Since its inception in 2012 and with two cohorts (2012-2014, 2014-2019) of participants that passed through it, the Roots Peace Work Institute (PWI) sought to enroll young leaders of different backgrounds from across Europe, young people who were and are a voice and not an echo – eager to learn, to try, to grow… Like raw diamonds to shine after the grind.
And we believe that most of these 46 Alumni managed to develop both personally and professionally as they journeyed through PWI.
Today we share with you the story of Kristi Arakelova, an experienced youth leader from Georgia.
“Despite the fact that in South Caucasus we have 3 conflicts and I grew up together with ongoing tensions both in Georgia and in Armenia, a “Training for Trainers” project in Armenia was my very first time when I touched “peace” and experienced what conflict actually means to us. During the Training I met Vardan and from that moment my YMCA Journey has begun. I was first involved in the Roots for Reconciliation project back in 2012. Afterwards, my journey to peacebuilding has started and I became one of the “Rooters” – so I felt very proud, excited and responsible,” shares Kristi.
Since her interests lie in the area of international involvement in resolving internal conflicts, her Master thesis was on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and the international community’s role in mediation and the peace process.
By the decision to become a “Rooter”, she has changed everything in her life but of course, she did not realize it immediately. Her most important belief was to feel useful and to help people who are in need, – it could be in need of peace, justice or protecting their rights. Step by step, Kristi understood how important it is to work with these people and felt happy, because by doing peacebuilding she found herself.
“Today, I surely can say that Roots helped me to “walk” on the right path in my life. I think the most important thing which I learned from Roots is to understand the importance of being at peace with self in the first place. This means that if you want to build peace around you, you should start it from inside of you – accept yourself in the way you are and be in harmony with your inner “I”. After this comes the stage of understanding interpersonal conflict and the importance of the “Do No Harm” approach which means taking a step back from an intervention to look at the broader context and to mitigate potential negative effects on the peacebuilding process. It is significant to underline that Roots helped me to deconstruct the idea of the “enemy” and showed me different sides of peace work,” says Kristi.
Each session was unforgettable and unique because the participants were learning something new every time and getting the ‘food for the brain and soul’. But for Kristi the most powerful moment was in Strasbourg, when Vardan stood in front of the participants and said: ‘Peace is possible, you just need to believe in it.”
“To me, Roots is all about hope. Probably the most difficult job for a Rooter is to persuade others to keep the hope. As a Rooter, one should think positive and this positive approach should be visible through your actions. Spread hope and keep the motivation level up. If you are successful in giving hope and inspire people, you can easily overcome any current and future challenges easily,” Kristi says.
Today Kristi is a Chevening Award winner from Georgia, currently studying Nationalism and Ethnic Conflict at Birkbeck, University of London. The Chevening is a very prestigious and competitive Scholarship and a unique opportunity for young leaders to study in the UK as well as to build a professional network – to meet professionals or NGO representatives working on scholarly interests.
Since 2016, she has been a young expert in the Georgian-Armenian Dialogue organized by the Institute for the Study of Nationalism and Conflicts. Last year, she was appointed as a project coordinator of the Georgian-Armenian Expert’s Dialogue supporting bilateral enlargement of the Dialogue and engagement of young generation experts and researchers.
“I would always highly recommend young people to become a rooter because this project is all about shaping your mind and spirit in the best possible way. Alongside knowledge, you acquire skills like empathy and emotional intelligence which are essential for today. It means you can control your emotions, you can feel others’ problems and you are always ready to help. In addition, you are having friends worldwide, which is an amazing thing. I am currently living in the UK and I can surely tell you that if there wasn’t my Rooter friend Frah Saeed, I would be lost – she is always with me and she is my closest friend, she is my hope here in the UK. And I am so grateful to Roots for this friendship,” confesses Kristi.
Kristi is a Member of the Core Group of Experts (CGE) for the OSCE’s Perspectives 20-30 initiative. Also, she was a fellow of the Office of the 2018 UNHCR Minorities Programme. Together with her professional development, she has also chosen and become committed to the path of social activism. She founded “Youth for Diplomatic Engagement”, an NGO that focuses on youth involvement in public diplomacy, security, and human rights issues in the South Caucasus.
Since 2007 and ever growing, from the South to the North, from the East to the West of Europe – the Roots has always been there for those striving to make this world a better and safer place, a peaceful home for all. We go where the need is, responding quickly to the emerging issues with the legacy and mandate, capacity and adaptability gained for all these years.
By donating to the Roots, you invest in youth opinion leaders from all corners of Europe – varied by age, ethnicity, religion, race or wealth, but united with one strong conviction – Peace is the only way!