When Peace Begins on a Whiteboard

On any given day at WorkWell, you’ll hear at least three languages being spoken as students, instructors, and managers communicate with each other in a mix of English, Arabic, and Kurdish.

The mix of backgrounds, cultures, and languages is one of my favorite things about this place.

WorkWell is a space to help refugees and people affected by war learn tech skills and access the online job market. Some of our students have university degrees already, while others were forced to drop out of high school because of ISIS or war.

But beyond training and employment, WorkWell is a safe and accepting community for people of all backgrounds.

Christians. Muslims. Yazidis. Kurds. Syrians. Iraqis. They gather side-by-side every day in our spaces across Iraq.

We don’t ignore these differences. We don’t pretend they don’t exist. Because peacemaking is not about ignoring the things that make us different. It’s about celebrating and accepting our differences and recognizing the dignity that is common in all of us.

This week, in an effort to celebrate the diversity of her students, one of our WorkWell instructors drew the flags of her students’ nationalities on a whiteboard. She drew a Kurdish flag (upper left), a Syrian flag (lower left), and an Iraqi flag (not pictured). She even included an American flag for me.

Then the instructor walked away from the classroom, not thinking much about it.

When she returned to the class a few minutes later, a student had added drawings of a mosque, a church, and a Yazidi temple, encircled by a heart. The instructor was surprised but extremely pleased and proud.

There’s been intense conflict and violence between these groups throughout Iraq’s history. We’ve never explicitly told the students about our dream for WorkWell to embody the more peaceful future we envision for Iraq. We’ve never told them we hope this is the beginning of the end of violence between religious and cultural groups. We simply live it out.

But it turns out, our students are already envisioning the same future.

It’s a hopeful image (even if the student did ask for extra credit afterward.) It goes to show if we make space for peace, it will show up in ways we would never expect. Like on a whiteboard.

Peacemaker Fridays are published weekly to share stories of people unmaking violence around the world. Be inspired. Take action.