I am a Rotary Peace Fellow from Palestine. My mother is a Palestinian refugee who fled her home with her family in 1948. My father’s entire village was displaced for two weeks in 1967. In fact, nearly half of my family are Palestinian refugees.

I was born and raised in Tulkarem, home of two refugee camps that still exist from the Nakba of 1948. One camp is beside my former high school in the middle of downtown. The other is located at the Eastern entrance of my city. This refugee camp is the first thing I see every time I return home to visit my family.

Reem Ghunaim and her nieces. Photo by Moataz Al Sadey

Growing up, I heard stories from my family, friends, and neighbors who are refugees or related to a refugee. My two aunts still recount how they fled Umm Khalid (renamed Netanya), as children. They were playing in a field, picking cucumbers and using them to make big piles and create shapes. The game was interrupted by crashing bombs and they saw a cloud of smoke nearby. Their uncle screamed at them to run away from the smoke, toward safety.

Importance of education

I was lucky that my mother was educated. She told me if I wanted to pursue peace, I should become educated and have empathy and compassion for others in my heart. She taught me that service is a duty, not an option. These stories shaped my dreams and aspirations for peace.

My mom and aunts had access to education because of the United Nations Relief and Work Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA). Accessible education is instrumental in conflict zones. Education breaks the cycle of violence, especially for women. Without UNRWA, my mother would not have been empowered to set me on a path of positive peacebuilding.

My family’s experiences are shared by over 5 million Palestine refugees who are eligible for humanitarian services. Twenty refugees per minute are fleeing their homes due to wars, oppression, and poverty. The refugee crisis is not just a regional crisis; it is a human crisis.

Queen Rania of Jordan’s words inspire me: “Peace means our children can sleep to a mother’s soft voice, not screaming sirens; play with building blocks, not watch their homes destroyed; make friends, not lose them; dream of big plans for the future, not wonder if they would have one. Peace also means hope, and by raising your voices for peace, you’re giving hope to millions around the world.”

Seeking informed solutions for peace, I crossed the ocean to the Rotary Peace Center at Duke University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, USA. Despite the distance, I felt at home. Rotary and my family share the same values for education and service to bring about peace. I am currently the Executive Director of the Rotarian Action Group for Peace. I utilize my education and training as a Rotary Peace Fellow to activate Rotarians to advance peace. To further develop my skills , I completed the Rotary Positive Peace Academy to learn new strategies of how to build and sustain peace.

2019 Rotary Convention

After completing the academy, I used what I learned to create a workshop for Rotarians attending the 2019 Rotary International Convention in Hamburg to help others conceptualize and create more peace projects. The pilot workshop was successful, and I was invited to present again in Geneva during Peace Week at the United Nations. My goal is to use this workshop to bring peace organizations and Rotarians together and collaborate through the Positive Peace Framework.

One of the Pillars of Positive Peace is the Acceptance of the Rights of Others. Rotarians drafted and signed the Declaration of Human Rights. As populism and terrorism rise, it is our duty as peacebuilders to come together and resist these ideologies. The peacebuilders of our world must create strong networks, advance collaborations, and build mutual understanding. We must promote trust over fear, education over ignorance, health over disease, economic development over poverty, and clean water for all.

My mom always told us around the dinner table, that her dream has always been to raise children who will serve humanity. I strive every day to make my mom’s dream come true. Thank you, Rotary, for allowing me to do so.

About the author: Reem Ghunaim is executive director of the Rotarian Action Group for Peace. RAGFP’s mission is to educate, engage and empower Rotarians to build positive peace.