Human Journey

UN Secretary General Highlights Explorer’s Peace Work

At the recent UN Alliance of Civilizations (UNAOC) Conference in Vienna, Austria, Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon encouraged the Alliance “to support peacemakers on both sides [of conflicts].”

As an example, he highlighted the work of National Geographic Explorer Aziz Abu Sarah:

“A Palestinian raised in Jerusalem, Aziz was 12 years old when his brother was killed. His first response was anger and frustration and radicalization.  As a teenager, he wanted revenge. But as he matured he realized he had a choice.  He chose not to hate.

…Aziz now works to advance mutual understanding, creating tours of the Holy Land that show both sides’ views…

We must support more of this kind of work, especially among the youth who can lead our world from conflict to harmony.” (Watch video above.)

I spoke to Aziz shortly afterwards and here’s what he had to say:

Did you know you would be mentioned in this speech?
No, I knew when my friend who was there sent me a message telling me the UNSG is talking about you.

The support of the Alliance is helping you to increase the work of your group, MEJDI Tours. How is the expansion going?
Very good. I am in Tunisia with BMW at the 2nd Young Leaders Forum where MEJDI (Middle East Justice and Development Initiative) is getting help, and consultation on how to grow. I am exploring expansion to Tunisia. We already started Turkey, Northern Iraq, Egypt, Jordan, and this year Spain and next year starting with Northern Ireland.

What are some other groups that would be good for the Alliance to support?
They choose every year 10 new groups to support. They have chosen two other organizations I am involved in: Radio All for Peace and the Parents Circle Families Forum. (See all this year’s awardees.)

What does having your work highlighted in this speech mean for you?
The UN partnership from last year has been very helpful and I appreciate that the Secretary-General took time to talk about peacebuilders and not only politics. It shows that he understands that change doesn’t happen by politicians alone but rather by individuals who decide to make a difference from the bottom up. He mentioned my company MEJDI which aims to do that through business and tourism.

That is is important because change doesn’t happen through non-profits alone, but rather through transforming our every day life, our businesses, our transactions. I feel that him mentioning this project especially is an endorsement of this vision.

NEXT: Learn More About Aziz Abu Sarah and His Work

Andrew Howley is a longtime contributor to the National Geographic blog, with a particular focus on archaeology and paleoanthropology generally, and ancient rock art in particular. He is currently beginning a new role as communications director at Adventure Scientists, founded by Nat Geo Explorer Gregg Treinish. Over 11 years at the National Geographic Society, Andrew worked in various ways to share the stories of NG explorers and grantees online. He also produced the Home Page of for several years, and helped manage the Society's Facebook page during its breakout year of 2010. He studied Anthropology with a focus on Archaeology from the College of William & Mary in Virginia. He has covered expeditions with NG Explorers-in-Residence Mike Fay, Enric Sala, and Lee Berger. His personal interests include painting, running, and reading about history.

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