TheRED ELEPHANT FOUNDATION A Civilian Peacebuilding Initiative

Image  from Maija Liuhto
To Maija Liuhto, the India-Pakistan campaigns manager at Beyond Violence, peace is not negotiable. It is an absolute sine qua non for a sustainable and happy future, and she is one of the agents in bringing that reality about. Maija talks about her work at Beyond Violence, and her dreams for the future of the two nations that she works closely with.

What got you into working in the field of peace and development?       
I have long had an interest in these issues, especially since I started my studies in Social and Cultural Anthropology. After graduation I knew I wanted to put the knowledge I had gained into use and ended up moving to Pakistan. It's hard to explain what it is exactly that draws me to work in this field, but I cannot really imagine doing anything else.             

Can you tell us about your role and association with Beyond Violence?            
I work as campaign manager for India and Pakistan.In my role I have been closely involved in campaign design, working with volunteers from all over the world and communicating with partner organizations. I joined Beyond Violence over a year ago and I feel a strong commitment to the organization's values and goals. I believe ICTs, especially social media, give a unique opportunity for  people living in conflict regions to get their voices heard.

You handle India and Pakistan. Can you tell us about your choice of region? As someone who is not a native to both countries, how easy or difficult was it, to begin working on peace between both these nations?        
I studied South Asian Studies as my minor at the University, including Hindi-Urdu, so the choice was quite natural. I feel like I have a very good understanding of the history and politics of both countries, so working on peace in this region was not such a challenge for me from that point of view. The topic was not new to me. On the other hand, I have of course never been directly affected by the conflict in any way . Luckily, however, I have some Indians and Pakistanis working in my team which allows me to always get feedback from them on various issues. I’ve also spent quite a lot of time working and traveling in Pakistan and India, so I have gotten to know a lot of people from both countries. As a result of this, I have a relatively good sense of how they view their neighbours. It has always been very interesting to tell my Indian friends about my experiences in Pakistan and vice versa and to see their reactions. It is a shame how little people-to-people contact there is between Indians and Pakistanis, and that is exactly what our campaign aims to change. 

What were your key challenges?    
One of the key challenges when designing this campaign was definitely the question of how to navigate controversial issues appropriately. This is always a challenge when designing campaigns anywhere in the world because you have to go out of your way to remain objective. Violent conflicts are an issue that can make people extremely emotional, and there are always politically sensitive issues that you need to know how to broach.

What do you see as the future of both nations?    
My guess is as good as anybody's I suppose. On the one hand I see a lot of positive efforts being carried out by civil society members, and in general I feel most people in both countries just want to have peaceful relations with their neighbour. But at the same time the rhetoric of political leaders (especially right wing parties) remains largely unchanged. Still, I believe there is a lot of potential for a peaceful future, especially if regular people get more opportunities for meaningful dialogue through the use of ICTs, even if the visa restrictions remain in place.

This is a short play, written by Lea Gabay, centering around the theme of "fitting in" against a backdrop of broader constructs that centre around principles of empathy, mutual respect, diversity and respectful conduct built on the values of equality and tolerance. The play centres around four characters. Shahnaz, who is in her third year of university. She is studying to become an engineer. She is extroverted and likes sharing her opinions about a variety of topics. Carlos is in his second year of university and he is studying Business and International Relations. He is known for being very outgoing and sociable, and hopes to make American and international friends in order to feel more integrated into the culture. Tuấn Anh is in his second year of university and is studying Music. He was quite popular at his university and had many friends there. However, now that he is in the US, he is more reserved and shy. Yasmina is in her final year of university and is studying Sociology. She is bicultural/bilingual with a Syrian father and a German mother. She grew up speaking both languages. She is sociable and is caring and supportive of her peers. Yasmina wears a hijab (a traditional headscarf worn by Muslim women).

To read the play, click here.

