In his Port-au-Prince, Haiti neighborhood, 22-year-old Wallen Calistin is known as a peacemaker.
Patient, tolerant, and shy, as a young boy he struggled with how to communicate with his friends and neighbors in one of the most vulnerable parts of one of the world’s most dangerous countries, where a long history of structural inequalities and political upheaval has spawned a culture of violence. He could see a path to a more peaceful way of life, but bringing others along on that journey proved to be his biggest challenge.
Wallen saw that misunderstanding was at the root of the violent incidents around him, and that with some analysis, disagreements could be resolved before getting blown out of proportion and turning into violence.
“In my community, there are many divisions between people that lead to domestic and sexual violence,” he says. “I am very attentive to what is happening in my environment, and no matter what happens I try to discover the reasons, [in order] to better understand the problem and find solutions.”
Compassion and keen observation roused Wallen to action, but he felt his efforts to talk people down from conflict were ineffective.
That changed after he took part in AFSC’s peace education program on conflict resolution, where he learned how to work in collaboration with others to spread and model his message.
Now he is leading a group of young people in their 20s and 30s who share his vision of a more peaceful life. “We discovered some violent incidents that happened to youth going out to have fun at night, so [we are] promoting cultural activities linked with peace,” he says.
They’re also working to install lighting for security, and using theater to promote nonviolence and hygiene among residents, in an effort to prevent situations where violence seems necessary.
This group is one of the local peace networks that developed out of AFSC’s work to build lasting peace in Haiti. Looking at the problems in their neighborhoods and camps, groups of six to 12 active community members—like Wallen—do a deep analysis of the problems and viable alternatives, then work to bring the solutions to life.
At Saint Charles Borromee School, where Wallen is a youth facilitator, more than 650 students and their parents have participated in the peace education program to date. In 2013 AFSC hopes to train 225 more community leaders—mainly youth—to promote this kind of conflict transformation.
AFSC is also collaborating with other local groups to reduce different types of violence throughout Port-au-Prince. The combined effort is to work for lasting cultural change, replacing the culture of violence with one of peace.
For Wallen, connecting with a network boosted the volume of his voice in the community, but also gave him the support he needs to fuel his work for peace.
“Before I was very shy and it was very difficult to make interventions in public,” he says. “Now people come to me for planning, and when I’m discouraged, they encourage me.”