By Nkiruka Nnorom
PRECIOUS Ajunwa, an Imo State born graduate of English Language Education from Abia State University, is the Project Lead and Founder, Galaxy4Peace, a youth-focused non-governmental organisation, NGO, that is centred on peace building. Growing up in a family where peace is the watchword and also driven by the desire to ensure that youths become agents of peace rather than conduits of violence, Precious decided on graduation from the university to set up an NGO to teach and pursue peace through various programmes.
In this interview with Woman’s Own, the soft-spoken Precious, who also holds a second degree in Office and Development Study from the University of Ilorin, highlighted some of her accomplishments and said that the drive to see families and the wider society co-habit peacefully has kept her going despite all odds.
Tell us about your Galaxy4Peace.
We are trying to change the narrative; the perception by the society that young people are only actors and instigators of conflict. We are trying to encourage more young people to come into the business of peace building for us to achieve sustainable development. Mahatma Gandi said that we cannot achieve lasting peace except we begin with the young people. So, young people being in the vanguard of peace building is very important.
Why is your focus on peace?
Peace is an important business though not everyone sees it like that. If, for instance, we are calling for economic development, if we are calling investors to come into our country and seeing Nigeria in a volatile state, nobody will want to invest in such a country.
Peace building is an important business and should be everyone’s priority.
In the four years that you have been pushing for peace using your pet project, how successful would you say you have been?
On a scale of zero to 10, we will say seven in the sense that the programme we are promoting, is quite an impressive one. The feedback we get from young people leading the peace cause after undergoing training from the capacity building we organise and the feedback we get from the schools where we run a campaign we call ‘Teach Peace Early’ basically to teach peace education in schools are quite encouraging and that is the only thing that keeps us going despite the challenges we encounter while doing the normal thing.
So, apart from the ‘Teach Peace Early’ that you spoke about, what other projects do you pursue through Galaxy4Peace?
We have a project we call ‘Peace at Workplaces’. We’ve observed that conflict happens at work places as well and when it is not properly managed, it affects both the input and output of the staff and whosoever that is involved in that particular conflict. So, ‘Peace at Workplaces’ is basically conducting conflict management training at workplaces. We go to offices; we write to offices and tell them the reason why every member of their staff needs to undergo conflict management training. One thing we all should know is that conflict is inevitable and for us to solve that particular problem, we need to have the right tools. When you have the right tools and you know the conflict management handling style to adopt when conflict happens, it helps us to achieve sustainable peace to an extent.
We also have a programme we call ‘Sweat for Peace’. ‘Sweat for Peace’ is basically the concerted effort of individuals both public and private sectors coming together to do something for peace in observance of the International Peace Day. So, we try as much as possible to bring people together and want them to physically sweat. Apart from that, by people donating towards that particular project out of their pockets, they are indirectly sweating, but this time around, not like physical sweat so to say.
When someone is coughing some money from his or her pocket, they are also indirectly sweating. So, it is an international event, just like the World Malaria day, HIV day and the rest of them. We want to let world also know that we have people who are interested in Nigeria achieving a peaceful society.
We also have what we call ‘Peace Meal with Precious’. It is like a social side of peace building. Considering our target audience who are young people between the ages of eight to 25, we try as much as possible to bring in innovative projects that will catch their attention for us to plant in the seed of peace in them. So, ‘Peace Meal with Precious’ is a talk show. What we do with ‘Peace Meal with Precious’ is that we give out tasks to the people that fall in the range of our target audience.
That task is always centred on peace building and after giving it out, we get some entries from young people and we later put out the entries to the public for people to vote the one they think deserves to win that particular task. That winner is taken to an executive restaurant to have a meal with me. We also try as much as possible to get a celebrity to join us on the meal. But, above all, they are going to undergo a six week conflict management training, when we are having that lunch, the discussion is always centred on peace building. So, using that particular method, we see many young people coming closer to us for us to plant the seed of peace in them. Over the years, we have been doing that, but two months ago, we started making a video out of it, which is on Youtube for people to watch and like. The young people we have had over the years have in turn done something in their community with regards to peace building as a result of the seed we planted.
But if you really want to achieve lasting peace, your campaign should cut across all age brackets. Is there no programme for older people in your organisation?
‘Peace at Workplaces’ is for all ages; it is for working class people. We have what we call ‘Parents Effectiveness Training’ for parents to know how to train and communicate with their kids, to model respectful communication. The fact that you are a parent does not mean that you should talk down on your kids. So, we teach parents how to manage their kids from childhood to adolescence and adulthood. We have stakeholders; we have companies getting involved with ‘Sweat for Peace’. We also have Civil Society Groups, government agencies and schools getting involved with ‘Sweat for Peace’. Besides, we do regular capacity building for all age groups.
