Gwendolyn Myers is a Board Member of MBBI and the founder of Messengers of Peace (MOP) Liberia and proudly states, “we are an organization that is managing up to a thousand five hundred people to serve as young volunteer peace messages and community mediators.” In fact, recently MOP has trained 50 of these mediators. MOP also has a cohort of Young Peace Writers to engage young people in writing on topics relevant to peacebuilding. She stated, “On the web, they report and put up different peace messages on matters happening in their communities. We call this dialogue among young peace messengers.” They also have the Annual Youth Peace Summer Camp and facilitate dialogue processes in communities and trainings where over 75 young people have participated.
One major aspect of MOP is to mentor and coach young people on a daily basis. In fact, they run the program, “mentor talk.” Gwendolyn stated, “This is not just for young people in Liberia, but on the continent and in different areas of peacebuilding. I have been running Messengers of Peace since 2008 so it has been 12 years as a young executive and young woman to run this organization.” As part of MOP, she organized the first 2020 Peace Talk in Liberia in partnership with the City Government of Monrovia with a focus on political mediation and the environment. Gwendolyn stressed that this was a major milestone especially for a post-conflict country like Liberia and the special senatorial elections held in December. Read more about the 2020 Peace Talks here.
Amplifying Youth Voices
For Gwendolyn, young people can work on peace, human rights, and security fully and MOP is accomplishing this with a team of vibrant volunteers. However, her passion for these subject matters started earlier in her life. In fact, her journey of mediation started off at the age of 13. She stated, “I was actually a producer for the famous Talking Drum Studio, Search For Common Ground radio production aired in Liberia, Sierra Leone and other parts of Africa. This program was there to bring out the talent of young people. My late father was actually a person always instrumental in my growth because my dad went from place to place asking how I could get involved in this radio production program. He wanted to foster my leadership skills. My father wanted me to be different, to be extraordinary.” When her father inquired about the possibility of Gwendolyn joining, he was turned down because, at the time, the program was filled up. However, her father met a former colleague from school who was part of this radio program and by asking managed to get her involved at least as an observer.
Gwendolyn, as a young girl, would always look forward to getting to hear all the different personalities on air therefore; she was very committed to wanting to participate. Though she was only an observer at the beginning stages of her involvement with the radio production team, she would prepare for a future possibility of actually auditioning or speaking. She stated, “I would stand in front of the mirror, and I would practice in front of the mirror, practice how to speak, how to read.” Her late father would often give her feedback about the energy of her voice. Her father said, “When you stand on stage or podium or anywhere to speak, let them know you are speaking.” her father wanted her to be a vibrant person. Her mother also played a very supportive role. She stated, “that is something I saw with my parents. My late father would be the one pushing for me to be different. My mother was also always pushing as a team player. Thus, I always say that I am a very faith-oriented person.”
By Faith She Leads
Her parents always stressed the importance of prayer coming from a Catholic Christian background, therefore, from an early stage in her life within the field of mediation and peacebuilding, she identified with the hashtag, “by faith she leads.” She further stated, “this means that everything you see me doing is driven by faith. Even if it is difficult, faith can break barriers and mountains. Even if there are challenges, because of my faith, I know there are multiple possibilities.” For her, there is always a solution or path and this drives everything in her life, which is deeply rooted in her faith. When she recalled the radio program her dad motivated her to attend, she always had the notion of preparedness in mind and would ask herself if she was prepared to one day take on the challenge of hosting an episode on air if the opportunity arose. When this day came, she was prepared and excited to demonstrate her abilities, skills, and passion. That particular day, the main hosts were absent and could not produce the show therefore, she was asked if she could take charge, and very confidently, she answered “yes.” She said, “I did not waste any time. Whenever we are looking for things, we need to be fully prepared so that we are prepared to lead and serve.” This is the background and foundation of her interests in the field of peace as well.
However, she did not stop there. She got involved with interviewing stakeholders, and her community on an array of cultural social issues. She stated that after school, in her uniform, she would go into the streets with the microphone interviewing people and helping with the full production of given episodes. This experience highlighted the value of not only being prepared but also mentorship. The “Search For Common Ground” production really shaped who she is today and is grateful to all the mentors she met along the way. Therefore, in a similar way, it is important to remember that peacebuilding also requires mentorship and a realization of the potential. As she grew up in the midst of violence, she experienced the devastation of young people being used for conflict, and in her eyes, she thought, “if these young people can be used for violence, they can also be used to make peace and contribute to the peacebuilding process. This passion got me involved in empowering and peacebuilding.” For her, young people could be beneficial, and this is what led to the establishment of MOP.
Mentorship more closely
Though she was blessed to have a very hardworking determined father and supportive mother, she recognizes that family structures for other youth differ. Therefore, in terms of not having supportive parents, mentoring has become a key part of her philosophy. She stated, “I hear stories of unsupportive parents but it is not whether they cannot support them but sometimes you cannot give what you do not have. Parents want their children to grow but there are limitations. In fact, some people might not even know about these opportunities. I come from a middle-income family and I understand the struggle I went through. Regardless of what we did not have, because of that sort of orientation from the faith, I am satisfied with the little my family was able to give me. Thus, volunteering is a major part of what we do at MOP and this is why this whole vision is centered on volunteerism for peace and development.”
