As we continue to hear from young people across the globe involved in the peace building process, The Positive Organization caught up with Tamara Richardson, a trail blazer in youth development & peace building.
What keeps her going? How is she creating a culture of peace? What are her recommendations and suggestions to youth leaders around the world?
Positive Organization (PO): What's your full name, age and share a little about where you are from?
Tamara Richardson (TR): Hello! My name is Tamara Richardson, I am 24 years old and I currently live in Brisbane, Australia. I was raised in a small regional town called Gracemere, which has a population of about 6,000 people. When people think of Australia, they usually think of Sydney and Melbourne, however, my home town is about 700km away from the nearest capital city. Brisbane is also about a 45 minute drive away from the Gold Coast, which is hosting the Commonwealth Games this year, so there’s lots of infrastructure development happening at the moment in the lead up to the games!
PO: Share you background, growing up, any hardships, community, national
TR: As previously mentioned, I am from a small regional community. I was raised by my dad and he’s a business owner, so I was home alone quite a lot as a kid. It taught me independence from a very young age, and it wasn’t uncommon to get myself up in the morning, make breakfast, get ready for school and get myself to school as a 10 year old. In the afternoon, I would be home alone, do my homework, and see my dad for about two hours before bed. My dad also left school when he was 15, to earn a vocational trade, so the one thing he has constantly reminded me of is the luxury of education.
Every night growing up, he’d make me read for thirty minutes, and this routine led to my interest in a variety of topics, from economics, geopolitics, history, art and culture. Being from a small community, my interest and fascination in other cultures from a young age, meant that I was generally alone in this quest. I definitely didn’t fit in, and I was bullied quite a bit throughout school for it. Before I left for university in the city, my home town was hit by a big flood. My dad and I had to leave our home and live at my Grandma’s house, and I remember riding around the town at night in a small boat to check on my dad’s businesses for looters. It really affected our town. It took the town years to recover, and it also took years of state and federal government lobbying to get the finances for a bridge to ensure that if our town flooded again, we were able to get resources in and out.
PO: What does Peace mean to you? Share your experience in peace building, be specific to speak about female involvement in the process, share your journey, hardships, struggles & successes.
TR: Good question! I definitely think that Peace to me begins at home. I’ve worked tirelessly with the youth communities of Brisbane and Queensland to facilitate intercultural dialogue. Australia has a record number of migrants, both first and second generations, and so, intercultural and interfaith dialogue is really important to me. In 2016, after founding PACE 48, I was appointed an Associate of the UNESCO Chair in Intercultural & Interreligious Relations, Asia Pacific, and this has really allowed me the confidence and room to work with such a diverse cross section of youth. When thinking about Peace, we have to remind ourselves that we cannot force it on anyone. We need to first ask young people what they need and what they want, and adapt ourselves to that. I’ve found that generally, young people from diverse backgrounds just want to be heard, and just want their culture or religion or socioeconomic group represented, so when you bring these different youth together to have a discussion, what you get is a really enlightening experience where people learn things about different religions or cultures that they didn’t know before.
Women’s involvement in peace building, I think, is really important, and that’s not contextual, it is across the board. Women, whether we accept it or not, are still the primary caregivers and homemakers in a majority of societies, and so they are the ones the children will primarily learn behaviour from. They are the ones who can really work in creating a culture of peace. But also, outside of the home, we have women leading amazing peace building initiatives, and I’ve worked with them right across the world. This includes in Australia, but also in India, and Pakistan, where I’ve spent time learning how they mobilise young women into entrepreneurship, law, science and technology for example. During the process of founding a youth led initiative, PACE 48 (Promoting Access to Cultural Education, Asia Pacific).
I have worked with thousands of young people from more than 40 countries in the region, and the one consistent message is… we just want stability and we just want opportunity. So as a regional leader, it’s then my duty, not only as a woman involved in peace building processes, but as a young person responsible for being the voice for these young people to say, ‘You know your community better than I do.. What do you think we should do?’ This not only empowers these young people to really step up and take the lead in creating a peace building initiative in their community, but it also means that the solutions are community driven, which is really important to me. Of course, along the way, PACE 48 has had its ups and downs, particularly where geopolitics are concerned. In the beginning when we were launching the regional movement, which focuses on facilitating intercultural and interfaith relations with youth from 48 Asia Pacific countries, there were quite a few questions we had to ask of ourselves… are we targeting the right youth? How do we engage the disengaged? And so forth. To start with just a Facebook page, and today be taken seriously by UNESCO, the Governments in the region we work with, the civil society sector and universities is a really humbling experience and not one we take for granted. We’re really thankful.
PO: How is your country different, what are you doing to create a Culture of Peace, what are others doing, how would you rate your country to others?
TR: Everybody in Australia has their role to play, from the public sector, to the private sector, youth groups and civil society. The Australian Government is investing quite a lot of money into international institutions, for the development of training programs on countering violent extremism and so forth. This past weekend, Australia hosted the countering terrorism conference with the leaders of ASEAN in Sydney, so regionally Australia is leading the way in generating and securing a Culture of Peace. Internationally, Australia has jointly committed to funding the Commonwealth Secretariat’s Countering Violent Extremism Unit.
Locally, civil society play their part, particularly with recently arrived migrants and those on humanitarian visas. In a multicultural society like Australia, intercultural and interfaith dialogue has the capacity to bridge cultures, break down misunderstandings and allow our nation to grow together. I definitely think Australia is playing a leading part regionally and internationally in building a Culture of Peace, but that’s mainly because Australia has the technical and financial capacity to play this role. So in this regard, you could say that Australia has the responsibility to play this role. I think if we start comparing country A and country B, that’s where we forget a number of variables which actually contribute to developing a Culture of Peace or in turn limit a country from developing a Culture of Peace.
PO: In a globalized world, explain how collectively we can create a Culture of Peace.
TR: For me, we can collectively create a Culture of Peace by focusing on our own homes first. If we focus on ensuring that our own homes have peace, and then our neighbours have co-created with us two homes which have peace, then we can use this to continue expanding this culture together. Context is important. No two countries are the same, and they face different challenges. Globalisation has contributed greatly to the flow of ideas and people across the world, and so every nation and every community requires different approaches to creating this Culture of Peace. Sharing intelligence, information, and technical cooperation across borders will contribute to this process.
PO: What are your recommendations, suggestions, advise to youth advocates around the world?
TR: I always say, ‘don’t be afraid to pursue an idea, even it leads you away from your peers’. Two years ago, I took an idea with a Facebook page and today that idea has blossomed into a regional organisation across over 30 countries with support from so many intergovernmental organisations and governments. This shows us that young people are capable of coming together to build our own Culture of Peace. If you’re sitting there thinking to yourself, ‘I would like to do that’, then ask yourself, what is stopping me? Money? There is money to be found if you can find those who are as equally passionate about your idea as you are. Time? What are your priorities and are you willing to change them to invest in your passion? Networks? Step outside of your house. The scariest thing we can do as young people and young leaders is stray away from the norm and really have that conviction and passion for our project. If more young people took that risk off the proverbial cliff instead of staying in the safety zone, I wonder what other big things our world could have been exposed to by now. As somebody who has ran and jumped off of the cliff, it’s an uncertain yet incredibly rewarding place to be. Regardless of where you are and what you do, always remind yourself, ‘Who am I impacting with my work, and is this what they say they need?’
You can get involved. Do you know someone involved in the peace building process, email us their stories, videos and journey to firstname.lastname@example.org.