My journey as a peacebuilder began 10 years ago, when I was 17. It started with a deeply rooted feeling that life is precious and full of potential for learning and growth. We are all interdependent and interconnected. Every living being matters, and each person’s chances affect how we live as a human community. As Frantz Fanon said in Black Skin, White Masks, any injustice done to a human being on the other side of the world is an injustice done to me. The condition for growth is that you radically open your heart to the unknown, outside and within you.
As a researcher I had a strong desire to understand human and social relations: why do people behave the way they do, how different or similar are they, why does war exist, and most importantly, who am I. I was guided by the belief that nobody is naturally bad or violent. Whatever I may not understand about people’s behaviour, there is always something to explore, something that is not said, some cultural or social explanation that I do not know.
I changed through exploring, travelling and meeting people. Instead of watching the news, I used to go on my own to the refugee camps in Calais to meet people. I believed strongly in the freedom of human beings to define who they are. A good friend once told me, ‘You do not see identity, you see people.’ I changed through listening, not with my ears, but with my heart.
I would describe myself today as an educator and an enquirer. I constantly look for new answers. Peace is not the mere absence of war, but rather a condition where all living species can reach their full potential, free from all forms of violence. I believe that when people change, they change people around them. So I am passionate about facilitating learning spaces, at university or elsewhere. I love to inspire young people to be agents of change – to combat the human tendency to box, blame, and follow; to gain a higher consciousness that brings us back to the sacredness and interconnectedness of life; to understand that there are different ways to be and act in this world; to understand that peace or the potential for peace is in every moment and that we have limitless ability to respond – we have responsibility.
The neoliberal model of civilisation in which we live stresses an individualism based on status and material success. Through it, we tend to lose our sense of human and spiritual connection, and become apathetic about the needs of others. The lack of consciousness of our limitless responsibility is a major issue for the world that calls itself developed.
However much we claim to be free in the era of new technologies, new subtle forms of control are subjugating us. Many forms of oppression still exist – over nature and over people, on the basis of their ethnicity, nationality, gender, mental and physical abilities, sexual preferences, age… These discriminations are rooted in our brains, our cultures, our institutions. History always needs to be relearned. In times of uncertainty and self-doubt like today, the vulnerable become more vulnerable, because people tend to close up, single out and erect walls. The struggle for peace is an unending endeavour.
The DEEP (Dialogue, Empathic Engagement, and Peacebuilding) Network was born in 2014 from the initiative of Alberto Gomes, Director of the former Centre for Dialogue in Melbourne. DEEP is a global network of peace practitioners and researchers who want to contribute to a more peaceful and sustainable world. We believe in community-oriented action through local nodes based in different countries and regions. I founded DEEP France in Lille in the end of 2015 in an attempt to promote peace through dialogue, understanding and empathy in the face of extremism, racism and apathy. I have led different projects to educate, raise awareness and foster dialogue.
Peacebuilding is my journey. It is a journey of the self and the world, entangled in one single dance.
To watch Voices of Migrants, the seven films Célia Demoor made in Calais in March 2016, and learn more about DEEP please visit their website.