Do you have the buy-in of any organisation in the form of partnerships? How do you get it done?
For instance, if we have a project and we identify a company that will be interested in that, we approach them, write and try to convince of them of the need why they should get involved. Over the years, we have partnership with Pepsi Nigeria, Fidson Healthcare Plc. When it comes to Civil Society Groups, we have partnership with an organisation called Peace-One-Day. We also have partnership with Peace Walk which is based in Canada. We also have partnership with Peace Day itself which is also an international organisation as well. When it comes to Nigeria, we are in partnership with Climate Wednesday. This year, we concluded partnership conversation with United Nation Information Centre, which is collaborating with us on 2017 ‘Sweat for Peace’.
I’m sure it has not been a smooth ride all-through. ..
What keeps us still standing is that we didn’t start Galaxy4Peace because we are looking for money. We started Galaxy4Peace because we want to make an impact and what drives you to make an impact is passion. Without that passion, you can’t go anywhere. Galaxy4Peace is a self-sponsored organisation to a large extent . We are always very grateful to the few organisations that are very much involved in what we do like Pepsi. We try to tell people that; if you can give us the human resources, if you can give us the items we need, we will be okay with that. If for instance, we want to hold a training and the training space is N150,000 and you accept to provide the training space, that is what we want, it is not money itself.
Another challenge we see is when some people say that you cannot achieve peace in the society. I see that as a challenge because you are trying to put something together and someone is telling you that it cannot be done. Though we have schools that write to us and say ‘we want you to start ‘Teach Peace Early’ and we also have parents that contact to us and say that they want us to start ‘Teach Peace Early’ in their children’s school and they just do the connection. Apart from that, we go to schools ourselves and meet the principals and administrators if they would be interested for us to start teaching peace education in their schools. The only way we surmount that is to talk them into seeing the need why we should all work together.
Are your activities centred in Lagos alone?
Yes, our activities are centred in Lagos for now, but we actually started in Ilorin, Kwara State. But that is not to say that we have not done projects in other places. We have done projects in Owerri, Imo State as well as places like Port-Harcourt, Rivers State. We intend to spread our tentacles more to reach a wider audience.
Any plan of taking the campaign to the more volatile regions in the country?
Of course, we have visited the IDP camps over a period of time to conduct what we call trauma healing for the displaced persons. We are planning to visit Makurdi; we are not afraid of violence.
As someone that has been involved in peace building, what would you say is the cause of youth restiveness and what would be your advice to the government and other world leaders in arresting violence and youth restiveness?
Family is very important when it comes to the foundation of world peace. Why I say so is because from the kind of training I got from my parents, most of the things I do now are as a result of the training. Sometimes, I see myself trying to take some actions, but when I remember that this is not part of my family tradition, I see myself drawing back. Family peace building is the foundation to world peace if we really want to achieve that. When parents guide their children or wards to the right path in life, I don’t see those children indulging in violence. I know unemployment has its own role to play. We will not deny that, but that is not to say that if today, I am out of job then because of that, I indulge in acts of violence. No! If I am not trained up in that path, I don’t see myself taking that route.
Social interaction to build bonding
Another way we could look at addressing this issue is by encouraging young people to identify those things that interest them. It could be very little, but most people that are big today started very small. There are so many businesses you could start up without renting a shop in Nigeria. Technology is also there; we see so many opportunities online, people asking people to apply for grants for start-ups. Just turn in a very good proposal and put it up there. Sometimes, some people will say I wrote once, I wrote twice and I didn’t get anything and you see them losing faith. No!
21 September was 2017 International Peace Day. What activities did Galaxy4Peace have lined up for that?
Considering that we want as many people as possible to get involved for us to plant the seed of peace and for them to spread it across, we always hold our event on Saturday. So, we used social interaction to build bonding. We had a peace talk as well. We have different games and we have football as well. We have five different fitness instructors lined up and the theme for each of the sessions they are leading is coined from International Peace Day theme. We have the one we call ‘Together for Peace’. We are dancing Together for Peace.
We have the one that is called ‘Respect and Safety for all Humans’. We have the one that is called ‘Dignity for All’ and we have a session that is called ‘Peace Day’. So, we have a narrative behind each of the sessions. We have to tell the narrative on the stage for people to understand why we have to build peace together. We need to tell the narrative to help people understand why respect for all humans is necessary not minding the colour, the gender and the race.