Lea Gabay is a French American graduate student who is studying for a Master's in TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) at San Francisco State University in San Francisco, CA. She previously taught English as a Foreign Language for several years in various countries, particularly in Vietnam. She is passionate about interfaith dialog building, social justice, women's rights, and plans to teach adult literacy and English as a Foreign Language to refugee and immigrant populations.
Image: Ahmed Al-Kulebi
Ahmed Kulebi is a Human Rights Defender based out of Yemen. Working hard for the future of his country to see peace, Ahmed’s efforts have pivoted around working on the current conflict in Yemen. His story follows:

Yemen has been under attack since March 26, 2014 after Saudi Arabia led the Arab coalition against the Houthi’s movement and the National Army, who they are the leaders of the revolution against the government in exile in Riyadh. After the political dispute, unfortunately, the Saudi Arab coalition’s airstrikes have been targeting all the civilians of Yemen. Instead of a negotiation between political parties and finding political solutions, the use of force has caused dire consequences on ground. Most Yemeni infrastructure has been destroyed. Thousands of people have lost their lives, and most of them are innocent civilians. 

The humanitarian crisis in Yemen has been described as “catastrophic” by the UN, with 80% of the population in need of aid, as violence escalates every day.

The arms issue in Yemen is one of the major problems that has affected the development of Yemeni society for a long time. Naturally, Yemen as a tribal country and the armed tribes’ conflicts have contributed in assisting the spread and expansion of this problem from generation to generation. It also became an important element in Yemeni culture, traditionally being the symbol of manhood. Guns for men are seen “like gold for the ladies”. 

There are no real statistics about how many weapons exist in Yemen, but just at a rough estimate, I’d say that there are 60 million pieces, which means 3 pieces per person! That was before the current war, which is now worsening by the day. We are extremely worried about it. To witness Saudi Arabia contributing to this problem by dropping weapons by air to their allies across the country during the conflict, and to know that many people are getting weapons from the military places after being targeted by the Saudi air strikes is a very daunting thing.

The biggest challenge that my colleague and I am facing is in the form of insecurity and instability in the country. Our work has been affected by the current crisis so much. We used to work for resolve conflict and build peace but now all what the human beings in Yemen need is food, medical supplies and some secure. There are a lot of challenges for the Yemeni people. Without peace, tolerance, acceptable and respectful to other there is no hope for a good future for the people of Yemen at all

We are working hard to prevent gun deaths and injuries, and try to spread a culture of peace and tolerance in Yemen. We aim to combat violence by running programmes which focus on conflict resolution, and on countering violent extremism through the engagement of tribal and religious leaders. 

The war in Yemen has caused an enormous humanitarian crisis which is increasingly becoming worse and worse while the Saudi coalition is still imposing a siege around Yemen with no food or medical supplies getting through to people in need. The hospitals are full of injured people and lack electricity, medical equipment and other basic requirements have led to many avoidable deaths. This tragedy deserves serious attention from all of us human beings, wherever we are. We strictly condemn the ongoing killings and call for an end to the conflict. We ask all Humanitarian NGOs around the world and the free people to contribute in order to reduce the impact of this tragedy.  We believe that the cost in human lives is extremely high and that violence generates violence and so much hatred, while humanitarian action is inconceivable without close and permanent dialogue with the parties to the conflict in Yemen.
By Aksa Bilal
Image from Pixabay

Kill me now
My pills are on the floor
My hands have been in the wars
My children have been raped and smudged along the floor

Kill me now 
There is no love i would like to hold
No child i would like to own
My veins have been scraped off the floor with shovels and paper bags

I will kill you now
Slit your throat in one go
Pills are too easy, make your blood pour
If you like, i can rape you once more

I will kill you now 
Smell the charcoal off your bones
Your flesh is becoming too heavy to hold
Are you sure you won't like me to rape you once more? 

Kill me now 
Your fingers are tied to my bones
My mind has been stripped naked in the wars
Your haunting eyes have raped me before

Kill me now
My children have been smashed against the doors
The world is running out of the space they hold
Even the devil has monsters of his own.

David, the founder and co-director of MMCC, or the Mobile Mini Circus for Children, shares a little about his story and the journey of running a mobile, social circus in the middle of a war zone.

