UNSUNG PEACE HEROES
People whose efforts to protect lives and promote peace go unrecognized or forgotten by the general public.
Elena Gulmadova was born in Dushanbe, Tajikistan. Her father was Muslim and her mother Christian. She saw violence and instability early in life during the Tajikistani Civil War. The fighting had started after Tajikistan’s 1991 break from the Soviet Union and subsequent presidential election, which was contested. During this time, Elena enrolled in a medical program, specializing in gynecology. In a story reported by Peace Counts, she said delivering “every new baby is a nice success experience.” It was difficult delivering babies during the war, however, because of frequent blackouts. Eventually Elena’s family fled to Ukraine where they lost contact with her father.
Elena joined the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), the world’s largest regional security organization, after seeing the good they did for her country during the civil war. As an OSCE mediator, Elena used her life experience to understand the plight of those enduring similar hardships in a way that Western moderators could not.
In 2001, Elena set out for Macedonia, a country where Muslim Albanians and Christian Macedonians had lived in peace for the better part of a decade. In the latter part of 2000, however, the country experienced a rash of attacks on Macedonian police and security forces. On January 22, 2001, a group of armed Albanians attacked a police station. One officer died, and three others were injured. This sparked a conflict lasting six months, killing hundreds and forcing more than 140,000 from their homes in fear.
Elena began to mediate and gain the trust of the local groups near Matejce. She provided both practical advice and counseling to those remaining in the area. With her optimistic outlook, she made sure the staff at local facilities understood their options and the application process for EU reconstruction funding. These efforts would help bring back people back to the neighborhoods and restore peace.
Elena made it her business to introduce herself to the entire community and the surrounding areas where she served. She was open about her work and intentions. “I inform as many organizations, government offices and people as I can of who I’m currently talking to and what we’re doing,” she said, as reported by Peace Counts. Her approach paid off.
One day, Elena received a call from the mayor of a nearby village pleading for help. Gunfire had erupted in the mostly Albanian village, prompting the Macedonian police to open fire for fear the Albanian National Liberation Army had staged an attack. Elena called the Macedonian police chief and relayed the urgent message from the village mayor—the gunfire was not an attack, but rather a joyful wedding celebration. The police chief, while defending the call to open fire, stood the squad down. The crossfire injured no one. Calm nerves and quick thinking on Elena’s part helped diffuse a situation that could have reignited the conflict that had brought her to Macedonia.
“As long as people are talking to each other, they hold their fire,” Elena said as reported by the Berghof Foundation. Less
Akiner, S., & Barnes, C. (2001). The Tajik civil war: Causes and dynamics. In Conciliation Resources. Retrieved from http://www.c-r.org/accord-article/tajik-civil-war-causes-and-dynamics
Gleich, M. (n.d.). Macedonia: Elena mediates. In Peace Counts. Retrieved from http://www.peace-counts.org/macedonia-elena-mediates/
Report: Elena mediates. (n.d.). In Berghof Foundation. Retrieved from http://www.friedenspaedagogik.de/archiv/ausgewaehlte_projekte_2008_2011/peace_counts_school/english/the_peace_counts_reports_topics/macedonia_elena_mediates/report_elena_mediates
Tajikistan country profile. (2015, September 1). In BBC online. Retrieved from http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-16201032
Who we are. (n.d.). In osce.org. Retrieved from http://www.osce.org
Joel Cheruiyot Sigei
Joel Cheruiyot Sigei was one of seven winners in the Unsung Peace Hero campaign created in 2008 by Butterfly Works and Media Focus on Africa. With more than 500 nominees, the campaign celebrated everyday people who helped fellow Kenyans during a period of intertribal violence.
Established in December 1963, the Republic of Kenya is home to more than 70 ethnic groups. The largest group is the Kikuyu. Many Kenyans believed the Kikuyu manipulated elections, keeping Kenya under Kikuyu rule.
In the December 2007 presidential election, Mwai Kibaki, a Kikuyu, won by an estimated 230,000 votes. Supporters of his opponent, Raila Odinga, a Luo, rejected the results. Accusations of voter fraud and election rigging fueled ethnic tensions. Some Kenyans organized nonviolent demonstrations throughout the country. Others staged violent protests. In response, Kenyan Police opened fire on protestors, plunging the country into intertribal conflict and chaos. In the course of two months, about 1,500 people died in riots or intertribal violence; another 600,000 fled their homes in fear.
Joel, a 48-year-old Kipsigi, took in four Kisii families who had been threatened by their neighbors. For two weeks, he hid these 18 people in his home to keep them safe. They would have been targeted for violence if they had stayed in their own homes. He sheltered them even though doing so put him at risk. Joel supplied the families with corn and milk from his own cows. Each day, he also took 40 liters (10 gallons) of milk to children in a nearby refugee camp.
