Gwendolyn Myers: A peace advocate

Mobilising the young for peace and development. She talked about her experience. 

I was born in 1990, a year after the Liberian civil war began, and was only 13 years old when the war ended in 2003. My mother told me that at the time of my birth, she could not afford even a blanket to wrap the new baby. A midwife was kind enough to assist with a cloth. Those were trying times for my family.

As a child, I dreamt of seeing an airplane—not even being in it—and regularly begged my father to take me to the airport to see one. These days, I fly to different regions of the world on speaking engagements as a peace and human rights advocate. The countries I have visited include the United States, Turkey, the Netherlands, Cambodia, South Africa and Rwanda, among others.

I did not initially aspire to a career in peace, human rights and women and youth empowerment advocacy; I wanted to be a doctor and had successfully completed undergraduate studies in chemistry and biology at the Mother Patern College of Health Sciences, an affiliate of the Stella Maris Polytechnic, in Monrovia, Liberia. 

Once I began getting involved in peace advocacy, witnessing the international community’s peace efforts in my country, I realised that disarming the fighters was just an aspect of peace; to achieve genuine peace requires reconciliation among the various groups, between young and old, the genders, etc.

I decided against going for medical studies, a move that mystified friends and relatives. In fact, my pastor urged my parents to “speak sense into” me. A career in medicine, they felt, would be much more rewarding than any advocacy work I might want to do. Peace advocacy would be a waste of my intellect and talent, they insisted.

I received a Gbowee Peace Foundation scholarship funded by the US Agency for International Development and the International Research and Exchanges Board, a non-profit, in 2012. This enabled me to study peacebuilding and leadership at the Centre for Justice and Peacebuilding, Eastern Mennonite University, Virginia, US. It was an opportunity I took delightedly.

My passion for peace work began at age 13, when I would engage other children as the presenter of a radio programme. My father had taken me to the Talking Drum Studios in Monrovia, managed by the nongovernment organization Search for Common Ground. Following weeks of practice, I was selected from among many other children to present a programme called Golden Kids News. Through this programme, I learned how to confidently articulate issues.

In high school and during my undergraduate studies, my friends and the school administration often called me to settle disputes between students. It was an indication that I could do well in peace efforts. On my graduation, the Catholic Media Centre hired me to present a programme on Radio Veritas, its broadcast channel. 

A life-defining moment came in 2008 when the United Nations Mission in Liberia asked me to help organize a group of young volunteers to raise awareness among the youth on social issues such as HIV and AIDS, anti-rape and so on. We later named the group Messengers of Peace, and registered it as a nongovernmental organization with the goal of engaging young people nationwide in volunteerism and peacebuilding.

In 2017 I was elected to the World Economic Forum’s Global Shapers Advisory Council, for governance and accountability. The forum also nominated me as an expert in human rights, making me one of more than 5,000 leading experts engaged by the forum to shape a global agenda. I am also a member of the Working Group on Youth for Gender Equality coordinated by the UN Inter-Agency Network on Youth Development.

The highlight of my career was in 2015 when I delivered the first-ever official address on youth, peace and security on behalf of the United Network of Young Peacebuilders before the UN Peacebuilding Commission in New York. I used the occasion to advocate for the adoption of Resolution 2250, which urges countries to include young people in peace processes and conflict resolution. 

I believe that young people need to demonstrate wisdom and ethical conduct and must be engaged in community- and youth-based initiatives that promote peaceful coexistence.