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Goni, Rita, and Ines: Three Voices of Change

20 March 2013 One Comment

Afifa Ltifi

Afifa Ltifi, Connection Point Intern

“In a world scattered and torn with conflict and war, the voices of Goni, Rita and Ines illuminated my vision and gave me a fresh spring breath of motivation and optimism.”


The 5th United Nations Alliance of Civilization (UNAOC) Global Forum, held Feb. 26-28 in Vienna, Austria, focused on responsible leadership in diversity and dialogue. With a motto of Many Cultures, One Humanity, a total of 150 participants representing 92 countries attended the UNAOC event — half of them women.

While attending the UNAOC Global Forum, I had the opportunity to interview three remarkable women: Goni Zilberman from Israel, Rita Umurungi from Rwanda, and Ines Amri from Tunisia. Each of them was eager to share with me her own tales of inspiration and conviction.

‘‘I have lived my whole life in a region full of borders,” said Goni Zilberman. In her UNAOC biography, she wrote: ”Borders are causing me pain and a source of challenge for me. I’m constantly in a quest for the origin of these borders. Whenever I understand a border’s origin and manage to cross it, I feel the moment jumping in my chest. Awakening!’’

Goni, from Jerusalem, wanted to share with me her story on human connectedness and dialogue and the positive impact it has had through time.  During our conversation, she gave me goose bumps with her beautiful soul’s sensitivity and depth. Her story of inspiration started with her Palestinian friend Fatima. ‘‘I met her when I went to her village for an ecological project; her little kids invited me to play with them,” she said. “She was looking from her window and she invited me to her house. I accepted the invitation, and found myself swept up in a three-hour conversation about literature and poetry.

I marveled at the way she was able to quote in Hebrew. I found in Fatima a common shared ground talking about home, dreams … I had a spiritual connection with Fatima. The other day I brought my guitar and started teaching her kids how to play with it,’’ Goni reflected.


Despite their differences, the animosity displayed by their decision makers, years of war and violent history between Israelis and Palestinians, Goni, a Jew, and Fatima, a Bedouin Muslim, managed to find mutual affinities, generosity and openness. Goni sees change through human connectedness and dialogue. ‘‘I see the challenges to change residing in problems of miscommunication,’’ she said.

From Israel to Rwanda, a country in central and east Africa known throughout the world by the brutal events of the 1994 genocide, where an estimated 800,000 people were massacred. While interviewing Rita Umurungi, I expected her to talk about the residue of the past, deeply dredging in the history of her country and her insight and perspective of being a Tutsi Rwandan. Yet, much to my surprise, Rita shared with me a totally different narrative. She filled me with her stories of women’s empowerment, positive impact and change.

Immediately, Rita spoke about women in Rwanda and how optimistic she was about their rights in her native country. ‘‘I’m optimistic about women’s rights in Rwanda. Now, half of the parliament MP’s are women, and a woman is highly respected now in Rwanda,’’ she said.

Rita, who lives in the Rwandan capital city of Kigali, works in the field of women’s empowerment. ‘’My work is related to empowering disadvantaged women by enrolling them in vocational schools, as a way to enhance and embolden their personalities and boost their self-esteem.”

While there are cultural residues that pull some Rwandan women to vulnerability, emanating from women’s ignorance and lack of knowledge about their rights, Rita believes that empowering women is achievable. ‘‘As long as the government is protecting women’s rights, I believe that we can get over the cultural challenges facing women’s progress in Rwanda,’’ said Rita.

Despite her optimism, Rita expressed her anxiety as far as the past challenges are concerned. She believes the challenges of present-day Rwanda seem to be the same ones as the past. ‘‘I’m still  disappointed at the way the international community reacted  during the genocide, but still we are having breakthrough success stories that uplift us from this anxiety.”


Ines Amri is another woman who illuminated me in Vienna.  She is an English teacher, changemaker, youth leader, human rights advocate, and a founding member of the Will and Citizenship organization based in Gabès, a city in southeastern Tunisia.

During my interview with Ines, she told me about her convictions in life as well as her aspirations and visions.  ‘‘We are not created as random beings,” she said. “I do believe that every human being is coming to this world with a mission, a mission that meets his/her visions and fulfills his/her ambitions and needs.”

Ines was brought up in an intellectual family that gives much attention to human values and academic achievements. ‘‘Dad has passed down his passion for literature, languages, cultures, and books to his children. I think that is the most important asset  I gained. Brought up with a multilingual and multicultural background, I consider myself not just a Tunisian citizen but also a world citizen,’’ she said.

For Ines, impact and positive change do not necessarily mean being a “world saver”.  When reflecting upon her NGO’s local projects, Ines told me that she had a constant feeling of being gifted to change young people’s lives through inspiring them, opening doors, and making them discover their potentials and hidden skills. ‘‘By the end of the day, I always need to ask myself:  ’Am I improving someone’s life? If not, how will I make that impact happen?’ “ she asked.

Ines believes that women have always been pioneers in all different fields in her native Tunisia. According to her, what Tunisian women need is voicing themselves and daring to go beyond the social boundaries and roles they have been confined to. In terms of her own inspirations, Ines told me that she sees inspiration through the figure of her father. Throughout her life, Ines’ father has been a mentor and an advisor  who invested his time and energy to provide Ines with a good, quality education. History is another source of inspiration that has played an important role in Ines’ life. ‘‘Though I am an English literature researcher, I used to read a lot of articles and books about history and historiography and the writing process of history and theories,” she said. “History teaches me lessons and inspires me with ideas!’


After five years of teaching, Ines is still able to see the hidden light that lies in her pupils who inspire her. For the past two years, Ines has been working in a rural region of Tunisia. ‘‘Teaching those teens, who are defying their harsh conditions and destitution through their big hearts [and] simple hopes made me realize that somehow the meaning of life lies in just being you and being in harmony with what you have been given,” she said.

As for the future of her country, Ines believes that Tunisians will experience many unexpected surprises. ‘‘It will take a lot of time and effort to change the Tunisian mindset because I see that Tunisia’s way out of this hectic situation will be assured only through education and spreading awareness about what it means to be a citizen,” she said.

“Citizens are the ones responsible more than the decision-makers about the future of Tunisia. After all, who elected the decision-makers? We did. Who controls them? We do. If we grasp our roles, duties, and rights, no one would dare to usurp our freedom and our rights!’’

I was deeply inspired by all of the women I met during the UNAOC Global Forum, especially these three. Each displayed courage and persistence in her leadership role. In a world scattered and torn with conflict and war, the voices of Goni, Rita, and Ines illuminated my vision and gave me a fresh spring breath of motivation and optimism.


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One Comments to “Goni, Rita, and Ines: Three Voices of Change”
  1. Daniel S. Moskowitz says:

    I don’t mean to sound “Sexist” against men, but, oftentimes, the Thinking of Men includes too many Intellectual Constucts and too much Overcategorization. So, the PERCEPTION of a Situation makes Peacemaking IMPOSSIBLE. However, women GENERALLY have a more Holistic Less Compartmentalized Viewpoint that can perceive Harmony in Differences, Similarities amidst Contrast. However, these Generalizations are not ENTIRELY True. Some Women are more Part of the Problem than part of the Solution and some Men are really more Open Minded and Kind. In any case, whether Male or Female, we should all try to have a More Cosmopolitan, less Provincial Mentality and be able to find Harmony in Diversity. After all, How much can one Learn if one only surrounds oneself with people who act, think and look just like ONESELF?

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