The Family You Choose: A Global Community of Peace Builders
By Sanja Angelovska, Generations For Peace Volunteer and Pioneer Facilitator from Republic of Macedonia
As a trained family and systematic counsellor, we are taught that we all function in the context of a family unit and that we are in some ways determined by it. I believe in family as a system; as such our belonging there is naturally given, even before we are born. The family has that special place in our hearts, an endless source of emotions and energy that feeds and inspires the true you. Family is meant to make you a better person, encouraging you whenever you face difficulties in life and celebrating with you all successes no matter how big or small.
But beyond these relational boundaries of our actual family, we choose other types of families for ourselves. We choose a profession, friends, partners, pets, organisations; we choose a lifestyle we would like to have. We also choose our extended families. Pure happiness is when the choice is mutual – I choose you because you chose me, and the other way round.
I relate Generations For Peace with that concept of family. Generations For Peace is a matter of choice; an organisation I chose and which has chosen me, and an organisation where one can fit, create, develop further, both personally and professionally. An organisation in which it is safe to fail, as there is always someone around to help put you up on your legs and encourage to learn from failure, to run further and faster next time. Like in a real family.
In this global family of change-makers we, the organisation’s volunteers (Delegates and Pioneers), have established a community of followers. They are mostly from diverse ethnic, religious or social backgrounds; they hold different opinions and perceptions; most of the time they come from what we in GFP call ‘different sides of conflict divide’. A broad spectrum of people with demographic and philosophical differences. But in spite of those differences, all united in their diversity and desire to lead the change: to improve their lives, to make their communities peaceful, to secure the future for their families. I can call that community of followers ‘like-minded people’. Like-minded in the sense that we all work towards the same goal even though to others we may seem different. Working with like-minded people and having successful programmes as a result of joint efforts is what gives the definition of family to Generations For Peace. Each member of this community has chosen to belong to it. In this extended family, you have the trust of others and freedom to create; you are considered an ‘expert’, because you know best the context you live in and those ties that you have developed locally make you part of a family.
The whole GFP family works very hard. We are sometimes so focused on achieving our peace-building goals that we need a bit of reminding of how valuable our extended family is, and how the bonds that unite us go deep regardless of location or moment. Two stories from my recent GFP experiences best illustrate this.
From Macedonia to Sri Lanka: one global family
In 2015, Generations For Peace organised a local training for youth leaders from different ethnic divides to join GFP’s peace-building programmes in Sri Lanka. I was lucky to be a member of the facilitation team with two other Pioneer facilitators and three local Delegates.
Being on a work mission, I considered myself professional and focused; ‘getting things done’ and ‘mind your own business’ were my work mantras. But Sri Lankan Delegates were just about to teach me a valuable lesson.
At the end of intensive five-day training, the Sri Lankan Delegates organised a farewell dinner for all participants. The dinner was in a hotel close to the sea, but it was also a first free moment I had since arrival to Sri Lanka. With training being done and my mission fulfilled, I was tempted by the beautiful landscape and sound of waves. I did not feel up for dinner; I instead preferred a few hours of swimming and relaxing completely alone. I always loved the sea, particularly when I can be alone on a beach and enjoy it in my own way. After all, when again I will be on a Sri Lankan beach? Feeling too selfish, I decided to join others for a quick light meal and then go back to the beach alone. I was fine with the rest of the team enjoying a long dinner and entertainment.
Many hours later, at the end of the dinner, I realised that was the most beautiful evening I have ever had. I enjoyed every single moment; the relaxed company of other volunteers and getting to know them, listening to Sri Lankan music and poetry, sharing our personal stories, feeling the sea breeze, and eating the extremely delicious food so close to the beach. I was happy I was not alone. I could not forgive myself for how I reacted in the beginning. The Sri Lankan volunteers reminded me about the fact that I was part of a global GFP family, something I had forgotten for a moment. They reminded me how precious are the moments when we are all together, sharing all things that make us so different from each other. And so close to everyone. Thank you, GFP.
Macedonian and Syrian in Jordan: a local family
A few months after my return from Sri Lanka, I was lucky once again as I was attending a training in GFP headquarters in Amman. The training was held during Holy Month of Ramadan, and one evening I was invited to an Iftar, the evening meal with which Muslims break their daily fast. The Iftar was organised in a community centre with Jordanian and Syrian children who were all part of the GFP Social Cohesion programme being carried out by Jordanian GFP volunteers.
I sat between two girls, one Jordanian and the other Syrian. The Syrian children were accommodated within the local host families (most of them were their relatives) while their parents remained in Syria. I tried to talk to the Syrian girl in English, but she understood very little of what I was trying to say. She was looking at me with her piercing eyes, and then she turned towards a woman working in the centre saying to her in Arabic, “she has eyes like mine”. I understood her “einy” in Arabic but needed full translation. Hearing it, I looked back at the girl: just a moment before while she was speaking, I was looking at her thinking that my eyes look like hers, too. We smiled at each other.
Our conversation continued. Other girls joined also. Their eyes were shining. We communicated through a mix of Syrian-Jordanian Arabic along with my English. Many thoughts were running through my mind as we talked and made gestures to explain what we were saying. How strong and brave these children are. How enthusiastic they are, and how much they appreciate life given as it is. I thought of their parents back home in Syria, and the sorrow they are facing of not having them close; I also thought of a relief they must be feeling as their children were not with them back home but safe in Jordan. What a paradox it must be.
This encounter provoked me to think deeply about the things I have in life. These children escaped from the biggest hell on earth currently, but still, their attitude was so matured and calming. And I was reminded again of how Generations For Peace became another, local family for these children. Thank you GFP for that, too.
Generations For Peace has set up such a network of great people across the globe that wherever you go, you will be accepted as if you were a local. You would always want to go back, to re-visit places and see familiar faces. It is the same with your own actual family. You always come back to it, no matter the distance or circumstances. You simply belong there.
But this chosen family makes you become a better version of yourself. Not because you did a good deed for someone, but because meeting people made you more aware of the beauty of diversity and of the opportunities that diversity offers to humankind.
This is what the Generations For Peace family stands for; locally and globally. Making you more aware of that beauty that exists all around us. I have shared the lessons I have learnt being part of that family with you. Thank you GFP!
Sign up to our e-newsletter to learn more about the impact of our programmes in the Middle East, Africa, Asia and Europe.