Reem is the Executive Director for the Rotary Action Group for Peace based in Portland, Oregon. She is a Positive Peace Activator and a Global Peace Index Ambassador for the Institute for Economics and Peace. Reem started in Rotary as a Rotaractor in Ramallah, Palestine. Later, she earned a Rotary Peace Fellowship at Duke-UNC Rotary Peace Center where she earned her master’s degree in City and Regional Planning and a certificate in International Peace and Conflict Resolution. She is now a Rotarian at the Portland Rotary Club.
Reem serves on the boards of several international organizations: Rotary Club of Portland (one of the largest Rotary Clubs in the world), Hands of Peace (an organization that empowers youth to lead the solutions for peace between Israelis and Palestinians), Combatants for Peace (an international NGO and an egalitarian, bi-national, grassroots movement committed to non-violent action against the “Israeli occupation and all forms of violence” in Israel and the Palestinian territories), and Peace Village (an organization that creates access to peace education for children worldwide).
Reem has provided leadership through several international projects and events. In 2018, she served on the organizing committee of the Environmental Sustainability and Peace Conference, one of Rotary International’s six Presidential Peace Conferences which was addressed by the Prime Minister of Canada, Justin Trudeau. She led the growth of the RAGFP Peacebuilder Club program from 22 clubs in the Pacific Northwest to over 270 clubs in 30 nations in less than three years. Reem is currently co-organizing the Rotary Peace Project Incubator, a gathering that aims to produce 40 international sustainable peace projects. Reem co-designed the 2020 Middle East Peace Education Trip to establish an experience for an international audience to create a fair understanding of the challenges and opportunities for peace in Israel and Palestine. She conceptualized and developed the Activate Positive Peace workbook which was presented at the 2019 Rotary Convention in Hamburg, Geneva Peace Week 2019 at the United Nations, and posted to the Positive Peace Academy by the Institute for Economics and Peace. Reem is the creator and host of the weekly Together for Peace webinar series which was designed to elevate social justice and peace issues. In this series, Reem interviews world-class leaders, including social entrepreneurs, organizational leaders, academics, peace activists, Nobel Peace Prize nominees, and inspiring Rotarians.
Reem is an advocate for Human Rights, economic development, social entrepreneurship, technological innovation, and creative arts. She recently advanced a data-driven study of COVID-19 policies and their impact on vulnerable populations as a machine-learning contributor at Omdena, a global platform that builds innovative and ethical AI solutions. Currently, Reem is leading a Peace Project that builds a social-entrepreneurship hub for Palestinian youth to build innovative technological solutions to peace obstacles in their community.
Previously, Reem created economic development strategies for the City of Shenzhen to advance the city’s livability program. She combined art and innovation for the Planning of Livable Cities project led by the Department of City and Regional Planning at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Reem worked for the United Nations Crisis Prevention Unit in Fiji where she worked with government representatives and religious leaders to foster collaboration between the government and civil society. She organized the 2011 Ramallah Contemporary Dance Festival. This festival was mainly sponsored by the European Commission to promote mutual understanding through the creative arts. Reem advanced the 2010 International Conference for Human Values in Hamburg by integrating the Muslim community into the conference. This conference was held by the International Association of Human Values where Reem was completing her Yes We Can leadership program in Hamburg, Germany.
Reem is an international public speaker where she has addressed cultural, economic, social, and political topics. Throughout her career, she has been a keynote speaker and led international speaking tours to promote Human Rights, the Global Peace Index, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Reem has presented at several global platforms including the United Nations. As an OneVoice Ambassador, she spoke at Harvard, Brown, and Columbia Universities among several other organizations to support peaceful resolution in the Middle East.
Reem is a thought leader whose writings and ideas have been shared and celebrated internationally. Her mission is to dismantle stereotypes and elevate the voices of the oppressed by cultivating mutual understanding, promoting Positive Peace, and protecting Human Rights for all.
am a Rotary Peace Fellow from Palestine. My mother is a Palestinian refugee who fled her home with her family in 1948. My father’s entire village was displaced for two weeks in 1967. In fact, nearly half of my family are Palestinian refugees.
I was born and raised in Tulkarem, home of two refugee camps that still exist from the Nakba of 1948. One camp is beside my former high school in the middle of downtown. The other is located at the Eastern entrance of my city. This refugee camp is the first thing I see every time I return home to visit my family.
Growing up, I heard stories from my family, friends, and neighbors who are refugees or related to a refugee. My two aunts still recount how they fled Umm Khalid (renamed Netanya), as children. They were playing in a field, picking cucumbers and using them to make big piles and create shapes. The game was interrupted by crashing bombs and they saw a cloud of smoke nearby. Their uncle screamed at them to run away from the smoke, toward safety.
Importance of education
I was lucky that my mother was educated. She told me if I wanted to pursue peace, I should become educated and have empathy and compassion for others in my heart. She taught me that service is a duty, not an option. These stories shaped my dreams and aspirations for peace.
My mom and aunts had access to education because of the United Nations Relief and Work Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA). Accessible education is instrumental in conflict zones. Education breaks the cycle of violence, especially for women. Without UNRWA, my mother would not have been empowered to set me on a path of positive peacebuilding.
My family’s experiences are shared by over 5 million Palestine refugees who are eligible for humanitarian services. Twenty refugees per minute are fleeing their homes due to wars, oppression, and poverty. The refugee crisis is not just a regional crisis; it is a human crisis.
Queen Rania of Jordan’s words inspire me: “Peace means our children can sleep to a mother’s soft voice, not screaming sirens; play with building blocks, not watch their homes destroyed; make friends, not lose them; dream of big plans for the future, not wonder if they would have one. Peace also means hope, and by raising your voices for peace, you’re giving hope to millions around the world.”
Seeking informed solutions for peace, I crossed the ocean to the Rotary Peace Center at Duke University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, USA. Despite the distance, I felt at home. Rotary and my family share the same values for education and service to bring about peace. I am currently the Executive Director of the Rotarian Action Group for Peace. I utilize my education and training as a Rotary Peace Fellow to activate Rotarians to advance peace. To further develop my skills , I completed the Rotary Positive Peace Academy to learn new strategies of how to build and sustain peace.
2019 Rotary Convention
After completing the academy, I used what I learned to create a workshop for Rotarians attending the 2019 Rotary International Convention in Hamburg to help others conceptualize and create more peace projects. The pilot workshop was successful, and I was invited to present again in Geneva during Peace Week at the United Nations. My goal is to use this workshop to bring peace organizations and Rotarians together and collaborate through the Positive Peace Framework.
One of the Pillars of Positive Peace is the Acceptance of the Rights of Others. Rotarians drafted and signed the Declaration of Human Rights. As populism and terrorism rise, it is our duty as peacebuilders to come together and resist these ideologies. The peacebuilders of our world must create strong networks, advance collaborations, and build mutual understanding. We must promote trust over fear, education over ignorance, health over disease, economic development over poverty, and clean water for all.
My mom always told us around the dinner table, that her dream has always been to raise children who will serve humanity. I strive every day to make my mom’s dream come true. Thank you, Rotary, for allowing me to do so.
About the author: Reem Ghunaim is executive director of the Rotarian Action Group for Peace. RAGFP’s mission is to educate, engage and empower Rotarians to build positive peace.