Alumni Lia and Fatma keynote speakers at the International Peace Conference
December 11, 2023
UWC Maastricht had the honour to welcome two UWC alumnae as the guest speakers of the International Peace Conference – Lia Da Giau, UWCM 2020, who talked about inner, local and global dimensions of peace education and Fatma Moulay, UWC RBC 2016, who shared her experience with being an activist and human rights defender.
Before we start talking about giving back and your involvement with the UWC movement, can you please introduce yourself?
F: I am Fatma Moulay, from Western Sahara, more specifically from the refugee camp in the southwest of Algeria. I am 27 years old and I graduated from UWC RBC in 2016. I am currently based in Spain but I travel a lot for my work.
L: My name is Lia, UWCM Class of 2020. This is my first time back in Maastricht since the covid pandemic started in 2020. I am currently based in Scotland where I am in the last year of my undergraduate studies.
What have you been doing since your UWC graduation?
L: After leaving Maastricht, I was eager to keep expanding on what I learned at UWC and went straight to university, to study Sustainable Development at the University of St Andrews. The IB experience really complemented the education I received back home and helped me to realise that I can bring my interests into what I am studying. Since then I have been engaged in a lot of research, and I have been working on social justice and circular economy in the fashion industry. The other big chunk of my academic work is focused on peace education, and that’s what brought me back to UWCM to talk at the Peace Conference.
F: After UWC, I took two gap years and then I started working. I worked for the Western Sahara Research Watch for a year and then I took part in the Citizen of the World programme. Then I went back to studying and decided to go to Spain and focus on business administration and translation. Already as a UWC student, I attended meetings of the European Parliament advocating for Western Sahara and I continue to do so now as a part of my job. As a Saharawi activist and a human rights defender as well as as the international coordinator of UJSARIO, I keep interacting with the UN and other European and international institutions. As a part of my work, I also empower youth to be engaged in policy-making and focus on for example gender equality, and climate change.
What was it like to come (back) to UWC Maastricht? How did it feel to be surrounded by UWC students?
L: First of all, I did not expect to be as nervous as I was when coming back. I have not been to Maastricht since I left on an embassy emergency flight in March 2020. In the first couple of years after UWC, I was fully immersed in the new chapter of my life at university. It was only around last year when I started to reconnect with my own values and priorities, what I want them to be like and how I want to act upon them in my personal and professional life. Naturally, that was the time when UWC and its mission and value came back to me. I started feeling a strong desire to return, but that was accompanied by an underlying fear of coming back to the familiar space and not finding any of my people there anymore. In reality, coming back to campus I found the same energy, the same atmosphere, the same conversations that made the place alive when we, me and my co-years, were here. I realised that growing out of UWC is a natural and beautiful process that all Alumni go through, and my position changed. Seeing the school through the eyes of current students and empathising with their experience brought me back to where I started, and made me see more clearly how the purpose of our years at UWC is to plant the seeds for a tree that will produce its fruits after graduation. Now, the nostalgia I felt turned into curiosity. I wonder which trees my co-years have grown through the years, and I find comfort in the knowledge that the roots of our trees will always be connected, somehow.
F: Honestly I have never left UWC! Although physically I have not gone back to any UWC school since my graduation, in my heart and mind I never left! I started helping my national committee right away in 2016 and that keeps me closely connected with the UWC movement. Within the NC, I am now responsible for the visa documents of the students from Western Sahara and as you can imagine the process of getting a visa is for us, as refugees, is very complicated. Moreover, I am constantly in touch with the current UWC students and I continuously check in with them and support them with all the challenges of the UWC experience such as subject choices or helping them with improving their English. As Lia said, as much as the UWC experience is about the people there with you, it is also about so much more, it is about the atmosphere and the general values that we all share between us.
Why is it important for you to keep in touch and give back to the UWC movement?
F: I have this inner responsibility that if you get, you should give and if possible give a bit more than you get. It is important for me to live and share the UWC values just as it has always been important for me to speak up for my Western Saharan people. Nevertheless, in today’s stressful and busy world it is sometimes easy to forget about what’s important and going back to the roots and keeping in touch with UWC helps me to refresh my memory and realign with the values. Reconnecting with UWC on a regular basis helps me to get energy for dealing with the real world which is very different from the UWC bubble that I experienced at UWC RBC in Freiburg.
L: My mind goes back to a conversation that Fatma and I had last night, we talked about how UWC can put you in a bubble. For me, UWC had the opposite effect, significantly expanding my personal bubble. I came from a close-knit family and a small town, where I always felt that I was a bit in my own bubble. Coming to UWC helped me to see all the other opportunities, all the other bubbles, out there that align with my values; I discovered options and opened doors that I had not known even existed.
Multiple people at UWCM clicked a switch in me that led to broadening my horizons and I feel that I am reaching the point that I can click this switch for others. That was the aim of my talk at the Peace Conference yesterday, to click the switch of the current students. Leading by example and asking challenging questions has been my way to click the switch, and by doing so give back to the current students and the UWC movement. In addition, I also appreciated the little conversations I had with current students during my time on campus. We, as recent graduates, can provide a listening ear, compassion and encouragement from a slightly different angle than the UWCM staff does. I find these conversations are really useful for the students and I am grateful that there are a number of opportunities for us Alumni to return and interact with current students, for example, the annual Outroduction that will take place this year on March 20 and I hope to contribute with my own workshop.
You came to UWC Maastricht to speak at the Peace Conference, so let’s talk about “peace” for a moment. What does peace mean to you personally and how has your time at UWC impacted your own understanding of peace?
F: Just to keep it simple, for me peace is the path to a better future. Let’s be honest as human beings we like to dream and without that we cannot keep going. There are always obstacles, each and every day, but we need to keep dreaming about the future and keep going. I had a tough time growing up in a refugee camp, in the middle of the desert, cut out from the rest of the world, boiling in 50C every single summer but I still have this dream about a better future for my people in Western Sahara and that’s what keeps me going. When I arrived at UWC RBC, I did not believe peace was possible after all the horrors I had witnessed until then, peace was an empty word for me. At RBC, I learned so much not only from my classes but from the meaningful conversations I got to have with my peers from over 90 different countries. At UWC RBC, I embarked on a journey of peace education and gradually began to understand and believe that peace is possible.
L: For me, peace is about community, and not necessarily just the UWC community. It is the simple knowledge that not everything is just on my shoulders; peace is a sense of shared humanity and responsibility, rooted in the the ability to rely on each other. If I think about how my time at UWC changed my perspective of peace, I agree that conversations with peers and meaningful discussions and dialogue were key in developing my understanding of peace. In addition, I think that the strength of UWC students’ understanding of peace is behind the effort to create a sense of community despite the complex geopolitical and socioeconomic diversity that characterises our student body. We, at UWC, could be just another international school where everyone just does their own thing and follows their own priorities. Yet, the focus on community-building and mutual care as ways to to make collective sense of our differences is what makes our movement a successful example in the expanding field of peace education. We need to be mindful of that as Alumni, as the privilege of being exposed to peace education comes with the responsibility of guiding others by example. As such, I would encourage each of you to think about proactive and contextual means through which you can impact others’ understanding of peace in your communities, by sharing our UWC experience and values in whichever capacity.