2019 Geneva Peace Week: Building trust in Geneva and in Europe

Geneva Peace Week Human Library 2019


Geneva is full of organizations which are working for peace, human rights and wellbeing, but they rarely come together. Each year, Geneva Peace Week seeks to break down the silos between these actors and to stress that ‘each and every person, actor and institution has a role to play in building peace and resolving conflict’. 


Geneva Peace Week Human Library 2019


IofC facilitated three events at this year’s Peace Week, which ran from 4–8 November. Two focused on networking and aimed to encourage collaboration between Geneva’s humanitarian, human rights and development organizations as well as the private sector, academia and the media. The other was a human library on ‘building trust in and around Europe’.   

The first networking event addressed ‘What is thriving and what is missing in the field of truth and trust?’. It was driven by participants’ questions and the topics they wished to be addressed.

The second event, on ‘Who is who at Geneva Peace Week?’, took place just before the official opening on the second day of the week. This one-hour facilitated event buzzed with energy, as around 120 people connected meaningfully with each other. Newly formed groups left together to attend the opening ceremony.  

As in previous years, IofC also organized a human library, in collaboration with the Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue, the Hospice général of Geneva, the Kofi Annan Foundation, Lake Aid, the Geneva Centre for Security Policy and the UN Library Geneva. About 80 people took part, choosing two ‘human books’ to engage with out of five possibilities:  


Geneva Peace Week Human Library 2019


  • Geneva’s Hospice Général is the canton’s main social welfare office. Its Director General, Christoph Girod, and Project Coordinator, Brice Ngarambe, focused on the integration of refugees and asylum seekers in Switzerland. Brice shared his own story as an asylum seeker, who is now well integrated and helping new arrivals. ‘Not being afraid of going towards the other and learning the language is the most important thing,’ he said. He spoke of the difficulty of building trust when you are unsure whether you’ll be allowed to stay. Going to university, sharing a flat with other students and volunteering had all helped him to integrate. Christoph Girod mentioned the difficulty caused by decisions being made far away in Bern. He welcomed a new law on asylum which, he said, will allow refugee and asylum seeker welcome centres to make decisions on the spot and thereby shorten the application process. 

  • Yevhen Shybalov, who works for the Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue in Ukraine, told how war came to his home region of Donbas. Half of Ukraine’s toxic waste is stored there, and this poses a threat to all parties in the conflict. He described how he helped to facilitate unofficial talks between experts on either side of the frontline, in the hope that ecological issues will become an essential part of any future settlement. ‘Common problems unite people,’ he said.  

  • Muna Ismail, a scientist and environmentalist of Somalian origin living in Great Britain, is passionate about land restoration in post-conflict states. Over the last four years, she has been developing IofC UK’s  Refugees as Rebuilders™ training programme for settled refugees from the Horn of Africa and other conflict-affected regions. She leads the programme’s module on sustainable livelihood. She is also developing a major project to reintroduce Yeheb, a drought-resistant plant which is native to Somalia and Somaliland and provides food for both animals and humans. 


  • Independent filmmaker Manuela Fresil presented clips of her documentary, The Good Wheat and the Tares, in which Burim, a 14-year-old asylum seeker from Macedonia, stars. Then she asked Burim, who arrived in France when he was four, about his personal experience. He said that the most difficult part of those 10 years in limbo were the nights he spent on the floor. His family has spent the last two years in an ‘emergency welcome centre’ and his biggest dream now is to live in an apartment and be ‘normal’, like the other children in his school. Manuela said she made the documentary because she couldn’t ‘live knowing that children live on the streets my own country’. The combination of Burim’s shyness and Manuela’s activism made this ‘book’ a very emotional one to ‘read’.  


  • The fifth human book was Hajer Sharief, co-founder of the Libyan NGO, Together We Build It, and part of the Extremely Together Initiative of the Kofi Annan Foundation. She made the point that what happens outside Europe affects the continent and vice versa. Her work focuses mainly on capacity building in Libya and raising awareness among the international community. She believes the present peace process is being handled as if it were a trade agreement and that women and children in particular are not adequately represented. ‘If people do not feel part of the process then peace will not be sustainable,’ she said. She called for a ban on supplying weapons to the armed groups. In Libya she organizes workshops for the community where she breaks down the formal concept of peace and security and brings it closer to community members, demonstrating that we all have a role to play.  