What is Social Circus& what is MMCC?
Social Circus is a new creative pedagogy, utilizing physical arts to develop children personally and socially and support them to develop themselves. It is a very effective, joyful, and low cost pedagogy reaching a very large number of children. Social Circus is a tool for teaching social skills, overcoming traumas and developing essential capacities and the ability to take responsibility.

MMCC (Mobile Mini Circus for Children, established in 2002) is an international NGO which is grown into a countrywide education program focusing on teaching children to lead. MMCC has performed and made workshops for more than three million children and teachers in 28 provinces all over Afghanistan. It reaches a very large number of children and not only makes them happy and joyful but also bring both educational performances and a hopeful and positive image of the life in a war country. In the educational performances children learn life skills and important messages about Landmine Awareness, Peace Education, Drug Abuse, Conflict Resolution, Malaria Prevention, and Health Education which are incorporated in the shows. The performances at the same time are collective therapy which brings hope and harmony to the war battered country. MMCC conducts different teacher training workshops and has a wide range of social and educational programs such as advocacy for children, children media productions, children assembly (Children Shura and meetings in the Afghan National Parliament), special activities for girls, children cultural activities for schools, IDP camps, orphanages etc. MMCC has sub branches in 5 regions of Afghanistan, and 23 active “Funtainer” centres (Funtainer is a modified container functioning as a Social Circus base).

Why Afghanistan?
As Afghanistan was going through many radical changes and opening to whole new possibilities in
Image: (c) MMCC
late 2001, I saw my capacities and knowledge both about Afghanistan and children could contribute enormously to this changes.Then I dedicate myself to it, founded MMCC and am so much in love with the work MMCC team has been doing since then. The positive impacts of MMCC works in Afghanistan gives me a great joy and satisfaction and I hope to introduce it and its amazing activities in the countries with similar problems. Considering the fact that Afghanistan is the youngest country in the world (42% under 14 years old) and has suffered many years of war, it was quite natural and obvious that children should have the highest priority. It is the children who have suffered the most in the war, and by utilizing physical arts and socializing children to discover their individual and collective resources could contribute enormously to a dynamic joyful and peaceful society.

What Challenges have you encountered on the way?
Some people assume the conservative communities should be our biggest problem in implementing our activities. Everything we do is in full respect for the local culture and very often even inspired by the local culture and therefore we have relatively a good local support. Our main challenge is convincing the donors and the authorities that fun and cultural activities are much more than just entertainment especially in a country like Afghanistan. Fun is a hard sell but critical for building social capital and safeguarding against the creation of angry, alienated and disillusioned teenagers.

Image (c) MMCC
Are there any stories or anecdotes you can share?
One day our trainers were in a very big school conducting one of our typical week long workshops including singing, acrobatic, painting, theatre and juggling which ends up with a performance of the new established team. The old director of the school was checking the activities and going from one group to the other. Then he heard children practicing an old children song in the workshop, and he became so emotional and got tears in his eyes listening to them. He told me that before the war in his childhood he himself was a member of his school’s choral team, singing the same song (…my homeland’s pomegranate is so sweet …) which was almost forgotten. That day he started to make the same choral team for his school with the children of the workshop accompanied with traditional Afghan music with the instruments purchased for the school….

We always invite the community leaders to the shows to get them involved and very often in the conservative areas they sit with crossed arms and legs showing a kind of resistance. It takes only a few minutes for them to start opening up and enjoy the show. In one of the shows after a few minutes I saw the community leader himself was laughing so laud and enjoying the show even more than children, and then he started asking all the children to applaud and encourage the performers with such an enthusiasm.

One day in another workshop we put a 24x2 meters long fabric on a wall for children to paint and enjoy collective painting to be used for decoration later. I heard the teachers were surprised to see the small boy who was always escaping, crying or fighting was now so calm and focused painting for 3 hours. As I approached him, I could hear very deep and laud sighing. His painting was only very simple bodies and messy blocks of red blue and black. As it wasn’t clear at all I had to ask him what he was painting and he said: these are coffins, and these black boxes are empty coffins too and here there is a blue wall and here the red boxes are coffins with blood . . . . He was extremely traumatized. The painting gave him a tool to express himself by his own inner therapist and his sighing was a good sign of progress and success in his healing. We have had over 3 million children participants of our shows and workshops, each one of them have a different positive story of joy, hope, inspiration, and small steps towards a better future.

