Creating Opportunities for Change. Member Spotlight: Andreas Riemann

A Journey to Peacebuilding

Andreas is a peacebuilding activist currently based in Germany, with a professional background in social work, primarily with experience in working with troubled youth and mentally handicapped young adults. His first contact with peace and human rights work was in the 1990s, through his participation in anti-racist action groups that advocated for refugees’ rights. Later, he volunteered with Peace Brigades International in Germany, and from 2007 to 2010 in Colombia, as an international human rights observer, accompanying human rights activists and communities. In 2011 after coming back from social work in Ecuador, he started a Master’s Degree in Peace and Reconciliation Studies at Coventry University, UK. It was then that he became aware of the concept of restorative justice. Recently, in June/July Andreas went to Thailand to finish his Rotary Peace Fellowship at the Rotary Peace Center at the University of Chulalongkorn.

From 2014 to 2016 he worked in Colombia as a peace consultant and trained rural leaders in communication techniques, conflict analysis, and conflict transformation, as well as conflict resolution techniques. In 2016, Andreas started to work with Eirene-International Christian Service for Peace in Bolivia. By coming across the work of “Manitonquat” (Francis Talbot) who based his restorative approach on values, respect, authenticity, and empathy, Andreas became fascinated by the potential of the restorative approach. He stayed in Bolivia for 6 years and trained in mediation, new masculinities, restorative practices, and trauma counseling. In 2018 he started to work regularly in circles and in 2021 he published a handbook that promotes restorative practices and peer mediation in public schools. Throughout the process of development of the book, Andreas noticed a weak willingness to build networks, work together, and bring the restorative approach forward. That is why he decided to create a social change initiative, an open-access online resource for restorative justice practitioners and researchers in Latin America to strengthen community networking, facilitate access to alternative, restorative, and trauma-informed practices, and engage in advocacy.

Andreas mentions that peacebuilding is always a very competitive environment. It was not easy to get another good job in this field, especially one that would allow to be not only an activist but a working professional and get paid. Part of the story is studying, he says. Studying and updating your knowledge and your capacities is something that needs to go on permanently, I would say. But networking is another essential activity. It is also an environment that changes quite rapidly, there are new issues coming up. For example, nowadays we talk a lot about peacebuilding and the environment, or the need for the de-colonization of peacebuilding. It is also important to be proactive, participate in volunteer activities, and give speeches. Starting to write academic articles about peace education has also been one of my recent activities.

When you work abroad, on the one hand, you might be part of an international or a mixed team (where you are the only foreigner), on the other hand, you are an outsider, and you need to keep that in mind. As a peacebuilder working abroad, you always need to be very conscious about your role, depending on intercultural dynamics. It is quite a challenging field, but I think you either like it or you hate it. I think most of us are visionaries. We want to change the world and to make that happen you need to adjust permanently to the local and regional dynamics in the projects you are working on, Andreas adds.

Networking for a Greater Goal

Through fellow Rotarians, Andreas found out about Mediators Beyond Borders International. He really likes that the organization is working on different topics, not only on pure mediation but mediation connected to different peacebuilding efforts. As a member, he hopes to connect with mediators and everyone who works on similar topics as himself. He recently joined the Children & Youth Alternative Dispute Resolution Project. Recently, he dedicated most of his time on something he is passionate about. I want to gather young people and empower them so that they can think about what their problems really are, Andreas says. How can they improve their analytical skills, and expand their knowledge, when it comes to non-violent, alternative, conflict resolution. I think it is more than ever visible, that we are living in a world where we need to see the potential of youth. They are at the front of many change-making processes now. The UN-Resolution 2250, which was adopted in 2015, explores how conflict impacts young people’s lives and what must be done to mitigate its effects, as well as how youth can be meaningfully included in creating peaceful communities. For this reason, Andreas will start a new job in the south of Colombia, working with youth groups that are in danger of being recruited by illegal armed groups and working with different tools of peace and political education, including mediation and restorative practices.

When it comes to alternative dispute resolution in Latin America for example, where Andreas worked for so many years, there is a problem with the school system. As he says, in many cases, it is still so vertical, so punitive. He witnessed the same situation in Thailand, where there is a whole youth movement that really struggles for change. The authorities in Southeast Asia sometimes react in very harsh ways. However, this might change over time through social struggle processes, the development of peace education and other new approaches to education, as well as reforms of the educational systems. We can work on these topics, so young people have more opportunities to change. Andreas hopes that through his MBBI membership, he will find people interested in joining his social change initiative, which is about networking in the field of restorative justice and restorative practices. He is interested in hearing from anybody wanting to get involved in writing mapping documents, and country profiles, that deliver key information on significant restorative justice approaches in their countries, on the historical context, on challenges to the restorative approach, restorative justice efforts, legislative policy initiatives, useful data on organizations and projects to improve the access to alternative justice measures.

Rotary Peace Fellow

Andreas recently completed a Peace Fellowship in Thailand, however, due to limitations caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, he had to start his courses online. For me, it was good to update all my peacebuilding knowledge, Andreas says. My specific social competencies, and skills for antiwar and pro-peace work. The fellowship provided very interesting courses, work on social change initiative, insightful field trips, for example, drawing fellows’ attention to problems on Thailand’s border with Laos and Myanmar, and encounters with anti-war activists and academics. Since Andreas just recently finished his fellowship, he would like to take this opportunity to express his gratitude.

I am very grateful for the on-site course, for the help during the development of my Social Change Initiative, and for the online course in 2022. It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, where I was able to update my peacebuilding knowledge, my specific peacebuilding social competencies, and my competencies for pro-peace action. At this point, I would like to take this opportunity to say thank you to Rotary International and to salute Ms. Martine Miller, Mr. Vitoon Viriyasakultorn, and the whole Rotary Peace Center team at Chulalongkorn University who did a marvelous job of making this a memorable experience for us Peace Fellows. I would also like to salute all the peace fellows from class 32 and 33 who are my colleagues and friends now.

The Rotary Peace Fellowship opened many new possibilities for networking and for the successful development of all the interesting social change initiatives I have seen during the last months, my own included.

Article by Maciej Witek, MBBI Writer