The British NGO was the only one in the Luxembourg Peace Prize’s trajectory that won the prize as an outstanding organisation without having funding or sponsors
In its 2 years of existence (it will be 3 in July), Words Heal the World has formed a family that works for a single cause: peace. Combining the exchange of experiences with education, Words Heal improves volunteers´ skills and encourage them to use their skills for peace. Despite the lack of funding, the new recognition signals that the family is moving in the right direction. The main goal has always been clear, it is in the name of the organisation. What truly motivates us to use our creativity for peace is our belief that we can heal ou world. A few days ago, the founder of Words Heal, Beatriz Buarque – who we know as Bea – gave me this interview to express the importance of this reputable prize. Actually, this was more a chat than an interview because as I said previously we are family, and friendship is what connects us. We don´t use our skills to promote peace solely as an NGO. We use our skills to promote peace as a family. After all, the planet is our home and, as a family, we can see more clearly that dialogue is the only means to reach peace.
Words Heal the World: First, how did you feel when you were notified about the prize?
Beatriz Buarque: It was surreal! I never imagined that in a short time we would have this recognition. I received a message from the person in charge of it and I wanted to go screaming! The path I chose was not an easy one, so when I received the message, my first feeling was that despite all the difficulties, I was in the right direction. I always believed that hard work pays off someday. But it may take a long time for this to happen and my journey as head of Words Heal has been everything but easy. It involved many sacrifices, including leaving behind a career as a journalist and stay away from my son for many months. People judged me. For many days, I wasn´t able to stay with my son because I had to devote time to this cause. Even though he was only a boy, he always supported me because he understands that I am working to give a better world for his generation.
It’s not the first prize given to Words Heal (the NGO won the Transcendence Award in 2019 granted by Michigan State University), what does this experience with the Luxembourg Peace Prize 2020 bring to our work?
BB: Words Heal as a project is only two years old, and as an NGO it is only one. The fact that in such a short period of time, our work has received two international recognitions is revealing. It reveals the power of young people because they are at the forefront of the messages produced by Words Heal to challenge hate speech and tackle extremism. These prizes indicate two main things: first, that we are in the right direction. Two, that lack of funding hasn´t prevented us from working because students are motivated by their passion and their belief that they are making a difference in our society.
I think that what students value the most in Words Heal is the experience they have here because we are a family.
We are connected through friendship ties and, as a family, we share experiences and grow together. This is priceless! I want to say that the prize belongs to each one of us because each one is equally important. The award is an acknowledgment. What is most important about Words Heal the World is that we can use our talent, our words on social media to promote peace. This is what makes us unique and it is also what encourages me to move forward.
How can this recognition contribute to the work developed by Words Heal the World? What are the opportunities that can come with it?
BB: We live in a very competitive world, Words Heal the Worlds is not the only NGO that tackles extremism and challenges hate speech. There are dozens of NGOs doing this. There is a market for that. The fact that we have students who are the main developers of strategies against extremism is the originality that has brought the awards. I hope the Luxembourg Peace Prize will open many doors to us because we must build bridges between academia and civil society. Young people have the freshness and creativity we need to develop more efficient strategies to challenge hate speech. I have been thinking a lot lately… I have the creative mind of a journalist that helps me exchange experiences with young people, I have the analytical mind that is necessary to develop a new theory. However, when we talk about entrepreneurial skills, I confess that I really need to improve them and I know that this has somehow affected Words Heal because we haven´t found sponsors yet. I hope this award brings the visibility we need to maximize our actions.
I believe that there are two main things in the work of Words Heal: the bridge between academia and civil society and the production of content to tackle different types of extremism, can you tell me the importance of them for those people who are not familiar with our work?
BB: Words Heal is unique exactly because our main actors are not experts. They are young people, undergraduate students from all over the world. The bridges we build between universities and civil society are extremely important because they turn our work sustainable and fill two existing gaps. One: universities have been increasingly pushed to provide a safe environment for students through the cultivation of critical thinking, especially addressing topics such as racism, xenophobia, homophobia, and misogyny. However, many times they don´t have the necessary means to really engage students with the topics and make them access it from a critical perspective that is not only theoretical but also practical. The second gap concerns civil society organisations that cannot afford a social media team. What do we do? We educate students on the importance of using digital media to challenge hate speech and we encourage them to implement their ideas and also help increase the visibility of institutions that have been working to prevent radicalisation. Something that has been in my mind from the very beginning is that if young people are the main target of extremist groups, we should work together we them. Not solely explaining what is hate speech or extremism, but engaging them with the struggle against these narratives that do pose a threat to democracy.
What the “Bea” from today would say to the “Bea from two years ago who had a career turnaround and embraced Words Heal with such commitment? I believe she had a moment full of uncertainties, what message would you like to tell her?
BB: I think today’s “Bea” would say something very simple: It was worth it.
From Gabriel J. (UFRJ – Brazil)