URI nonviolence center wins national peacemaker award

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Award praises URI’s unique nonviolence training programs for international scholars, activists, public officials

KINGSTON, R.I. – Oct. 16, 2014 – Activists from throughout the world come to the University of Rhode Island every summer to learn how to bring peace to hostile communities.

The program is a big success, and one of the reasons URI’s Center for NonViolence & Peace Studies won the 2014 “National Peacemaker of the Year” award from Interfaith Paths to Peace, based in Kentucky.

The Interfaith organization singled out the URI center for its unique training programs in which international scholars, activists and government officials attend a two-week summer program about how to resolve conflicts peacefully.

“We were deeply honored to be recognized,” says Paul Bueno de Mesquita, the center’s director. “It’s a wonderful recognition of the center’s work – and our summer training institute.”

Terry Taylor, Interfaith’s director, praised the center for its outstanding work offering training and certification in nonviolence and peace education practices.

“The center’s training draws people from throughout the United States and world, many from different religions and faith traditions,” Taylor says.

“These individuals then apply those nonviolent practices to their communities and countries, where many of them shape a peaceful and nonviolent future for their fellow citizens.”

The award was presented to Bueno de Mesquita Sept. 26 at the St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Community Center in Louisville. Bueno de Mesquita spoke about “Gandhi and King: Sowing the Seeds of Peace” during the daylong event.

Previous winners of the annual award include the International Compassionate Cities Movement, the Patterson School of Diplomacy at the University of Kentucky and the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

Interfaith Paths to Peace is a nonprofit organization that strives to make Louisville, the country and the world more peaceful by offering programs aimed at increasing interfaith understanding.

URI’s nonviolence center was founded in 1998 by three faculty and staff members – Charles Collyer, Abu Bakr and Art Stein – who wanted to study and promote ways to settle disputes peacefully. Civil rights activist Bernard LaFayette was the center’s director until 2009.

More than 500 people have attended the International Nonviolence Summer Institute since it started 13 years ago and earned certification as nonviolence trainers. Nearly 70 people – a record number – went last summer. Participants were from 16 countries, including Pakistan, Afghanistan, Nepal, Liberia, Nigeria and Tibet.

Bueno de Mesquita is especially proud of several certified trainers who took what they learned back to their countries. Ahmadullah Archiwal, of war-torn Afghanistan, courageously conducts nonviolence trainings in Kunar Province, and Leonardo Prieto, of Venezuela, a country plagued by gun violence and political turmoil, leads nonviolent sessions for school and community groups.

“In the past two years, Prieto has probably trained at least 2,500 people,” says Bueno de Mesquita. “He’s doing an incredible job over there.”

Besides training sessions, the center, located at URI’s Multicultural Center, also offers an interdisciplinary minor for students, as well as workshops on compassion and inner peace and academic courses on Buddhist history, culture and philosophy.

The center also reaches out to the community. For the last seven years, the center has led a team of URI students in providing the “Second Step Violence Prevention Program” in Central Falls. “We have made a real significant difference in one of the neediest communities in Rhode Island,” says Bueno de Mesquita, “by strengthening the positive development of all kindergarten children.”

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Pictured above: left to right, Paul Bueno de Mesquita, director of URI’s Center for Nonviolence and Peace Studies, Kay Johnson, the center’s education coordinator, and Terry Taylor, director of Interfaith Paths to Peace in Louisville, Ky. Photo courtesy of Paul Bueno de Mesquita.