New York, June 12, 2012—On a snowy day in March, Malaka Samara and two other senior OneVoice Palestine (OVP) youth leaders sat anxiously in a conference room at the Rocky Hotel in Ramallah, eagerly waiting for the others to arrive. Scheduled for that day, and already running late, was a Generations For Peace training seminar and refresher course for OVP participants.
“As the snow came down, we thought we were going to be forced to postpone the meeting,” recalls Samara. “The roads were bad and transportation from cities across the West Bank wasn’t safe.”
Slowly, though, all 90 participants filtered into the room, lured as much by the scheduled events – team building exercises and trust games along with a review of their individual progress and a discussion of upcoming projects – as by the promise of time in the snow.
OVP has been working with Generations For Peace in differing capacities for over three years, but this training session marked the first time that volunteers from all five cities where the two host joint programs – Jenin, Qalqilya, Nablus, Bethlehem and Jericho – had come together at the same event.
“Everyone is engaged in the same overall project, but everyone is used to working in their own city,” said Mohammad Asideh, OVP’s outreach coordinator and one of the other trainers organizing the events that day. “It was a much needed opportunity to connect everyone with each other for the first time.”
Any organization’s success at breaking the lethargy and advancing a solution to the conflict – precisely OVP’s goal as they engage Palestinians and promote the two-state solution – depends as much on the commitment and dedication of its members as it does on the relationships they cultivate in local communities. And, by that standard, the well-attended training in Ramallah is indicative of the huge strides OVP has taken through their partnership with Generations For Peace.
In 2009, OneVoice members joined 77 other delegates from 17 different countries at a Generations For Peace international training camp in Amman, Jordan. Generations For Peace’s mandate – providing mentorship and training to youths from divided communities around the world, who then return to their communities and pass on their skills to others – made it a natural ally for OVP and their formal partnership was born the following year.
“We have many common values with Generations For Peace,” said Asideh, himself a participant in Generations For Peace’s advanced-level training camp earlier this year. “Peace-building, advocacy, partnerships, working with youth. These are all shared values between our organizations.”
The structure of Generations For Peace lends itself particularly well to OneVoice Palestine’s project of mass mobilization. Generations For Peace’s cascading structure – whereby youth leaders trained with Generations For Peace unique curriculum then cascade their skills, transmitting them to others – involves two levels of participation: delegates, who have completed Generations For Peace training, received extensive mentorship and begun to transmit their knowledge and skills to others; and Peace Pioneers, who are experienced in implementing events on the ground and have met mutually agreed upon targets.
That snowy day in Ramallah, Asideh and Samara were training delegates to add to the 150 OVP members across the West Bank already equipped to lead seminars on everything from public speaking and facilitation to the role of sports in peace-building. These 150 Generations For Peace-OVP delegates have, in turn, shared their joint message of conflict resolution with an additional 1000 participants.
“The partnership has grown over the years as both of our organizations have grown,” said Samer Makhlouf, executive director of OneVoice Palestine. “In the first phase we both maintained our own systems of training and targeting, and our own general outlooks. After reevaluating our work though, we have both adopted components of each other’s models.”
The latest phase of the partnership between OneVoice Palestine and Generations For Peace, dating to March 2012, marks the third chapter of their relationship and has seen the scope of their joint programs expand greatly, bringing events to five West Bank communities.
The programs are tailored to address the needs of concerns of each specific community. This means that the events vary from community to community – from seminars on the role of religion in politics complete with field visits to churches and mosques in Nablus, to initiatives to address gender issues and empower women in Qalqilya, and social programming with disadvantaged children in Jenin – providing practice and invaluable experience to OneVoice youth leaders eager to hone their public speaking, advocacy and engagement skills.
“For the community members participating in the events, the goal is to build bridges between people,” said Asideh. “But for us – for the OneVoice Palestine members leading the events – we get the chance to work in the field, to implement what we have learned in training.”
Beyond that, the events introduce OVP members to a wider cross section of Palestinian society, allowing them to interact with, learn from, and eventually speak with greater authority about all Palestinians.
For their part, says Jadranka Stikovac Clark, a board member of Generations For Peace and director of its institute, Generations For Peace has “been very happy with the past nine months of intensive programming in Palestine, both in terms of numbers of participants and the feedback received.”
While they maintain constant communication with their volunteers in Palestine, Generations For Peace will be sending a researcher to the West Bank next month to better assess the impact of their work on the ground and the direction of the programming in the future. And, as OneVoice moves to reopen their offices in Gaza and reposition themselves amongst the actors within Gazan civil society, Generations For Peace is considering following OVP’s lead and expanding their partnership to Gaza as well.
“We’ll continue so long as there is a need for programs that are tailor-made using local communities’ assets and needs,” said Clark.
The ultimate goal in mind for both organizations is a cohesive society better able to represent its constituent parts and put forth a national vision. On the road to national unity, though, it’s all about smaller victories.
“We work hard to make connections between people, that’s what many of the events are about,” said Mohammad Qadi, an OVP youth leader and Generations For Peace Pioneer.
“In Nablus, we use non-competitive sports in order to build relationships and awareness,” said Qadi. “We put players from different communities – from the city, from villages and refugee camps – on the same team, girls and boys mixed, so they build trust.”
While the unity government may have stalled in recent months, this bottom-up approach has been paying dividends, both for the communities it has touched and the OneVoice members leading the way.
And the result Qadi sees among the boys and girls he works with?
“They all want to play – so they forget about where they are from and the color of their skin. They play together. This is how we bring people together, to learn how to trust, how to make leaders, how to support each other.”
“Peace building [is a] slow process,” Clark stressed. That “there is a positive individual behavioral change thus reassures us that we are on the right track.”