What are your dreams for MMCC?
MMCC has accumulated amazing and unique capacities, and developed systems to help the children in Afghanistan in the last 13 years. My dream is to bring this precious capacity to inspire other organizations and serve more children with similar problems in other countries. MMCC team is looking for partners and sponsors to initiate its activities in countries such as Turkey (mainly for Syrian refugee kids), Pakistan etc.

You can both read about MMCC and follow its social media on:
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By Ameena Mohyuddin Zia

The contemporary Pakistani woman has arrived in the political space. She has dared to step outside of Benazir Bhutto’s somber shalwar kameez and white chiffon duppata. 

Who is she? Where did she come from? How did she get here? 

She is the Hina Pervaiz Butt; the Maryam Nawaz; the Sharmeela Farooqi, and the Hina Rabbani Khar. She has navigated her entrance into the patriarchal universe with creative gowns, eyeliners, bold colors, and yes, purses and shoes. Such accouterments have entered bureaucracy! What is she thinking? Or clearly, she is not thinking. I have to admit, she looks beautiful with poise; elegant with confidence; and graceful with femininity. 
Yes, I did say femininity. A part of me smiled inside. 

Now that she has arrived, how should we nicely compartmentalize this contemporary Pakistani woman politician as she navigates through the masculine space of bureaucracy? Do we place her with US Presidential Candidate Hillary R. Clinton’s much-talked-about pant suits and her dominating personality with other women politicians of the upper echelons of society (like Margaret Thatcher, Benazir Bhutto, and Angela Merkel)? What about the fashion savvy first ladies of the world who werevere for their effortless fashion forward attires (Lady Diana, Queen Noor, and Michelle Obama)? Oh, we just adore them for promoting the values of their husband’s power and platform. 

What would Cynthia Enloe say? She would argue that it is, in fact, these diplomatic wives who are the true promoters of diplomatic dialogue and friendship as they host impeccable tea-gatherings and host fabulous dinner-parties in order to further the nationalist efforts in the international community.

Again, what about the contemporary Pakistani politician? She doesn’t fit into these two categories!
Oh no!
But, oh yes. She is a combination of both.

The au fait of third wave feminism has ingrained in her the idea that everything is, in fact possible. She can simultaneously enjoy being traditional and outgoing; self conscious and independent; romantic and ambitious; hardworking and vulnerable; and creative and smart. Perhaps it is alright to agree to disagree and there is a certain beauty in the miss-matched sequence that binds her consciousness. 

As a young girl,her mother(having sacrificed little pleasures of life because of perils of joint family systems, radical Islamicalization of women’s laws, constant dependency on a male, and living in the shadows in society) taught her that she can be anyone she wishes and do anything she sets her mind to. Her socially constrained mother pushed her to own her thoughts, her emotions, and her ideas…while simultaneously sharing the romance of Elizabeth Bennet, Anarkali, and Heer. She imagined a world of justice and equality as she was encouraged to find herself; her truths; her wants; and to explore the possibilities of creating her own space…and that anything and everything is within her grasps. 

On her way to chase the glass ceiling, she is taught that it is necessary to foster her own individual talents and if perhaps she don’t like something, than simply change it.

She quickly understands to own her own journey; to live her own story; and to learn to fend for herself without emotional reliance on a fiancé or a husband. And therefore, she now has certain ideals and expectations from the men in her society; however fabricated in her own subconscious.

She, now, finds refuge in books and thick rimmed glasses.
She, now, is the product of her mother’s feminist generation.
She, now, realizes she wants it all – the education, the career (of making policy), organic home-cooked meals on the dinner table, and the representation of sheer elegance.
She, now, understand that it is, indeed, possible at the expense of absolutely nothing.

