As a social entrepreneur, there are many days dedicated to making a difference on my calendar, and International Peace Day is no exception. Every year on the 21st of September, International Peace Day is observed around the world. The United Nations declared this as a day devoted to strengthening and spreading the ideals of peace, both within and between nations and different groups. Social problems such as inequality, poverty and racism are both challenges to peace and the result of conflict, but how can they be overcome? And, with the media’s constant reporting of violence around the world, can we even dare to dream of peace?
One now-famous effort to promote peace and understanding between the diverse range of people who make up our world is the formation of an Olympic refugee team. This has the potential to change the attitudes of many people towards refugees to a more positive light, in a time where they are often demonised to be exploited as a political tool. One of the women on the Refugee Team is 18-year-old Yusra Mardini, a Syrian refugee who swam for over three hours in order to assist the others on her boat to safety. After being selected for the team, and her victory in a 100m butterfly heat, Yusra is now world-famous. One social media post on her story, from a Facebook page and website of inspirational material for families of young girls, was shared over 130,000 times. Reminding us that we are not so different, she has said: “We are not only refugees. We are like everyone in the world. We can do something. We can achieve something.” Swimming ability aside, there isn’t much separating us.
While refugee athletes may inspire those of us privileged enough to be from stable areas, what about others who have been forced to leave their homes? For young refugees, who may be in insecure circumstances and so easily preyed upon by negative influences that go against all ideals of peace, could they act as positive role models? There is, in fact, evidence showing that positive role models may reduce the risk of violence in young people. Research has also found that role models sharing the same gender and race are linked with even better results in school. This shows the importance of having role models who are similar, as they can be more relatable. Young women, and young people from disadvantaged or oppressed groups, can see explicit examples of what they are able to achieve when role models just like them are available. Positive role models can also be protective against negative influences in the community, such as gangs or extremist groups. One study found that two role models are even better than one, because in this situation there was no link between negative influences and violent behaviour. The violent behaviour measured included assault, theft, carrying weapons and property damage.
Reading this research gave me hope that the world does have a chance at peace, even if we have to inspire one person at a time. This is one of the many reasons why I started Moeloco, as a pair of shoes means that a child can stay healthy, go to school and achieve their dreams while being a role model to others – not fall into bitterness and resulting harmful behaviour.
Until we meet again,