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.

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.


 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.


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.

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.


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.

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!

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).

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.

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!

The Role of Theatre in Peacebuilding

“Many artists today are deeply committed to making work that addresses pressing social issues and Screen Shot 2016-05-25 at 18.18.08changes the way we perceive the world. While some artists use traditional forms of visual, literary, or performing arts to make work that comments on, responds to, or advocates for the need for change, others are exploring new forms of “social practice” that engages communities in an interactive exchange. Socially engaged art can ignite outrage and demands for change, and/or provide a platform for reflection, collaboration, and building community.” 

Istanbouli Theatre addresses social issues through theatre in the South of Lebanon. The organization was established with the aim of spreading a culture of arts, creativity and self-expression in the south of Lebanon where creative spaces, especially in the margin, are often absent. The association brings people together, promotes self-expression, openness and critical and creative thinking by 1) building the cultural, and audio-visual, capacities of youth in the south of Lebanon, 2) organizing cultural festivals and 3) creating a safe and neutral space for cultural and creative activities.

Tiro Assocation of Arts works together with a large number of local organizations such as the Ministry of Culture, the Municipality and local cultural initiatives and institutions. Currently, the most significant international partners are UNIFIL (United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon)  and PAX  (Peace Organization from the Netherlands).

We are happy to announce that through our partners, PAX, that Kassem Istanbouli, founder of Istanbouli Theatre & Tiro Association of Arts, will be joining Global Youth Rising to teach us how theatre can be used for peacebuilding. Additionally, there will be other workshops exploring the role of music and the arts in activism and peacebuilding.

Kassem says: “We dream to live in a country where creativity plays an important role in promoting peace, self-expression, development and (human) rights and critical thinking in marginalized areas in Lebanon. We envision an alternative and critical movement through arts and culture. A place for cultural development and joy, to oppose the polarization, hatred and violence that are often so common for the areas we work in. We bring together youth of different cultural, religious and ethnic backgrounds, aim to build a generation of arts and create a safe space, where people respect differences and can peacefully meet, play and work together, irrespective of background, gender or religious affiliation.”

Are you interested in how theatre and the arts can be used in peacebuilding? Does your organisation already utilise music, art or theatre in a unique way that you would like to share with other young activists and peacebuilders from around the world? APPLY TODAY for Global Youth Rising! 

The Link Between Climate Change and Conflict

“Saving our planet, lifting people out of poverty, advancing economic growth… these are one and the same  transylvania_09fight. We must connect the dots between climate change, water scarcity, energy shortages, global health, food security and women’s empowerment. Solutions to one problem must be solutions for all.” Ban Ki-moon

Whether we say that we are peacebuilders, peace workers, social justice warriors or activists, we are all working for the same thing – peace. But what is peace? Is it merely the absence of war, or is it a society where everybody has equal access to services, resources, education; where everyone is treated equally, and is able to live in safety (see the difference between Positive Peace and Negative Peace)?

When we think about what the greatest threat might be to peace, it is easy to think that it is “war”, conflict, perhaps based on ethnic identity, oppressive dictatorships or human nature. However, there is growing consensus that one of the greatest threats to peace might be climate change:

“Assessments conducted by the intelligence community indicate that climate change could have significant geopolitical impacts around the world, contributing to poverty, environmental degradation, and the further weakening of fragile governments. Climate change will contribute to food and water scarcity, will increase the spread of disease, and may spur or exacerbate mass migration.” The US Department of Defense

“Climate change is a growing threat to peace and stability. This is why we need a new culture of cooperation..” — Frank-Walter Steinmeier, Foreign Minister, Germany

“Measured against the array of global threats that we face today — and there are many — terrorism, extremism, epidemics, poverty, nuclear proliferation — all challenges that know no borders — climate change absolutely ranks up there equal with all of them.” — John Kerry, US Secretary of State

Climate change can damage livelihoods, displace people, and create greater competition for resources. It is often argued that drought in Syria, caused by climate change, contributed to the creation of ISIS. We can no longer ignore the fact that the population of the earth continues to grow and increasing numbers of people demand “first world” lifestyles – lifestyles that consume vast amounts of resources – while the earth’s resources dwindle.

