13 June 2003
Bonn, Germany: “We are convinced that volunteerism is more important than ever in light of such global problems as environmental degradation, poverty, drug addiction and HIV/AIDS.”
Almaz Biybosunov of Kyrgyzstan at the United Nations General Assembly, 26 November 2002
Peace accords brought an end to a decade of armed conflict in Niger in the late 1990s. For many ex-combatants, returning to civilian life was daunting. With the help of 12 UN Volunteers, however, 660 former ethnic Arab, Fulani and Toubou fighters have rediscovered their vocations. Benefiting from 95 small ventures under the N'Guigmi Peace Project in south-eastern Niger, they are earning an income and reintegrating into society.
Many have started raising goats and cattle once more. Merchants trade in livestock, iron implements, clothing and jewellery. And while taking up these activities under the initiative funded by UNDP, UNV and the French development agency, Cooperation francaise, the ex-combatants rely on each other - they network to promote a culture of peace. They connect via the airwaves, as volunteer rural radio announcers broadcast messages for peace and local development in Arabic, French and local languages.
They convene to talk peace at inter-communal meetings with traditional chiefs and elders and hold debates on ways the people can get involved in political decision-making. They offer training cassettes on conflict management and prevention to teachers in schools. And they set up development committees to discuss ways to use land and scarce water effectively - issues that had sparked years of conflict between the pastoral and nomadic groups. "There is no-one among us who does not understand the languages of the other, because we grew up together," said UN Volunteer Djoud Mohamed of Niger. "We, the Arabs, the Fulanis and the Toubous have lived and celebrated together. The rebellion broke our entente. Today, however, everyone is working to consolidate the peace."
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