Colorado State University celebrated International Women’s Day on March 6 by hosting Leymah Gbowee, Nobel Peace Prize winner and founder of the Gbowee Peace Foundation Africa. Through the ColoradoSPH at CSU serving as a sponsor for this event, three MPH students had the opportunity to meet and speak with Leymah.
Leymah Gbowee was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2011 for her role in ending the Second Liberian Civil War in 2003. Born in central Liberia in 1972, Leymah was 17 years old when the First Liberian Civil War erupted. Feeling called to help, Leymah began working as a trauma counsellor for former child soldiers. The second civil war broke out in 1999, and with it, systematic rape and brutality ravaged Liberia. Leymah responded by mobilizing women in an interreligious coalition, the Women of Liberia Mass Action for Peace. Through her leadership, thousands of women were gathered for pray-ins and nonviolent protests demanding peace. As founder and president of the Gbowee Peace Foundation Africa, Leymah continues to push for increased inclusion of women as leaders and agents of change. Since winning the Nobel Peace Prize, Leymah travels internationally to speak about the devastating effects of war and gender-based violence, advocating for women’s empowerment and leadership.
After hearing Leymah’s presentation, Elizabeth Ochoa, a first year MPH student [pictured above] commented, “Her work in Liberia and how she was able to unite a group of women with different backgrounds to achieve a common goal, peace in Liberia, was inspiring to me, as someone whose parents are from a country that has been experiencing more violence over the years. Having the opportunity to meet her was amazing, she was so sweet and kind. Her talk and having been able to meet her afterwards will always be a memorable moment in my life,” she said.
Leymah spoke to a captive CSU audience as she related her experiences to the division we are currently experiencing across the globe in politics, race, and culture. Emphasizing humanity, her talk offered hope for the future. “When people say America is divided I say yes indeed, and when people ask me if we will find our way back I say ‘yes,’” Gbowee said. “To be whole again, your country must break down issues on the humanity of those issues. If I cut my skin, my skin is red. If you cut your skin, no matter the color, it is red.”
Leymah’s hopeful messages centered on humanity, resonated powerfully with the audience. Second year MPH students, Emily Lindly and Adriana Romero [pictured above] found inspiration in the prioritization of humanity when faced with public challenges. Emily said, “She [Leymah] inspired me to press on in our daunting task of pursuing world peace. Her anecdote filtered down the complexity of the world, into a simple question. She said, ‘I see your humanity…do you see mine?’ This has become my mantra when struggling to see the good in others.” Adriana added, “She was an inspirational example of how we can all become active catalysts of change in our communities by embracing differences and recognizing our commonality – our humanity!”