When law student Halina stepped on Addis Ababa University’s campus in Ethiopia, she immediately noticed a stark social divide between students of different ethnic groups, finding it difficult to collaborate with peers of a different background than hers.
She never came across this problem in her elementary or secondary schools, she said, because she was surrounded by the same group of like-minded peers from her community. University brings people from different ethnic and religious backgrounds into contact, but students tend to congregate among those most like themselves, perpetuating tensions between different ethnic groups.
“The first two years were really painful because I was also isolated from groups,” Halina said about the campus culture. “One of the trigger factors of joining the program was the determination of fixing this within my capacity.”
Through the People Against Violence Everywhere (PAVE) project—implemented by Ethiopia Law School Association (ELSA) through technical and financial support from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES)—Halina learned about community peacebuilding and organized coffee ceremonies where students from all different backgrounds sit together and drink coffee.
When students came to the ceremonies, they couldn’t choose their own groups. Halina explained that that would defeat the purpose. Rather, she and her team of peace ambassadors diversified the tables so students from different groups could work together.
Two coffee ceremonies later, Halina already noticed a shift in the community.
“There was a leader of one cultural setting and one of another, and these groups never sit together; they never even cross the same street,” she said. “They shared ideas and experiences that were common to both of them, and now they’re on talking grounds.”
As an aspiring lawyer, like many of the other peace ambassadors, Halina said she built strong conflict resolution and public speaking skills through the trainings offered by ELSA that empowered her to organize the coffee ceremonies.
“Mitigating conflict and, in general, facilitation of communication, is very important as a person who wants to pursue this type of career,” she said.
With the support of USAID, IFES provided technical and financial support to ELSA to implement the first PAVE trainings in Ethiopia with 119 law students representing six universities across Ethiopia in spring 2022. The PAVE training provided students with tools and skills to identify, mitigate, and prevent violence in their communities and to serve as peace ambassadors on their campuses. Even among this well-educated group, the topic and interactive nature of this training was a novelty, challenging participants to find ways to put what they have learned into practice.