Our alumni are working in ways small and large to make an impact in their communities. This “Alumni Profiles” blog series will feature some of our over 7,000 changemakers in 27 countries around the world who are working to transform conflict.
Marios attended the Seeds of Peace Camp in 1998 as part of the Cypriot Delegation and is now a 2018 GATHER Fellow.
We spoke with him about his work promoting peace and detoxifying relations between Turkish and Greek Cypriots by building empathy between children.
Seeds of Peace: To start things off with an icebreaker, what’s your superpower?
Marios: My superpower is patience!
Seeds of Peace: Tell us a little about your journey to where you are now.
Marios: I always say that my life is the outcome of a draw. In 1998, my mom picked me up from school and told me that the Fulbright Commission was sending a Cypriot delegation to the US through Seeds of Peace. I applied, and along with the other candidates, my name went into a hat. They drew it—and that has determined my life ever since. Camp was my life-changing moment, when I first understood the conflict from the other side. From there, I decided to study education. I believe that education should be used to end the conflict, not to regenerate it.
Barriers are created through the educational models that have been set up and followed. Mental barriers, the ones we learn through indoctrination, are more deeply rooted than the physical. This, however, can also mean that mental will can destroy physical barriers. If people are ready for peace, the barriers will be destroyed.
Seeds of Peace: Could you describe your project, Children’s Books Tell Stories of Peace?
Marios: Among other things, I work as a teacher. One day last October, a little girl came to school in tears. A boy was making fun of her saying she loved another boy.
“Of course you love him,” I told her, “because we love all people.”
“But sir,” asked one of the boys, “do we even love the Turks?”
I told him, “Of course we love the Turks. They are people too.”
That was a saddening event for me. These are eight-year-old kids, and the conflict—this culture of othering—is being perpetuated and forced upon them by family, by school, by society. I realized there is a space where children are the masters of themselves: their imagination.
So I thought that children’s books would be a good way of countering that message with one of tolerance and intercultural respect.
Seeds of Peace: How will you go about doing that?
Marios: There are no culturally-relevant peace education books specific to the conflict in Cyprus, so I decided to create an original children’s series that is. Another part is identifying children’s books written by Cypriot authors that carry messages related to global education and peace. From there, we’ll translate these books into other languages, like from Greek to English to Turkish, then republish and distribute them through events like book launches.
I realized there is a space where children are the masters of themselves: their imagination.
Seeds of Peace: Can you give us some spoilers on one of the books you’re writing?
Marios: I got the idea for it while sitting at a bar right on the dividing line of Nicosia. There was a cat roaming back and forth, from one side to the other. The cat didn’t see the divides like we do, because borders don’t exist to it.
So the book will follow these talking cats, who can cross through no-man’s land just like that. Then there’ll be children who meet the cats and learn from them. The cats will take the kids all over Nicosia and introduce the city to them, because they know every corner of it. I think it’s important to teach kids the history of the city, to keep it specific and culturally relevant.
For me, it will be beautiful if children come to love the characters and ask their parents to take them on a walk around the city. Hopefully, one day, children and their parents will get to live more like the cats in the old city of Nicosia.
We can’t wait to read his books! Thoughts on Children’s Books Tell Stories of Peace, or on what other Seeds of Peace alumni we should profile next? Sound off below!
Photos by Stina Svanberg.