She takes her direction from the grandmothers, mothers, daughters, and sisters; from the Fatima Jinnahs of her time; from the Mukhtar Mais of her time; from the Malala Yousefzais of her time; and from the Asma Jahangirs of her time. 

She is starting to pave a path for herself and for other women. She is comfortable in her femininity and in her roles outside traditional gender constructs. She is the new feminist of her time as she proudly succeeds in a man’s world of politics by deconstructing social paranoia.

The contemporary Pakistani woman politician has evolved in her own capacity as she curates her own reality (one that does not include fitting her into a traditional box). She has arrived (avec accouterments). The question is, is the contemporary Pakistani male politician willing to catch up to her?

Ameena Mohyuddin Zia is a PhD Candidate in Political Economy & Gender Studies at the University of Missouri St. Louis and an Adjunct Lecturer at CUNY’s York College. Her work examines social constructs through both research and visual documentations. She also works as a strategic consultant for public-private partnerships in NYC.
Image (c) Vandana Suri
Vandana Suri, the brains behind TaxShe, an initiative that fills in a very important gap in the world of public transportation by providing women drivers on call. What started out as a business idea soon burgeoned into a powerful social enterprise that is creating waves across the city of Bengaluru and beyond. Here’s a glimpse at Vandana’s story and work:

I am a single mother, and quite like any other mother, I am hyper-vigilant when it comes to the safety of my children. I keep talking to other parents about allowing our children out on the streets, and the conversation invariably pivoted around safety. I have studied for the Chartered Accountancy course (never cleared it though!) and spent 10 years in the field of investment banking. 

TaxShe started as an idea for an investment banking venture in a way that would give back to society. We realized the value of public transportation, and it was imperative that safe transport services be made available for women, children and senior citizens. 

Once I launched it, I realized how much I got into it – so much so that I set my investment banking career aside. I spend a lot of time driving, and realized that if I wasn’t, I was looking for drivers. The biggest push came from the November Uber incident, where the survivor of the incident said that such a thing wouldn’t have happened if it was a woman driver. That pushed us to take up our work in an overdrive of sorts.

TaxShe is both, a business and a social enterprise. Being an investment banker having dealt with money all my life, I see that it is of course a valuable business. But beyond that, this enterprise has so much room for women’s empowerment. The safety of a child on the road is guaranteed. I have personally seen parents of toddlers heave a sigh of relief when they know that the one driving is a woman.

The biggest challenge was getting women to drive. Women in an upper middle class family wouldn’t like to be called a driver. The concept of “driver” as a professional qualification is perceived as a blue collar job. The lower strata cannot afford a car, so they don’t even consider such a thing as a career. Some of the women in that segment face a lot of opposition and resistance to taking it up as a driver. 

I feel that it is necessary to get more middle class women to join. I am from Mumbai, and I know how it is to run a house on a meagre income. It is not a job to take care of society, but really just a matter of duty to make the world a safer place. I work with a lot of NGOs, walk down into slums and motivate women in those communities to join up. A lot of these women tend to be used to the idea of working as domestic help, maids, and care givers. Men in their families pull them back from taking on what they perceive as a “male dominated” profession.

The easiest part, though, was to get business. We had as many as 400 calls in just three days, when
all we did to promote the initial round was through text messaging and WhatsApp. We have about 25,000 visitors on the website today. The need is definitely high, and we do pre-bookings as early as two months in advance. Even if we get about 30 to 40 girls as potential drivers, only 10 of them wind up staying put as drivers. They are so scared, and the inertia is so high. 

We make sure to give these women 55 hours of training – so it is a bit of an expensive training process as well. We make sure that we also educate these women. Many a time, we notice that the education levels of these girls are significantly low. We are looking for tie-ups with organisations that can help educate these girls at least at a 10th Grade or 10+2 Grade Level, so that we can take over from there.

It is a rule that one must have a valid driving license for one year, to earn a yellow badge and drive a cab. In India, in my understanding, only 130 to 140 women drive cabs, because not many women have a valid license for one year. Now, we are just focusing on getting more and more women to drive. We are like a funnel that seeks to facilitate growth of the taxi industry. 