Therefore, she hopes to continue to instill this spirit with the goal of bringing young people on board with the older generation. She stated that it is important to look at these blueprints much closely. She said, “we need to look at mentors that are ready to go all the way with us. We need devoted mentors. It is something that is especially important for women and young girls who are looking for guidance. I can tell you that the gap is here. We need more mentors, and for them to provide more mentorship to people. It is not easy, it is stressful and it is exhausting at times but this is a sacrifice we need to make. It is not leadership if you cannot show results and have a legacy. I do not want this fight to stop with just Gwendolyn so mentoring young women and men are important. They might not have supportive parents but if there is a supportive system, then that works too.”
However, she added that it is important to remember that mentorship comes in all forms. She stated, “you need people on the journey who have one’s back. We need to be assured that even if we make mistakes, people will be there for us to teach us. We need mentors who’ll be available and ready. It is a two-way street. We can call for mentors but at the end of the day, if we are not ready for the support, that is another contradiction, and we need to balance this.”
Mentorship and Mediation and Sustainability
Peacebuilding is a process and the same principles apply to mentorship. She stated, “what I tell my mentees is that whatever training is instilled in you is for you to duplicate and continue the journey.” She follows this philosophy to this day with a focus on always having someone there to mentor you or others. However, at the same time, she recognizes that it is important to share knowledge and expertise. This is the journey we are all on and as long as we are all on this journey, the results will be enriching. She stated, “Even young people we train, I follow them as I mentor them because we need to go all the way. It is a struggle because not a lot of people have the patience and time to do that. A lot of people have their own issues. Therefore, it is a sacrifice and you cannot do it if your heart’s not in there.”
Looking forward into 2021
Gwendolyn hopes for the growth of MOP. She stated, “I am looking forward to having more young women form part of mediation at the local, regional, national and international level. Whatever strategy is put in place, I will continue to advocate and practice using the tools. It is one thing to just talk but another is to equip each other because if this is not done, we set young people up for failure so it is important to give them the right tools and expertise they need to do this work.” Therefore, more programs and capacity building is what she is looking forward to. In the recent peace talk 2020 organized by MOP and the City Government of Monrovia, they saw MBBI play a key role in setting young people up for success instead of failure. In fact, for the Peace Talk 2020, the CEO of MBBI sent an official endorsement message, which was played in the official ceremony. The remarks were displayed on the screen and on MOP’s social media platforms. Gwendolyn stated, “with an official endorsement, and an emphasis on that we felt like we were not alone in this.”
There were also other partnerships that in conjunction with MBBI demonstrated their support. For Gwendolyn, “all of the global partners, and messages of peace and advocacy showed the maximum support to this peace process initiative. This gave us leverage. We needed the backing of the international community, and having all these endorsement messages was key. This showed that this had a very international high level of recognition.” Liberia had the elections on the 8th of December, and the Peace Talk 2020 played an instrumental role for the outcomes seen that day. She stated, “it is important to show these kinds of practical examples of other peacebuilding practices that other countries can use. Translating resolutions on peace is hard if they are not translated into action.”
MBBI’s Role with MOP
MBBI also supported them with the mediation training, which was helpful for the results of the election in Liberia. Through MBBI, MOP was able to train 50 young people in 2017. She shares that in this process, she switched back and forth between her mediation and advocacy hat. She stated, “I wear several hats. I remember saying to all expert mediators in the room that it is important to remember the importance of mediation. I went through special dialogue and mediation training for 6 months in Sweden, Cambodia and Nepal with the Folke Bernadotte Academy (FBA), Swedish Agency for Peace, Security and Development , which allowed me to wear this cap to train with women peace builders and mediators. There were women from post conflict countries and it was a great opportunity to learn from them. In these 6 months of training, I realized that there is one hat I wear when mediating and one where I am advocating. When I am mediating, it is a completely different process.” Though she has her passion for advocating, her mediation style differs.
As the year begins, she is looking forward to continuing to foster this passion in others. She stated, “I am looking forward to training more young people in mediation overall, and mediation is a specialized field as part of peacebuilding. It is something I am passionate about, even more, these days, and I am looking forward to bringing more young people into this work at the community level. In her closing remarks, she stressed that it is a completely different process to witness young people mediating crisis among young people. The methods and strategies are different when young people are at the heart of the mediation. It is a different approach.
She hopes MOP grows internationally, not just in Liberia. She stated, “I know that my advocacy is global but as an institution, it is not just about me. As an organization, it is less about me. As founder and director, I understand this. I do a lot of advocacy at the level of the African Union, the UN, and global levels. I am there and as an organization, I look forward to messengers of peace leading peace processes as well as other negotiations. This is a big vision we see coming forward in five to ten years. There are amazing young people who have been trained and mentored and we want to show the world that they are qualified and competent. I know this will continue.”
Gwendolyn’s passion for this is rooted in her faith. She stated, “everything comes from my faith because I believe it reigns supreme. It is not man-made. I am not going to get it from anywhere, it is supreme, and that is my faith. I am not running out of it because the source I am getting from it is God, a source that is not running out. Religion is a key component to peacebuilding and people have different views. There is always something that people believe in on their journey, but for me, something I always highlight whatever platform I am on is my faith.”
Article by Elizabeth Gamarra, MBBI Writer