Although it is debated as to whether climate change directly leads to conflict, it is certainly important to ask whether we can truly have peace in a world where demand for energy far outweighs supply, where our livelihoods are at risk and we compete for clean water, where we see species becoming extinct and extreme weather destroying the places we love.

At Global Youth Rising, several workshops will explore the links between conflict and peace and the environment, the importance of environmental sustainability in peacebuilding, and how permaculture can be used as a method of peacebuilding. We invite any young people who work on environmental issues to join us for 10 days of exciting workshops, training sessions, forums and the chance to meet other passionate young people from around the world who are working on similar issues.




Participants from Ukraine – Scholarships Available

Ukraine: Seeking Passionate Civil Society / Peace Activists (18 – 30) ukraineflagpicture2

Scholarships to take part in the International Youth Peace Forum: Global Youth Rising 2016

Global Youth Rising 2016 is excited to announce that we have scholarships to support two applicants from Ukraine. One of the main aims of Global Youth Rising is to create a global solidarity movement for peace, focusing especially on Ukraine. PATRIR, the main organisation behind Global Youth Rising, is based in Cluj-Napoca, Romania – and as Ukraine’s neighbours, we want to do what we can to support youth activists and peace workers there.

Our scholarships are able to cover costs of travel from Ukraine to Romania and participation in the camp. Applicants should:

  • Be between 18 – 30 years of age;
  • Already be involved and able to show a record of engagement in civic initiatives in Ukraine. Priority will be given to applicants who are involved in / working on peacebuilding, strengthening civil society, youth participation, and overcoming / addressing the impacts and effects of the war;
  • Be highly committed, passionate, and wanting to gain further skills and experience which will help you in working in peacebuilding and empowerment in Ukraine

Those interested should send:

  • Letter of Motivation / Expression of Interest on why you wish to take part and how you will benefit from the programme;
  • Two Reference Letters Recommendations from your organisation or organisations you’ve worked with
  • CV


Applications can be sent to: 

The Importance of Inner Peace

“Peace is not a relationship of nations. It is a condition of mind brought about by a We-can-never-obtain-peace-in-the-outer-world-until-we-make-peace-with-ourselvesserenity of soul… Lasting peace can come only to peaceful people.” Jawaharal Nehru

“We can never obtain peace in the outer world until we make peace with ourselves” Dalai Lama

When we look at all the conflict in the world, the way that greed and corruption seem to rule, the way that even in “peaceful” societies there is crime and tension – it is easy to feel despair. Many of us have probably thought of world peace as a pipe dream, something that will never truly exist because of human nature.

But what is human nature? Are we are naturally prone to arguing, fighting, and to behaving selfishly? Some people seem to think so. But there are people who do not strike out when they are angry, who do not seek to prove themselves better to others, and who do not hate others simply because of their religion or ethnic group. So, can we really say that war and greed are part of human nature? And, even if they are, can we not change?

Inner peace refers to a state of being mentally and spiritually at peace, with enough knowledge and understanding to keep yourself strong in the face of adversity or stress. When you have inner peace, you do not need to prove anything to yourself or others. Imagine a world where even those with the most power had inner peace; would they need to show that their country or group was stronger/better than others? Would they still desire wealth enough to succumb to corruption?

The leading emotion behind many negative or painful actions is often fear. When you operate from a place of inner peace, your primary emotion is love.

So – can we truly imagine “outer” world peace unless individuals have found “inner” peace? And how effective can we really be as peacebuilders unless we have found our own inner peace?

This is one of the leading thoughts behind some of our partners’ work: Peace Revolution’s self-development program is a 42-day challenge that teaches the skills and techniques involved in harnessing inner peace. One of our trainers, Manuela Puscas, will be delivering workshops on Making Peace with your Inner Conflicts, Stress Management in the Context of Peacebuilding, and mindfulness/meditation sessions.

The International Association of Human Values (IAHV) also transform lives and tackle trauma, teaching resilience and stress management. Their programs have had amazing results with everyone from peacebuilders to prisoners. Katrien Hertog will be joining us at Global Youth Rising to deliver an amazing 4-day workshop on Healing, Empowerment and Leadership.

