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Peacemakers honored for outstanding work in Kenya and Middle East

Date: June 30, 2011
Contact: Rochelle Arms, email rochelle.arms@safehorizon.org

San Diego, CA – George Gachara, co-founder of the Picha Mtaani (Street Exhibition) initiative in Kenya, and EcoPeace/Friends of the Earth Middle East (FoEME), a regional organization of environmentalists who promote sustainable development and advance peace efforts in the Middle East, have been chosen as recipients of the 2011 Outstanding Leadership Award from the Association for Conflict Resolution (ACR) International Development Committee. The awardees were selected in recognition of their extraordinary contributions to advancing conflict resolution internationally. The awards will be presented on October 12, 2011, at ACR’s Annual Conference in San Diego, California (USA). Sr. Pauline Acayo of Catholic Relief Services in northern Uganda, will also attend to accept the award given to her last year.

George Gachara, of Nairobi, Kenya, helps create spaces for young people to become agents of peace and reconciliation in their communities. In the aftermath of the 2007 presidential election in Kenya, waves of political and ethnic violence swept the country, resulting in the deaths of more than 1,500 people and the internal displacement of 600,000. “As a country we stood on the brink of collapse,” recalls George of the days and weeks following the election. “We saw how bad things can get. For us, peace cannot be just an interval between wars, which is why we’re driving a much needed cultural transformation.” Seeking to prevent such violence from erupting again in the future, George joined with two other young leaders in launching the Picha Mtaani (Swahili for street exhibition) initiative. With the majority of the nation’s population under the age of 30, Picha Mtaani equips young people with the tools to serve as agents of change and reconciliation in their communities. Picha Mtaani creates safe spaces where youth can dialogue on critical issues facing the future of their country. More than two million young people have joined its Pamoja tunaweza (Together We Can) movement, a network of young social activists and peace volunteers living throughout Kenya’s 210 constituencies. Network members receive training in how to facilitate town hall meetings and forums focused on building trust among diverse segments of the population. To spark reflection and dialogue, Picha Mtaani hosts photography exhibitions of the 2007/2008 election violence, which have been attended by more than  1 million young people. George says, “We hope that by staring at the horror we inflicted on each other, we can steer individuals toward personal reflection.” He adds, “Addressing conflict is not merely about pacification of peoples, but addressing injustices, inequalities between people. Unless we can meet this challenge, new conflicts will flare up and we will lose another generation to war, it is our duty to nurture a future and hope for young people suffering from unemployment and have little prospects of improving their lives.” To learn more about the work of George Gachara, visit: www.pichamtaani.org and www.georgegachara.com

EcoPeace / Friends of the Earth Middle East (FoEME) is a regional organization bringing together Jordanian, Palestinian and Israeli environmentalists to promote sustainable development and advance peace efforts in the Middle East. The primary objective of EcoPeace/FoEME is the promotion of cooperative efforts to protect shared environmental heritage. EcoPeace/FoEME seeks to advance both sustainable and regional development and create the necessary conditions for lasting peace in the Middle East. EcoPeace/FoEME’s unique innovation is the development of a shared regional vision based on the need to share water resources more fairly between the region’s people and with nature, in order to respond to the demise of the region’s trans-boundary natural ecosystems. These include the Dead Sea, the Jordan River, the mountain and coastal aquifers, and the effects of climate change on the water resources in this region. Using grass-roots and community-based strategies, activities are carried out in all sectors of society—youth, adults and municipalities—to promote and educate communities on the pressing environmental issues that threaten common livelihoods, and provide people with the appropriate tools to tackle these environmental and social challenges. Accepting the Outstanding Leadership Award on behalf of EcoPeace/FoEME will be its three co-directors: Gidon Bromberg (Israel), Munqeth Mehyar (Jordan) and Nader Khateeb (Palestine). Bromberg, Mehyar and Khateeb have played a central role in developing and implementing projects that for the first time ever have brought together Israeli, Jordanian and Palestinian environmentalists to join forces in efforts to promote the integration of environmental considerations into regional development and trans-boundary environmental and peace building projects. This unique vision for cooperative cross border projects has led to the innovation of numerous outstanding and internationally recognized projects covering a vast range of environmental, social and economic issues pertinent to the Middle East region. For information about some of EcoPeace/FoEME’s current activities, visit http://foeme.wordpress.com/2011/02/01/foeme-2011-plans-activities

Sister Pauline Acayo, one of the 2010 recipients of the Outstanding Leadership Award, will also attend and speak at ACR International Day 2011. Sister Pauline is head of Catholic Relief Services in Uganda’s Northern Region.  Among her many accomplishments, Sister Pauline helped to reintegrate into the community more than 5,000 child soldiers and 2,500 formerly abducted people, through traditional reconciliation methods. She coordinates a radio program for a Community Resilience and Dialogue peace-building project.

ACR International Day 2011
Along with Sr. Pauline Acayo, this year’s awardees will speak about their successes and experiences at the ACR’s International Day, the premier networking event for conflict resolution professionals with a global focus. This year's themes include managing conflict around social divisions and environmental concerns, and best practices in grass-roots organization of peace programs. International Day, on October 12, 2011 in San Diego, is part of the Association for Conflict Resolution’s 11th annual conference, “Many Paths: One Destination.” The conference will be held at the Sheraton San Diego Hotel and Marina in San Diego, California. For more information, visit www.acrnet.org
October 12-15, 2011, San Diego, California.

IDC Outstanding Leadership Award
The International Development Committee of the ACR’s International Section each year honors exceptional work promoting conflict resolution in development projects around the world. The award aims to celebrate leadership in the field and draw attention to the importance of conflict resolution in creating stronger democracies and economies.

About the Association for Conflict Resolution
The Association for Conflict Resolution (ACR) is the professional organization dedicated to enhancing the practice and public understanding of conflict resolution. ACR represents and serves a diverse national and international audience that includes nearly 5,000 mediators, arbitrators, facilitators, educators, and others involved in the field of conflict resolution. ACR also publishes Conflict Resolution Quarterly Journal and ACResolution. For more information about ACR, visit http://www.ACRnet.org