I was asked to be one of 20 ‘Inspirators’ at an event hosted by MasterPeace International in Nieuwegein on 7 September 2015. As a speaker, I had to share my personal story, and reflect on how my personal experiences have affected my decisions in my professional life. Furthermore, I had to make a call to action to the conference participants, and inspire them to do something themselves to alter the course of the entire planet towards one more suitable for peace and justice.
Participants were invited to ‘Be a Nelson’, and to emulate the late South African icon. I have to admit, I had serious qualms about accepting the invitation, not least because the event was called the ‘Great Minds Meetings’, and it takes a lot to compare oneself to Mandela himself!
After much reflection, it dawned on me that the MasterPeace organisers were doing to me what I also do in my daily work to others. They tried to convince me that my story matters, and is good enough to tell.
"When people tell their stories, they become protagonists, people who make things happen"
The power of story
RNW Media believes strongly in the link between storytelling and individual agency. I personally believe that when people tell their own stories, they are less likely to think of themselves as background characters in the narrative of their society. When people tell their stories, they become protagonists, people who make things happen in their societies.
As editor of Wazaonline.com, I spend time coaxing and helping young change-makers; bloggers, poets, photographers, and many others, to tell the story of their communities through their own personal experiences.
Upon further reflection, I realised that the event was about something similar to why I am personally motivated in my work: moving people from a sense of inadequacy, a feeling that they cannot make as big a contribution to the human story as Nelson Mandela did, to a feeling that they can also play a part-no matter how small- to create the type of society they want to live in. This can be at a national or global level.
When Mandela was a young man, he made choices that led him down the path to greatness, though he may not have known it at the time. What is important is that he, like many other people who made sacrifices to dismantle Apartheid in South Africa, made a choice that he would play his part in crafting the story of his society. The imprint of his choices still shapes the conversation in South Africa today.
So I decided to tell my story and inspire people to ‘Be a Nelson’. In telling my story, I hoped to inspire the participants I interacted with to not only the mellow old ‘Nelson’ people remember from his last days, but also the firebrand young man who fought the Apartheid system, the young lawyer who saw injustice, and refused to idly sit by.
He chose to be one of the people that took a stand.
"Helping young change-makers on their path to altering their communities for the better"
Caring about peace
It sounded like a huge task, to try and spark something that could change the entire planet from a personal story, but in the end, great social movements are made up of individuals.
MasterPeace international is an organisation that aims to get young people to care about peace building in their communities, as RNW Media similarly tries to help young change-makers on their path to altering theirs for the better.
If I managed, in sharing my story, to move just one more person from the ranks of hand-wringing spectators to those of the actively engaged change-makers, then I would say it was a day more than well spent!