Gizem Kavaz: “Peace must be cultivated; we need to work for it everyday”
Gizem Kavaz is a Cypriot activist committed to promoting peace in Cyprus. She acknowledges that the path to peace can be hard to progress when the political rhetoric across the island is so divisive. But Gizem is not discouraged, “Peace is hard work. Nothing worthwhile comes easy. It is a process not a one-off event or effort. We need to work for it every day.”
Gizem works at the Cyprus Turkish Teachers’ Trade Union as an External Relations Coordinator and is also one of the trainers of the Imagine project which focuses on education for a culture of peace implemented by the Association for Historical Dialogue and Research.
In early 2022, she participated in the mindful leadership project, which aims to provide participants with breath and meditation practices to reduce stress, increase resilience and creativity, and to serve as a platform for interactive discussions to enhance communication and interpersonal skills.
“This intercommunal programme was a unique opportunity to engage in a deeper level of discussions on peacebuilding, social cohesion and self-emotional regulation with peacebuilders around Cyprus,” Gizem recalls.
She adds that “it was a fantastic journey of exploring various concepts, values and emotions through sharing our personal experiences, insights and opinions in a very safe environment provided by both mentors and participants.”
“I became aware of the importance of understanding the source of my feelings, improving my problem-solving skills, and building constructive self-confidence for my work as a human-being and a peacebuilder and I felt more motivated to support other people in my inner circle and to reach out more people who put efforts for creating positive change in society,” she explains.
Gizem stresses that “it is important to cultivate a culture of peace through alternative education methods in countries like Cyprus, with a history of conflict, where communities share mutual losses, separation, grief, and traumas which results in having prejudices and negative feelings against the people from the “other community.”
Inspired by the project, Gizem started implementing her own peace project with focus at the transformative power of peace education and breathing techniques. She designed a workshop to equip educators and teacher candidates with various skills and tools such as developing socio-emotional intelligence, self-awareness, emotional self-regulation, deepen empathy, participation, active listening, developing critical and creative thinking, understanding the concepts of antiracism, acceptance, inclusion and appreciating multiculturalism and diversity.
The idea about her project came from her strong belief that “to create sustainable peace in Cyprus, we need to rebuild the education systems on both sides of the island”.
Highlighting that “no one is too small to create change and contribute to peace building in Cyprus,” Gizem explains that teachers are highly influential in the education systems on both communities on the island: “they inspire and encourage young generations and are also change makers of their communities.”
The mindful leadership project was organized by Hands Across the Divide and the International Association for Human Values and supported by UNFICYP and implemented from January to June 2022.