This year’s CONTACT South Asia program brought together 44 participants from Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, and Nepal and ran from December 7-17, 2010. We were fortunate to have four very active and articulate women from Afghanistan selected by the US Embassy in Kabul, as well as four Afghan men who were sponsored by non-governmental organizations. The diversity of the CONTACT participants created rich opportunities for relationship-building across the divides of nations, cultures, customs, religions, and perspectives in the region.
Most of the participants work in non-governmental organizations in their countries, although some serve in governments, academia, education, media, and law. They attend a core course in theory and practices of peace and conflict for the first week of CONTACT, and choose between two electives in the second week: Peacebuilding and Development, or Negotiation and Mediation. We provide the participants with hands-on training in skills and tools to prevent inter-communal conflicts from escalating into problems that threaten regional, national, or even global security.
CONTACT, which I founded in 1997, is a program of the School for International Training Graduate Institute. Many of the participants in this year’s South Asia program were sponsored by US State Department funds through regional US Embassies, while others were sponsored by their organizations or given partial scholarships through the CONTACT Program.
The people who participated in this year’s CONTACT South Asia program will remain linked through a newsletter they co-create and disseminate online, and by developing regional peacebuilding activities. They also are linked to previous CONTACT participants from the region, which builds up a cohort of peacebuilders who can engage together in joint activities.
Participants in this year’s program are already in touch with each other online, following up on the spark we created in Nepal—exchanging greetings and ideas, and spreading messages of inter-communal tolerance in this region of deep-rooted and tragic conflict.