There is also a huge sanitation requirement – when one drives for about six or seven hours at a stretch, they often find themselves having to figure out where the next restroom that is clean and usable, can be found. While driving clients around, we find that no one ever asks if we want to use the restroom – the mindset is such that we are viewed with a class consideration in mind. The government needs to make the effort to provide quality hygiene and sanitation services for women. It is high time that blue collar jobs are given the respect they deserve. No CEO can even exist if the chain of command doesn’t exist.

Safeguarding women drivers is exceptionally important. Most of the women we work with are single mothers. I think that the experience of having to do a lot on their own gives them the courage and independence to do the job. We train them in self-defence, and make sure that the women carry pepper spray. 

There is no real risk from the clients – because they are largely women, children and senior citizens. But, they do face a risk when they go back to their homes, where the men look at them as toeing the line for taking on a man’s task. But we are vigilant all the time – we have an app that tracks their routes, and the moment there is a deviation from the route, we are alerted.

Right now, we have plans of expanding into other cities. The good thing is that we have a lot of support from women who have willingly joined up, professionals in the tech sector and college students, too. TaxShe is a practical solution to the social landscape against violence against women. 

People always say that it is important to change the mindsets of men – but the fact is, that will take time. This is a way to plug that gap – and it has tremendous potential. At the end of the day, it is a necessity and not a luxury.

Image (c) Agnes Fallah Kamara Umunna

Agnes Fallah Kamara Umunna is the founder of Straight From The Heart and the brains behind the One Liberia Advocacy Online Radio. The CEO and Radio Producer/Presenter is also the Author of the book And Still Peace Did Not Come: A Memoir of Reconciliation. Here is her story as a survivor and a changemaker. 

My work as a journalist began at the UN Radio in Liberia since 2004. I got a job at the UNMIL with the help of my mentor, Patrick Coker. Working with female ex-fighters who became victims of our 10 years long Civil War in Liberia war inspired me to take to gender advocacy.

As I started my work, collecting stories to be aired on the UN Radio, I found that most of my storytellers were young boys and girls who had fought in the Civil War in Liberia. They were not been cared for and catered to when it came to trauma healing and counselling. They complained that most international journalists came to them and collected their stories and never came back to see how they were doing. I wanted to be a journalist and at the same time, a human rights activist. I set up my center at the ghetto where they lived, and I named it Straight From The Heart because of that was what my radio show was called.

The challenges were many. Up until now, I still face these challenges, simply because most of the war lords in the region who gave guns to these boys and girls to make them fighters are now working with the government! They felt that I was bringing the ex- fighters to tell their stories to implicate them and they did not like it. So it was difficult to find resources for the project and for the boys and girls in the form of mental health and trauma care, and reintegrating them back to their communities was difficult. Funding our projects from international financial support was hard because they did not want their funds to go to ex-fighters. This was a big problem with the Liberian Truth Commission which was set up. Nevertheless, we did the best for the people I worked with, using my small salary from the UN radio program, and money from my mentor, Patrick Coker. I stay focused and do what I love doing - which is this very work.  

As I am here right now with peace in Liberia, I find that women are still struggling with things like limited knowledge of such things as sexually transmitted infections, health care, and the strong likelihood of getting pregnant at a young age, among other things. Some women in Monrovia, the capital the city of Liberia, will possibly have to give birth in their homes without any assistance from trained health workers because they do not have money to go to a hospital. That will leave them with delivery-related injuries if they are lucky to survive their pregnancies, and if they do survive it, they often end up with fistulae and uterine prolapse. Poverty is the biggest factor that leads to all this challenges. 

I believe that war has created a complex picture in my mind. I feel that there were so many things that went wrong. How can I and other women and men build a strong set of communities that will no longer just allow people to just come in and destroy our lives, our children and ourselves? How can we sustain family and community values? How can we build on the themes of family race, gender and values and live by it? These were such constant questions in my mind.

My dream is to have enough money to do what I love doing for teens and women in my country using radio for their voices to be heard.
My Voice, Her Voice, Our Voices.

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