ROM 2023 Equips Young Leaders to Pursue Peace

Over the last week of June and the first week of July, 44 participants from 15 countries came together in Crikvenica, Croatia to learn how to be agents of change in their communities and throughout the world. Through talks led by sixteen speakers with a wide range of backgrounds, small group discussions, and interactive workshops, attendees of ROM’s annual gathering came away better equipped to pursue peace at the individual, societal, and global level.

The first week of the Gathering was focused on ensuring participants feel welcome and embraced, allowing all to feel more comfortable sharing their stories, talking about their identities, and acknowledging their need for healing–and how they might help others to heal. A vital starting point was a talk about identity in the context of peacebuilding, and how those who take on this role might be perceived as enemies by some. We further explored peacebuilding by learning about positive and negative peace, as well as the importance of learning to disagree well, an essential component of conflict resolution. To understand our own identities better, we explored our own personalities. We were also reminded of two connected realities: it’s never too late to understand and refine our identities, no matter how old we get, and that when we have discussions about what we believe are the most pressing issues in our society, we need to invite all generations to the table.

To help aid in healing, participants attended a session on “art as a weapon of peace,” which challenged them to create as an antidote to violence and war. Later in the week, we leaned into our vulnerability by using art to reflect on our experiences and process what we’d been learning, sharing stories, poems, and paintings. We were reminded that sharing deeply, in a space filled with empathy, is a way to release our trauma and our burdens.

To mark the midpoint of the Gathering, we joined with our sister organization EDI (Economics, Diplomacy, and Integrity) for spiritual sessions centered on Jesus and his example of servant leadership. This neatly tied together a few themes from earlier in the week: How Jesus’ actions were able to disrupt the Roman Empire, the importance of maintaining our integrity when we gain power, and the need to use power to improve the lives of others, particularly those who hold very little.

This delved nicely into our second week, which focused on practical ways we can lead and serve. Leaders, we were taught, must not only know how to manage difficult conversations, but be able to ask themselves, “Am I the difficult person in this situation?” Attendees participated in workshops on the power of mentorship, leadership and parenting, and on self-knowledge and feedback. To consider problems close to home that require both leadership and service, speakers conducted workshops on the reality of human trafficking, disrupted peace, and the rise of nationalism in the Balkans.

The Gathering was brought to a close with ideas about how we can all move forward with peacebuilding and social change. Speakers shared their knowledge of how to take actionable steps in moving an organization forward, reminded us to use the skills we already have on hand, and discussed the importance of controlling the future of organizations rather than trying to predict what might happen next. We were reminded of the importance of forgiveness in healing from trauma; without healing, it is impossible to create lasting peace and reconciliation. It is also impossible to truly effect change if one succumbs to burnout, which is why we conducted a roundtable discussion on the feelings that arise when one is approaching such a point and how to halt its advance.

One of the biggest obstacles to pursuing peace and creating change is a feeling of isolation. One benefit of events like ROM’s summer gathering is having the time to forge relationships with other like-minded individuals. Friendships were struck over shared meals and hikes along the beautiful Croatian coastline. They were deepened through laughter and tears, the willingness to be vulnerable and the sharing of passions and dreams. Connections were formed through International Night, which included learning a Syrian dance, hearing music from Brazil, and sharing jokes from Serbia, as well as Talent Night, filled with songs, dances, and skits. Participants came away knowing that they’re not alone in this work, that they have others to whom they can confide their worries and express their joys.

Throughout the year, ROM intends to help strengthen the bonds created in Crikvenica, as well as encouraging new ones. In addition to individual check ins with the leadership team, we plan to host events in Novi Sad, Serbia and Bucharest, Romania, and hope to add others to the list.