APPLY TODAY to Global Youth Rising and, as well as meeting inspiring people from around the world and building your capacities for peace work, you can start your path to inner peace!


Trainer Spotlight: Georgios Melissourgos

Catalunya Voluntària.  This week, we will look at Georgios Melissourgos, one of our
trainers from Fundació Catalunya Voluntària.  Georgios

Georgios writes:

“Conflict is a word that unfortunately has been integrated in most of the heartbreaking broadcasted news and many of the opinion writers are proposing ways to avoid it. However, whether we like it or not, conflict has been existing throughout human history and it will continue to exist. But, it is in our hands how we handle conflict situations, and in our minds to see them either as the first step towards violence or as an instrument for change via non-violence – although the second path can be the way towards to more peaceful societies. Of course, peaceful societies are something that we should work on and everybody, whether participating in a beauty contest or not(!), will agree upon. But what does really the word “peace” mean?

Peace is commonly understood as the opposite of war; we should not focus on such a narrow definition! Of course peace is the absence of direct physical violence, such as war or even domestic abuse. But peace is also related to well-being and just relations. Positive peace has multiple structural, socio-cultural and ecological layers. Coming from Greece, I am always using the example of my country to exemplify this broader definition. We have not faced armed conflicts for more than 60 years, so someone could argue that Greece has been an example of peace. However, the current multilevel crisis, with the economic and refugee layers – known to all around the globe – has really rocked the boat. So, could we argue that Greek society is peaceful?

Somewhere here, anybody could raise the million dollar question: how can we achieve peace? There are numerous blueprints trying to answer from different perspectives, which you can search for online. However, at FCV we believe that a key element is education, and especially Peace Education. “Another fluffy word…”, many would argue! But Peace Education goes deeper than it sounds. If you want an education opening pathways towards peaceful societies, you will need to work on the three dimensions of peace: inner, social and environmental. Doing so, you develop a set of peacebuilding knowledge, skills and attitudes. In other words, you must think, act and feel almost the opposite from the official competitive education system if you want to be considered even a little bit of a peacebuilder!

Theory seems nice, but Global Youth Rising is not another academic conference and this piece is not a scientific abstract by an academic! During this 10-day gathering, my role as a trainer and representative of the “Voices for Peace” program of FCV will be to spread the above theory, but only (and I give you my word on it) with interactive non-formal learning activities, such as group working, theatre and music. First, we are going to try to identify and then, during the whole summer camp, use peer-to-peer development for peacebuilding skills and attitudes. Meanwhile, we will focus on specific aspects of inner, social and environmental peace. The schedule of the summer camp is coming soon, so instead of giving you titles and descriptions I will give you three assumptions that represent the core of each aforementioned aspects respectively.

Let’s assume that you are the best peacebuilder who ever walked the Earth and you are devoting 100% of your time doing so. What happens to your well-being? Will you, the 100% focused peacebuilder, achieve a sufficient level of well-being? Or, rephrasing the question, how could you, as a peacebuilder, maximise your different types of well-being and what are those types?

Now let’s make another assumption. You are a female Secretariat of United Nations. I know that it is not the same as the best peacebuilder that ever walked the Earth, but I hope that it is sufficient enough… Is this your only identity? You are also a mother; you are a spouse; you are … The list could go on for a long time. A gender perspective in peacebuilding and the routines in everyday life exist and we need to have a deeper understanding!

Last but not least, let’s make the most humble assumption that you are an environmental activist with no idea about peacebuilding. Can you communicate with the rest of us during the summer camp? Do we share same struggles, values and characteristics? Which are the profiles of our allies and what could we learn from each other? There are common elements but also small differences that we should be aware of!”

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*Georgios Melissourgos is a project manager at Fundacio Catalunya Voluntaria (FCV) and will be one of our trainers, providing workshops on gender perspectives, well-being, environment, degrowth, and skills and attitudes for peacebuilding. 

Apply today for Global Youth Rising – deadline 5th May (30th for those who don’t require visas).