Austria: Marion Thuswald

All people are equal, distinct, and unique.

— Marion Thuswald

Marion Thuswald was born in Austria in 1978. In 1997 and 1998, after completing her training in social education, she worked as a peace service volunteer for ÖFD (Austrian Peace Service) with a youth peace project in the war-torn city of Vukovar in Croatia. Back in Austria, she became a member of the staff and later of the board of the ÖFD. She also was the managing director for some time. She maintains and strengthens contacts she made in Croatia with people needing help, many Roma among others.

After finishing school, Marion Thuswald was sent to Vukovar, the most destroyed city in Croatia, for a year, as a peace volunteer for the Österreichische Friedensdienste (ÖFD, Austrian Peace Service). There, she supported the Youth Peace Group Danube (YPGD), an interethnic youth project founded by local young people. With much tact and teamwork she supported the local people, motivating them to be active themselves. She strengthened their self-confidence while keeping herself in the background. Among her strengths are awareness and pragmatism. She is very down to earth and constantly aware of her privileged position, in which she is allowed to “help.” She led play workshops for children in English, and intercultural summer camps in Austria with Serb, Croatian, and Austrian children. Back in Austria, she became a staff member, later a board member of the ÖFD (Austrian Peace Service) in Vienna. Based in Vienna, she visits and coordinates the team in Vukovar every two to three months. In so doing, she has given other young women the courage to participate as well. It is not surprising that a lot of young men are working as peace volunteers in Croatia, as the volunteer year counts as alternative military service for them, and war areas seem to be predestined for men. Yet as active thinkers and helpers women are especially needed in such challenging places. Marion Thuswald builds and strengthens the contacts she was able to make in Croatia with, among others, many Roma. Some of the young people from the YPGD are now working, for example, in other organizations in leading positions or have found work abroad. Marion arranged most of the contacts despite her ambivalence: was it not her responsibility to encourage people to stay? But not at any price, because “. . . staying must be voluntary, not forced.”

Österreichische Friedensdienste (ÖFD, Austrian Peace Service) International Fellowship of Reconciliation (IFOR) Youth Peace Group Danube (YPGD)