Michelle Avaroma is a brand new member of MBBI, but has been invested in building peace throughout her entire adult life and is the dedicated director of PeaceJam Mid-Atlantic. To her, the visions of the two organizations really resonate with each other because of their work towards building a more peace-able world. Born and raised in Miami, Florida, to Bolivian parents and often visiting family in Bolivia during the summer, she could ‘see evidence of conflict’ and how it impacted communities. This perspective from early on in her life gave her an in-depth understanding of the ways in which conflict manifests itself in society, and the impacts it can have on community well-being. This awareness was a part of why she grew into someone “who was always thinking ‘Well what can I do to create more peaceful communities? What can I do to do my part?’ because I think that we all have a responsibility as a human to contribute to our societies.” In working with PeaceJam, she has definitely found an organization that strives to contribute to peace the world over.
PeaceJam is an organization that works with young people, from early childhood through college, to develop community service projects through an award-winning peace education curriculum. PeaceJam also provides students the opportunity to learn directly from Nobel Peace Prize winners at annual youth conferences. The organization was established in 1996 and is collaborative in nature, working with other peace-oriented organizations and schools in order to integrate their curriculum into more standard education practices. In this way, peacebuilding and problem-solving techniques are introduced to young people (with age-appropriate curricula) early on in their lives, truly becoming a force to build peace from the ground up.
She got involved in PeaceJam right at the beginning of her college degree and has been involved ever since. During her Master’s degree, she was the graduate assistant for the PeaceJam program, and when she graduated she took a position with the Florida Network of Youth and Family Services in Tallahassee, a state-wide non-profit that serves youth in crisis and their families.
One major aspect of PeaceJam is facilitating development projects designed by young people within the program. The projects aim to engage young people in improving their own communities and channel the creativity, energy, and vision into practical ways of improving the world around them. Because PeaceJam is an international organization working in countries all over the world, they are able to connect these groups over Skype to discuss what kind of work they have been doing in their communities. In this way, groups from the US, or India, can compare the problems and solutions they see in their community with groups in Ghana, or Belgium – PeaceJam has programs in North America, Africa, Europe, Latin America, and Asia.
Working with young people is not only valuable to them but can be a source of inspiration for new ideas on building peace from the ground up. “Working with young people, what I often see is that they have so many opinions on how their communities should look, but their opinions are often overlooked because what they hear is ‘oh you’re too young…. you don’t know how things work’ ” But she sees “these young people working in their communities to identify issues and to create innovative solutions. And they have a vested interest too in creating change because they are affected by trauma in communities.”
Amplifying the Voices
Additionally, Michelle makes the point that amplifying the voices and opinions of young people, giving them that validation, has long-lasting impacts on their motivation to continue to fight for positive change and believe in their own value as peacemakers. It ‘becomes part of their identity’, and ‘we want them to be a part of that change’. In guiding young people to accept themselves as they are leads naturally to helping them accept others as they are, and inherently tackles issues of bullying and low self-esteem.
Michelle has been working for the past year to build their organization in the mid-Atlantic region (Washington DC, Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Delaware). She says she is grateful every day for the opportunity to work for such an amazing organization. It is clear that the organization is very close to her heart. Given the excellent and engaging work that they do, it is not difficult to understand why.
Michelle says that in moments of stress or when she’s feeling overwhelmed, she focuses on how grateful she feels to work in this field; “I recognize that I’m so lucky to work in something that is working to make the world a better place. I’m so grateful that I get to work with young people who just want to feel seen, feel heard, and to create spaces for these studies. PeaceJam aligns with my values and creates long-lasting community connections, it is so important and I am grateful that I get to do that!”
Written by Lizzy Nestor: MBBI Writer