How to Make a Difference? First, Understand.

I am a firm believer that in order to be a truly effective advocate on any issue, it’s crucial to really understand the dynamics that you are contending with.

For The Niapele Project this means recognizing that we are in a constant state of learning – as we progress and deepen our involvement with the refugee community of West Africa, we are also attempting to truly understand what the issues are, at their core, so we can better serve the interests of the organizations we work with, and the children they serve.
We are continuously challenged in this extremely complex developing world environment – as a small NGO with limited resources, we try to position ourselves as open, flexible and willing to collaborate as knowledgeable partners.
In Liberia, we are beginning to collaborate with the UNHCR and the Liberian Refugee Repatriation and Resettlement Commission (the government agency in charge of coordinating refugee issues) – in spite of our differences with these institutions in the past regarding the way in which Liberian refugees in Ghana were treated, we strongly believe that it will take the collaboration of all key stakeholders to create sustainable strategies for the effective integration of displaced people in Liberia.
(I only wish I was there myself…. sigh… maybe some time down the line!)
In any case, in order to bring deep expertise to the table, The Niapele Project has been working with some of the world’s best universities to develop our research capacity – we just released this study produced by Masters candidates at Sciences Po (my alma mater in Paris), which provides a critical overview of policy options for protracted refugee situations, and we are currently working with the Yale Law School on another study which will outline the international and national legal framework with regards to returning refugee rights in Liberia.
We are really looking forward to 2009 – in spite of the arduous fundraising road ahead, I am full of confidence that The Niapele Project will continue to have a positive impact in the lives of vulnerable refugee children.

Long Time No Read!

I admit, I have been majorly slacking on the blog front in recent weeks, but I have some excellent reasons (no, really, I do). Following a year long search for the perfect job, I was offered a position as Program Associate for the Vancouver-based Clinton Giustra Sustainable Growth Initiative in early June. Since then, I have been multi tasking more than ever, trying to wrap things up in Paris before moving to Canada, and with World Refugee Day events and all the Niapele work that needed to get accomplished, it was a challenge!

I’ve been in transit since late June, seeing family and friends in various locations before settling in Vancouver – a city that I had never set foot in until this past Monday. Needless to say, since then, it’s been a mad race to find a place to live, figure out my way around, etc. As a result, I unfortunately had to put my blog and other personal endeavors on the back burner for a while. But I’m getting back on the proverbial horse, and will begin writing substantial posts again next week.

If any of you have any Vancouver recommendations for me, let me know! I don’t know anyone or anything here, and welcome any friendly advice.

Since I have been by myself for the better part of this week, I’ve been having meals alone – so as not to feel like a social outcast, I’ve been bringing a book to the various eateries I have graced with my presence. The book in question is entitled “The Wisdom of Whores” by Elizabeth Pisani, and in spite of its seemingly R rated title, it’s a fascinating read. Written by a journalist-cum-epidemiologist who has been involved in the fight against AIDS since the early 90s, it provides a really interesting perspective on HIV/AIDS, and the international response to it. I’m only half way through, and I prefer to have read the whole thing before giving a fuller account of it, but if you’re in need of a summer read that will surely attract raised eyebrows in public settings (trust me on this one), “The Wisdom of Whores” is for you.

Fix your Conflicts

You can listen to my first ever radio interview here – had I known this would be completely unedited, I would have probably been better prepared. Nonetheless, it was a great experience, and the host, Doug Noll, lawyer turned peacemaker, is a very interesting guy – I hope I get invited back!
In any case here it is: Penelope Chester on Fix your Conflicts, June 16th 2008

(scroll down the content library, it’s the first item in the archive)

Expanding Niapele’s Reach

In an attempt to broaden our base of friends and supporters, The Niapele Project has just launched a brand new blog, which we will use to keep our growing audience abreast of the latest Niapele news.

I encourage you to subscribe to the feed, or by email – seriously! We’re continually striving to improve our communication with you, and we welcome your feedback and comments.