By the end of February 2008, former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan helped negotiate a power-sharing agreement between Kibaki and Odinga.
When the violence ended, and it was safe for the Kisii families to travel, Joel arranged for their safe transportation home.
Joel’s selfless acts earned him a nomination and, ultimately, recognition as an unsung peace hero. He organized a similar campaign in his own community to recognize other people who had helped promote peace during the crisis. Less
Gettleman, J. (2007, December 31). Disputed vote plunges Kenya into bloodshed. In The New York Times online. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2007/12/31/world/africa/31kenya.html?pagewanted=all&_r=2
Kenya – Ethnic groups. (n.d.). In African Studies Center, University of Pennsylvania online. Retrieved from http://www.africa.upenn.edu/NEH/kethnic.htm
Kipsigis – Orientation. (n.d.). In Countries and Their Cultures. Retrieved from http://www.everyculture.com/Africa-Middle-East/Kipsigis-Orientation.html
The Crisis in Kenya. (n.d.). In International Coalition for the Responsibility to Protect. Retrieved from http://www.responsibilitytoprotect.org/index.php/crises/crisis-in-kenya
Winners Unsung Peace Heroes Campaign. (2008). In Media Focus on Africa. Retrieved from http://www.mediafocusonafrica.org/unsung-peace-heroes/result/winners-unsung-peace-heroes-campaign
Joseph Guy LaPointe Jr.
Joseph Guy LaPointe Jr. was born July 2, 1948, in Dayton, Ohio. While a student at Northridge High School, he volunteered at the Aullwood Audubon Center. Guy loved nature and enjoyed hiking and camping. He planned to go to college and earn a degree in biology. His goal was to work for the National Park System, the National Audubon Society, or the Ohio Department of Natural Resources. Concerned about the social and political issues of the day, Guy supported the Civil Rights Movement.
After graduating from high school in 1966, Guy and his family moved to Clayton, Ohio. As a young adult, he took a job as a mail carrier with the post office in Englewood, Ohio.
In 1968, having already applied to several colleges with hopes of pursuing his dream, Guy was drafted. In May, he reported for duty with the U.S. Army. On reporting, he declared himself a conscientious objector. About three months later, he married his sweetheart, Cindy Failor of Dayton.
Guy became a combat medic. He completed his advanced training at the Army Medical Training Center at Fort Sam Houston in Texas. As a combat medic, Guy’s role was to treat and defend soldiers wounded in battle.
In November 1968, Guy deployed to Vietnam, serving with the famed 101st Airborne Division. This light infantry division is known as the “Screaming Eagles.” Its members had participated in the Battle of the Bulge during World War II. In 1957, under orders from President Dwight D. Eisenhower, they ensured the safety of the Little Rock Nine, the first group of African-American students enrolled in Little Rock Central High School following the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1954 decision in Brown vs. Topeka Board of Education.
Ten weeks after his deployment, Guy’s wife gave birth to a son, Joseph Guy LaPointe III. Less than five months after his son’s birth, an act of bravery cost Guy his life.
It was June 2, 1969. Guy’s unit had come under fire. During the initial assault, two men in his unit were seriously wounded. They called for aid, and Guy did not hesitate. To reach them, he had to crawl through an area under heavy fire and within full view of an enemy bunker. With his unit providing as much cover as possible, Guy shielded the wounded men with his body and began administering first aid.
A burst of gunfire struck Guy, but he continued to treat the two wounded men. He was hit a second time and knocked to the ground. With considerable effort, he managed to crawl back to the wounded men and shield them from incoming fire. A grenade mortally wounded all three.
In 1971, Guy was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for his efforts. Although opposed to war, Guy had still been willing to go above and beyond the call of duty to heal and preserve life.
Many places around the nation have been named in recognition of Guy’s heroism. These include a medical heliport in Fort Benning, Georgia; an Army reserve center in Riverside, Ohio; and a health center in Fort Campbell, Kentucky. Less
Joseph Guy LaPointe, Jr. (n.d.) In homeofheroes.com. Retrieved from http://www.homeofheroes.com/gravesites/states/pages_go/lapointe_joseph_oh.html
Joseph Guy LaPointe, Jr. (n.d.). In virtualwall.org. Retrieved from http://www.virtualwall.org/dl/LapointeJG01a.htm
LaPointe, Joseph G., Jr. (n.d.). In the Congressional Medal of Honor Society. Retrieved from http://www.cmohs.org/recipient-detail/3334/lapointe-joseph-g-jr.php
Sp4 Joseph G. LaPointe - June 2, 1969. (n.d.). In Vietnam Hueys. Retrieved from http://vietnam-hueys.tripod.com/Medal%20of%20Honor%20page.htm
Specialist Four Joseph G. LaPointe, Jr. (2008). In Ohio Military Hall of Fame. Retrieved from http://www.ohioheroes.org/inductees/2008/lapointe.htm