CJP at 25: Celebrate, Reflect, Dream with Maryam Sheikh GC ‘17

During the 2019-20 academic year, as the Center for Justice and Peacebuilding commemorates its 25th anniversary, a series of guest authors will share reflections about CJP’s personal impact. We want to hear your thoughts, too! Thousands of people have intersected with CJP over the years, and each of you has contributed to the work of making the world more just and more peaceful. Join us for our anniversary celebration June 5-7, 2020. Visit the anniversary website for more details.

Read reflections by Phoebe KilbyMohammad Abu-Nimer, Sanjay Pulipaka, Howard Zehr and Ruth Zimmerman, and Shyamika Jayasundara-Smits.


It has been an amazing journey of education and learning at CJP’s Women’s Peacebuilding and Leadership Program (WPLP).* I joined WPLP due to the attraction from leadership and peacebuilding concepts. It was a marathon learning spree and I have been introduced to the whole discourse around peacebuilding and leadership. The staff and the tutors were exceptional in their quest to make us comfortable. Undertaking the course during the Summer Peacebuilding Institute and all the get-together activities made it all fun and educative.

The analysis course was such an eyeopener and introduced the depth one needs to delve into a conflict beyond what meets the eye. The leadership course was crucial in painting the kind of leader I was. This understanding is so important that I even carry some of the lessons to date. The Strategies for Trauma Awareness and Resilience (STAR) course, equally fulfilling, made me realize that there could be a lot of trauma within our communities. Often times when there is conflict people rush in to quell the fighting and hardly do they return to address the trauma. Because of the STAR course, I have been able to critically think about trauma.

What crowned the whole learning was the practicum aspect. It enabled us to go beyond the theory. The design of the program, such as inclusion of mentors, was so helpful and unique. One big take home: the humility modeled by the various professors of the course.


CJP needs to make better use of the alumni. In this era of connectivity and “live” connections, CJP should mobilize the alumni for some courses. For example, each World Peace Day, the alumni could be tapped to discuss the theme online. Imagine having discussions from all over and making CJP and peace take over the online discussions. Even for a day.

In addition, WPLP was an important program and CJP should look for other means of continuing it. For instance, I hope to see peace work partnership between CJP and other universities like Garissa University. Garissa is a town in Northern Kenya in an area inhabited by communities that have internal conflict; it borders Somalia and thus international conflict is apparent. Many of us recall the horrific tragedy at Garissa University where 148 students were killed. That is a good starting point, building peace from the ashes.

Another area that I did not see come out strongly in this journey of knowledge is the social norms of communities and how these affect peacebuilding. If there is a norm where community sees each other as the enemy, it is important to unravel the social norms holding that notion in place. The same goes for norms of revenge that are practiced. Social norms as we know are adhered to by a large number of people, if not all, in certain areas. Therefore, the particular thing that is a norm will be a serious challenge to any peace building.

I would also like to see a focus on the place of religion in peacebuilding. CJP may be non-religious in its execution of its mandate, but nothing should stop it and definitely it should not shy away from using religious teachings that promote peace. It is needed especially in our world today.


I dream of a world that understands peace and works towards achieving it. All because of CJP.

Maryam Sheikh is an alumna of CJP’s Women Peacebuilding and Leadership Program from Kenya. A long-serving career social worker and an ardent social change agitator, Maryam is now a freelance consultant on matters of protection and a No to Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) community change agent. She is also part of a volunteer peacebuilding team that ran a peace walk dubbed “Walk of Hope” in Kenya. Currently, she is involved in a foundation that is running the Northern Wanderers football club , with the goal of using football (soccer) for peace work among others.

Maryam is also a board member of Northern Nomadic Disabled Person’s Organization that organizes an annual race for wheelchair users called “Desert Wheel Race” and a fashion gala “Beautyability” for women living with disabilities. The race is in the Northern Kenya County of Isiolo, an area prone to conflict, in an effort to highlight the link between disability and conflict, a narrative often overlooked. She is also a proud mother.

Discussion on “CJP at 25: Celebrate, Reflect, Dream with Maryam Sheikh GC ‘17

  1. Thanks, Maryam, for contributing to this guest writer series. As usual, our graduates urge us to action. I love the idea of the World Peace Day worldwide engagement with graduates. That is always a very busy time for us, but we will start working on it now so that we can have it lined up.

    Over the past 25 years CJP has benefitted from a number of amazing funding partnerships. We were twice awarded a contract to host Fulbright students from South Asia and the Middle East North Africa (MENA) region. And as you note, you were the beneficiary of funding from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) that paid for women from your region to earn a graduate certificate while building relationships with other women peacebuilding leaders from your area.

    These kinds of funding opportunities run in cycles and are subject to changes in funder focus and budget disruptions outside of our control. Absent a very large endowment , CJP is unable to continue running these kinds of programs without a funding agency.

    I have learned two lessons from our efforts to find new funding when a program is not continued by the funding agency. First, finding the funding is always some form of serendipity. We are standing in the right place having the right conversations when someone who controls a pot of money has a great idea that matches our mission, vision, and capacity. Basically, these things happen when we are able to help someone else realize their vision.. Second, and the really good news in my view, is that with each of these activities we learn how to do things better and are therefore, better able to respond when someone is looking for help.

    The Fulbright cohort program and WPLP are a good example of this. Fulbright wanted to create regional networks of peacebuilding leaders. We learned that a strong network will not emerge simply by educating individuals in the same program. So, with WPLP we designed the program very carefully to support the creation of a network that would sustain itself. We are seeing evidence of success. WPLP graduates worked with others who have attended CJP to create Daima Amani Women’s Network (DAWN) https://emu.edu/now/peacebuilder/2017/09/wplp-graduates-in-kenya-form-womens-peacebuilding-network/.

    I find this very exciting. And I think the next phase in our work probably includes having groups of graduates such as the members of DAWN identify a need, find the money, and come to us if we can help them. Perhaps DAWN could even promote a project similar to what CJP did with the University of Hargeisa (https://emu.edu/now/peacebuilder/2008/08/somaliland-exchange-fosters-peace/) as part of building capacity at Garissa University.

    We may never recreate WPLP in its original form, but we are using what we learned about educating individuals while building networks for effective action to improve our programs and to let others know how we can help them. Based on my experiences at CJP since 2001, I think the key to CJP success has been our capacity to be adaptive, be prepared, and be ready to say yes to opportunities to promote peacebuilding leadership wherever that need is identified.

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