on my face everytime I think of. Let me share this story with you – 17 young leaders were invited to engage in an open discussion with Mr Ban discussing various concerns they had. Maruba aged 13 from Zambia was one of the guest speakers invited for this event. He was the youngest and bravest of them all insisting to discuss about child participation at all levels of decision-making and toilets. He also was the one to make an audience of more than 1500 people question themselves – I surely did, thinking “What was I doing when I was 10? What could I have done at that time to make my community better?”

Maruba, was giving us a lesson – at the age of 10, together with his colleagues they started an advocacy campaign to install toilets in their district schools. They lobbied their teachers, their head of school, the district mayor and even the national governments and, by the time he came to Brussels, he could share with us all, not only how young people have the knowledge and skills to bring positive change but also, how “toilets” (their project) have reduced sexual based violence and decreased the cases of hygiene related diseases.

On top of that, due to the uncomfortable setting of the podium where the event was taking place, Mr Ban had to stand up and down everytime he spoke which indeed, was disruptive to the flow of the debates. Maruba, being seated just right to Mr Ban, took the liberty to ask him to stay put and stop his up-and-down movements as it was distressing for the audience and the other panelists.

Of course, the audience and Mr Ban himself gave it a good laugh, but the reflection of this moment is as simple as that – children and young people are best placed to be part of the decisions that affect them directly or indirectly. They not only have the intelligence to reason the situations they live in, but also the exquisite ability to solve the issues they face. For this, child and youth participation should be at the core of any local, national or regional planning and decision-making meeting!

Do you think it is important for young people to be involved in promoting peace and non-violence? Why? And how do you see this happening in concrete terms?

Around the globe, our team equips young people to be agents of peace in their communities. Children around the world have shown they can build peace in their communities and beyond. Here you can find some of examples of my work with young peacebuilders.

Children and other young people have unique perspectives on conflict, violence and peace. It is their perspectives that bring in unique policy and programming ideas that aline with the way children and young people operate. Their participation is important in identifying local solutions and influences that can be pulled together to achieve desired peace and social change. They also have distinctive ways of looking at the opportunities available for them to participate in building peaceful communities.

Several events we organized in Brussels as well as the Global Inter-agency Research carried out on 3 continents (DRC, Nepal and Colombia) highlight the impact and contributions of young people in building peace and some overarching recommendations from children and young people themselves:

  1. Engage children as peacebuilders from a young age to ensure continuity and increased impact.
  1. Encourage multi-pronged and multi-stakeholder efforts supporting children and youth participation to multiply and amplify peacebuilding impact.
  1. Engage with children and youth as partners in formal and informal governance and peace structures in a wide range of contexts, not only those affected by armed conflict.

What are you planning to deliver this year at the Global Youth Rising? Why do you like this theme? What makes it exciting?

Global Youth Rising sums up in three words the increased need to address the positive role young people play in peacebuilding by actively working to achieve a world free from fear. Being a young person myself, I identify with the mission and vision of this international forum – one that centers around young people as global change-makers. I will thus, support with facilitating workshops on empowering children as agents of change, youth empowerment and youth Participation, leadership & empowerment in Peacebuilding .

What does „peace” mean to you? What does it mean to be at peace?

Peace is when people are able to resolve their conflicts without violence and can work together to improve the quality of their lives. Peace means to live without fear and own the feeling of safety; a society in which all members are equal in their rights and responsibilities and access to the basic needs for their wellbeing. When the present and the future is a construct of people’s will “to do things better” regardless of gender, ethnicity or any aspect of their identity, a society finds itself at peace.

What is a peacebuilder? What does a peacebuilder do? Can anyone be a peacebuilder?

Being a peacebuilder is a commitment to self and the community. It is an active on-going process and end-result that centers on one’s willingness to: 1) prevent any type of conflict (including violent conflict) both among their peers and in their communities; 2) understand identities and the dynamics of their community with the purpose to build a cohesive society (including healing, restorative justice etc) and 3) ensure their work supports the sustainable development of their society.

Peace is an universal right! It is for each of us to the extent we accept it!

What are the main skills that a young peacebuilder should work on acquiring?

A peacebuilder is an agent of change – they change perceptions, dynamics, the course of an action etc. As change-makers, they need to understand, analyse, strategise and most importantly, never give up! Peacebuilders’ work is a 24 hour job – peacebuilders are drivers of motivation, are inspiring others (including themselves!) and they need to find creative solutions and be innovative, sometimes in the most fragile and insecure contexts. Peacebuilders need to be futurist in their thinking while being deeply connected with the realities of the past.

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?  

Well, you might just be the flower that starts the spring rather than waiting for winter! Peace is not a miracle, neither a gift that can be kindly offered today and be taken away from you in a day. With the risk of repeating myself, peace is a process and a result – and as any other transformative process, it does not come as a quick fix or effortlessly. Consequently, peace as a result is just a part of the peace project – they reinforce each other.

So, to the skeptics out there – you cannot expect the world to shift around without you being part of this change. The beauty of building peace is that it drags along everyone in this project because dear skeptic, tell me of one person who ran away from peace to embrace living in fear?..  

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

Be who you are – a peacebuilder – and join your fellow peacemakers in July to be part of a global movement that empowers, trains and supports you to make that big step for humanity!

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