Women In Mediation Spotlight featuring Paloma Martinez and Gayane Astoyan, interviewed by Kayla Elson, MBBI Writer, on March 2, 2017
Newly equipped with mediation skills, women around the world are transforming their local communities. MBBI’s International Training Institute (ITI) focuses on equipping women with peacebuilding skills and integrates them into a global community of peacebuilding practitioners. Since its inception in 2013, the ITI has trained 97 women from 33 countries and in turn, has impacted over 10,000 lives!
Paloma Martinez – Protecting Leadership
Paloma Martinez, a primary school teacher in Urabá, Colombia, is personally committed to helping youth become entrepreneurs and conscious leaders in their communities. After completing the first phase of ITI-Bogota in 2017, Paloma returned to her hometown and launched a new project. Alongside fostering youth leadership, Paloma recognized the need to protect current community leaders. Leaders in Urabá face high risk of assassination as they actively defend their communities from armed groups who try to steal land. Without state protection, leaders are being silenced. In collaboration with several colleagues, Paloma created a platform to help bring protection to community leaders in Urabá.
With the support of a Movilizatorio, Paloma and her team established Colidérate, a technology application that allows at-risk community leaders to send out security alerts. By using SMS alerts to report threats and incidents, the project aims to document the high-risk situation in Urabá and the surrounding regions. As a result, the platform garners state protection for leaders, as stipulated in the Colombian peace agreement. Paloma uses her mediation skills to encourage the use of the alert system. She explains through a translator:
Rural people all have similar experiences and thinking. I have been the bridge between the app and the people. Many leaders have scars and refuse to use this app. I highlight the benefits of the app.
For Paloma, the ITI equipped her to bridge many gaps. Whether facilitating communication between students and teachers at her workplace or advocating for Colidérate among skeptical rural Colombian communities, Paloma acknowledges that the skills and knowledge she gained from the ITI are “good tools for both her public and private life.”
Gayane Astoyan – Unifying Communities
Gayane Astoyan is a young Armenian woman dedicated to building relationships among isolated communities. When she first entered the ITI-Istanbul in 2013, Gayane worked for the City Research Center on a dialogue project, “Revealing Each Other Beyond Stereotypes.” The project focused on empowering Western and Eastern European women to transcend negative attitudes and beliefs. For Gayane, ITI taught her how to be a true mediator: “MBBI helped me realize that whenever you become a mediator you should be impartial and not biased and try to find the solution for both parties from the perspective of a third party.” As an Armenian woman leading multicultural dialogues, Gayane felt more equipped to lay side personal feelings and facilitate neutral dialogues.
In 2015, Gayane and a colleague started a youth non-governmental organization, Identity and Worldviews, to promote acceptance of cultures through dialogue and education. One of her current projects fosters dialogue between locally-born Armenians and Syrian Armenians, who are alienated from each other. She explains the dilemma: “When the war started in Syria, a lot of Syrians came to Armenia. But the locals considered them adversaries to their jobs and there were some stereotypes towards them as if they were not Armenians. On the other hand, Syrian Armenians were very closed and were trying to keep their own Armenian culture as it was in Syria. Most of them have difficulties adapting to the local culture, environment, and society.”
As she continues to build intercultural communication within her society, Gayane reflects on her endeavors: “Whenever you work, you become like their glasses. You show them that their attitudes were kind of wrong and they need to open up to each other to develop dialogue…otherwise, in isolation, you cannot understand. When people start to understand each other, and you see the results, you understand that it is really rewarding work that you do.”
An Experience of a Lifetime
For Paloma and Gayane, friendships with other inspiring women from ITI are the most meaningful gain. Paloma shares: “ITI was one of the best experiences I have ever had. Not only for what I learned, but also who I met. I made really good friends.” Paloma remains connected to women around the region and is looking forward to returning to Bogota in April 2018 to share situations, challenges, and progress thus far. Gayane continually invites ITI women to join her programs and even hopes to invite MBBI mediation trainers to future large-scale projects. Both Paloma and Gayane wholeheartedly support MBBI’s ITI. To women considering ITI, Gayane urges:
If she wants to get one of her greatest experiences in life, she must participate in the MBBI training. Because this is amazing, not only because of the skills and knowledge you receive, but also the emotions. You will be filled with so much emotions, so much re-evaluation of your actions and thoughts and values and beliefs. Participate in MBBI training whenever you have the chance.