‘How to make a change? Act on your crazy desire!’

(Quote of Leymah Gbowee, Liberian Nobel Peace Prize Laureate 2011)


Peace Symposium brings together Nobel Peace Prize laureates and practitioners on the role of science in (post-)conflict situations

Peace Symposium Flanders 041113 - Poster Expo By VLIR-UOS - Picture Hans Van De Water (16)On 4 November 2013 the Flemish Government organized an International Peace Symposium on the role of science in trauma treatment and the transformation of societies. Among the participants were several Nobel Peace Prize Laureates. VLIR-UOS was co-organizer of the symposium and organizer of a poster exhibition on research projects on conflicts in developing countries.

The aim of the symposium was to examine how science can contribute to the effective recognition and addressing of traumas inflicted by war, armed conflicts, natural catastrophes and other large-scale calamities, and to the transformation of societies in (post) conflict or (post) disaster situations.

Women are like sponges

One of the most remarkable speakers was Liberian Madam Leymah Gbowee, 2011 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate and president of the Gbowee Peace Foundation Africa. She confronted the audience with the impact of war on African women: 

Women are like sponges: they are taking the pain of the war in them.’ Leymah Gbowee has worked with thousands of woman affected by war. She offers them a safe space to tell their story. ‘You cannot engage to peace when there is so many pain inside.’

‘I have a PhD, I come to save you’

Leymah Gbowee recognizes the importance of science and international cooperation in post-conflict transformation. But she does not like the attitude of some researchers:

Some white researchers arrive and say “I have a PhD. I am a specialist in Liberia. I come to save you.” I answer them: “You just read books. You have to experience first how it is to live in Liberia.” Researchers should listen and learn first.’

Crazy desire

To make a real change, you have to act on that crazy desire you feel inside yourself, Leymah Gbowee assured us. ‘Never hold back! It did not make sense to anyone in the beginning, but that craziness is the start of a process. Look at what Nelson Mandela achieved.’

Betty Williams agreed: to make a difference ‘you need idealism, realism and hard work’. The Irish 1976 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate creates worldwide cities of peace with her foundation to defend the rights of children.

Policymakers need more data

There is a disconnect between scientific work and practitioners, Leymah Gbowee remarks. When she got her academic degree in the United States, it just confirmed that she was doing good work on the field. Science often confirms things that practitioners already know, she observes.

Marleen Temmerman, Director of the Department of Reproductive Health and Research, World Health Organization, emphasizes on the need to bridge the gap between policymakers and researchers. ‘Policymakers need more data’ she argues. 

Research exhibition on conflicts in developing countries

Peace Symposium Flanders 041113 - Poster Expo By VLIR-UOS - Picture Hans Van De Water (20)The more than 200 participants of the symposium got the opportunity to get in touch with researchers involved in research on conflicts. VLIR-UOS organized a poster exhibition to show the results of cooperation between Flemish universities and their partners in Africa, Asia and Latin America.

The posters dealt with topics as the role of education in post-conflict countries, the importance of restorative transitional justice in Colombia or the impact of the Gacaca courts in Postgenocide Rwanda.


Video: psychotherapy for war-affected families in Uganda

At the symposium VLIR-UOS showed a video on a proyect of Ugandan and Flemish researchers. Together they develop a training curriculum in psychotherapeutic counseling. Journalist Chris Michel went to Uganda to make a video on the project. Read more and watch the video.

Flanders initiates 'International Trauma and Transformation network'

With the creation of a Trauma and Transformation Network Kris Peeters, Minister-President of the Government of Flanders, provides a concrete follow-up of the recommendations of the International Peace Symposium.

Minister-President Kris Peeters: 'With this network, we want to gather Flemish expertise and scientific knowledge regarding trauma treatment and the transformation of societies. In the long run the network should be deployable in conflict regions worldwide so that the expertise of Flanders can provide an important contribution in these regions in need.'

VLIR-UOS welcomes the creation of the Network and will support it actively.


On the Peace Symposium's website you can find some documents, such as the brochure and the declaration, as well as some video's about the symposium.

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