Geneva Peace Week Human Library 2019


After listening to two stories, participants gathered back in the main room to exchange what they had heard with each other. The books were then asked to share some final thoughts on how trust could be built in Europe.  

As intergenerational dialogue is an issue in Europe, Manuela half-jokingly suggested a language exchange programme for grandparents. She also thought that reinstating night trains across Europe could boost intercultural exchange. Burim hoped for the day when that no one will have to wait ten years to get their papers  

Brice and Christoph invited the audience to consider volunteering to help refugees and asylum seekers to integrate and to help them build trust in themselves. If you'd like to have more information on how to volunteer yourself you can take a look at their dedicated guide on how to volunteer (in French).   

The event was part of IofC Switzerland’s Enriching Encounters series. 


Featured Story

related stories

Geneva Peace Week 2023 workshop 2 November Ignacio Packer blog square

Have we forgotten the path to peace?

It has been an honour to have been part of the 10th anniversary edition of Geneva Peace Week. But once the curtains are drawn and the week is over - where do we go from here? Against the backdrop of c...

GPW 2021 FDFA and CDES event square

Building peace through improved land governance in West Africa

On 4 November 2021, Initiatives of Change Switzerland and the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs (Peace and Human Rights Division) organised a webinar in the framework of the Geneva Peace Wee...

Summer Academy 2020 Geneva fountain lake, credit: Leela Channer

Environmental peacebuilding must define our era

The theme of 2020’s Geneva Peace Week was ‘Rebuilding Trust after Disruption: pathways to reset international cooperation’. On 6 November, Initiatives of Change and the Geneva Centre for Security Poli...

Geneva Peace Week T4C square teaser

The Courageous Listener: Bearing Our Own Discomfort

Listening is a powerful tool that can have powerful effects on its recipient. It is also a difficult one to master. On 5 November 2020, Initiatives of Change Switzerland led an online workshop on the ...

Sticky Wall Facilitation

Training for an Enriching Encounters event during the Week against Racism

On 23 January 2020, Initiatives of Change Switzerland delivered a training for the organising team of ‘Servette against racism’ in order to prepare them for running an Enriching Encounters event durin...

Human Library, Week against Racism

Human Library: Face to face against racism in Vevey and Montreux

For the 2019 European Action Week against Racism, IofC facilitated two human libraries in Montreux and Vevey, offering face-to-face interactions on the links between discrimination, immigration and un...

A Human Library

All societies’ origins from ‘there and here’ discussed at special day in Geneva

An adage that some people ignore these days is that mobility has shaped each human society, and a recent meeting of the Maison Internationale des Associations in Geneva focused on this. Many colours a...

Day of Tolerance Geneva 2019

« Solidarity, Dialogue and Tolerance among Nations: towards a culture of Peace”

On the International Day of Tolerance, Initiatives of Change, who received the Ousseimi Prize on Tolerance in 2014, was invited to contribute to a panel discussion hosted by the UN Library in Geneva o...

Stories from the Frontline Humanitarian Geneva

Stories from the frontline

Humanitarian field workers who deal every day with belligerent groups in the most dangerous places in the world need specific skills and techniques. Such institutions as the International Committee of...

Enriching Encounters Geneva May 2018

Building trust through life stories: The Genevan experience

The 5th and 6th editions of Enriching Encounters took place in May 2018. They shone a light on local residents' stories as a tool for building trust amongst the locals by using a version of the Human ...

Geneva Peace Week Human Library 2019

Human books explore ways to peace at the UN Library in Geneva

Peacebuilding can be a complex process, setting in place well-structured measures targeted to preventing relapse into conflict. It can require a highly institutional and sophisticated approach, throug...

Geneva Peace Week logo

Geneva Peace Week: Human Library

Beyond Prevention: 5 Alternative Ways to Peace - Geneva Peace Week 2018 - When: 7 Nov, 2017 - 12.30 - 14.00 - Where: UNOG Library...

UN Library

Youth breaking barriers of exclusion

Around 40 people gathered in the UN library on 4 May 2017 to participate in the latest edition of CAUX-Initiatives of Change Foundation’s (CAUX-IofC) human library on ‘Youth Breaking Barriers of Exclu...

Geneva News: IofC International becomes Observer to IOM Council

Geneva News: IofC International becomes Observer to IOM Council

On Monday 5 December 2016, together with 17 other NGOs, IofC International was granted Observer Status to the International Organization for Migration (IOM) Council. Rainer Gude, Chargé de Mission in ...