Caecilia van Peski

Caecilia van Peski

Tilburg University, Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences

“On Building Resilience; Adapting and Persisting through Challenging Environments”

Keynote Speech by Caecilia van Peski, MSc., PgD., Tilburg University Alumna, Member of “Vrienden van Cobbenhagen”

Tuesday, 19 April 2022, 09.45 – 10.45 hrs., Grand Auditorium (Aula, Building K) of Tilburg University, Warandelaan 2, Tilburg

Become inspired by the life stories of women who built resilience by learning how to cope with challenging life experiences and extraordinary threats! Be inspired by their personal accounts during the Opening Session of Tilburg University Social Sciences Week 2022! Their stories of trials and tribulations, failures and success reveal the admirable ability of these women to withstand being tested to their limits, and practicing endurance during the difficult circumstances in regions of conflict and crises.

The Vice-Dean of Education of Tilburg University – together with the Student Career Services and the board of the Tilburg University Social Sciences Career Week 2022 – have the pleasure to present Alumna of the MSc Educational & Cultural Psychology of Tilburg University, Caecilia Johanna van Peski (Tilburg, 1970). Ms Van Peski offers her audiences anecdotal and inspirational – sometimes even thought provoking – personal accounts stemming from her over thirty-years of working in regions of conflict and (humanitarian and/or armed) crises, as well as from the more personal spheres of her life. Psychologist (2001), UN Special Representative on Women (2010), World Connector(2019), ‘Partnering for Peace’ Academic Fellow at the Baker Institute for Peace and Conflict Studies (2019), Military Veteran (2020), and SER Top Vrouw (2021), Ms Van Peski has been nominated “Ambassador for Peace” (Universal Peace Federation, 2010), as well as “Most Influential Dutch Women” (Opzij Magazine,2010; Viva Magazine, 2009). A Commander in the Royal Netherlands Navy, Caecilia van Peski’s authority in Security & Defense, Civil-Military Interaction, Democratization & Elections, and Justice & Equality, acknowledges her as being among the most influential peace and security professionals of her generation in the Netherlands.

Alongside Caecilia van Peski stands Zuhra Ahmadi (Kabul, 1998), who, in August 2021, was forced to leave her professional post at Hamid Karzai International Airport NATO-base Afghanistan, in search of safety and survival, and a better chance to life. A recent evacuee from Kabul, Zuhra Ahmadi, shares her personal account of how she faced the life-threatening situation of constant chaos and despair in her country of origin, and what it took from her in terms of resolution, firmness of mind, and bravery to resist opposition and build resilience.

Caecilia van Peski and Zuhra Ahmadi both withstood the dangers posed by the barrel of the gun and the atrocities of war.  Separatist Leaders of Ukraine’s Donbass and Taliban fighters of Afghanistan respectively, have held these women against their will. Both were able to withstand the storm and make their way out of captivity into freedom. Based on the relentless efforts of the Dutch government and Ms. Van Peski’s bold decision to seek direct negotiation with the Taliban – yet primarily based on her own great courage and determination - Zuhra Ahmadi was able to step into that military plane that lifted her to safety. What was this experience like for her, and what is occupying her thoughts now she is livingin a Dutch AZC? Not in the same manner, yet in similar ways, Caecilia van Peski and Zuhra Ahmadi were forced to make absolute life changes. What can these two remarkable women share about how they were able to withstand adversity and bounce back from difficult life events?

Resilience”, Caecilia and Zuhra say, “is not a trampoline where you’re down one moment and up the next. It’s more like climbing a mountain without a trail map. It takes time, strength, and help from people around you, and one will likely experience setbacks along the way. But eventually, each and every one of us reaches the top, only to look back at how far they have come!”


In her capacity as Chairperson of the Advisory Council of the Netherlands United Nations Association, Ms Van Peski engages in the concept of resilience as part of the UN 2030 Campaign / Sustainable Development Goals(SDG) as well. How do her personal experiences with resilience influence her thinking regarding resilience on a global scale? Around the world, people’s ability to cope with insecurity, threat, adversity and crisis are pushed to the limits. As resilience is a core strength in lifting the load in one’s personal life, can the trait also bring hope to communities that work together in building brighter and safer futures? Through the UN SDGs, crises are proactively prevented and managed, which in the course of time can save the lives of many. Resilience as a tool for protecting lives and livelihood, and a concept that contributes to the wellbeing of communities, societies, and ultimately, our planet!

Join the opening of the Social Sciences Career Week 2022 if you would like to engage with Caecilia van Peski at first-hand, a first responder at the crash-site of the MH-17, captivity-survivor, injured (OSCE) veteran, and an instrument in the breath-taking crisis evacuation of Zuhra Ahmadi. Many more stories about personal development, goals, and professional career to follow!  

Organization information
Organization Studies
Global Management of Social issues
Activities from organization:
Opening Event by Caecilia van Peski
April 19, 2022
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