“No one gender or single organization can create the kind of change we need. We need the collaboration and synergy of all”
Karuna Center director Olivia Dreier just returned from a learning exchange between leaders of women and men’s networks from Rwanda, Burundi, and the Democratic Republic of Rwanda (DRC). The exchange was held in partnership with Men's Resources International
and took pace in the Rwanda town of Gisenyi on the shores of Lake Kivu, close to the border with the DRC. The focus was on ways men and women can work together as full partners to address and prevent all types of violence.
Participants discussed the many ways the social fabric of their respective cultures has been damaged by years of violence and shared their organizations’ efforts to engage both men and women in combating violence both in the home and in the community. This learning exchange was the first phase in creating a regional program that will promote a new model of men and women working as full partners to address and prevent violence with funding for pilot programs in each of the countries.
As one participant put it, “no one gender or single organization can create the kind of change we need. We need the collaboration and synergy of all.”-Kelly Donovan, Intern
This training was for South Sudanese women leaders, as part of Karuna Center’s ongoing work with a network of influential Sudanese women in both North and South.
We are starting our third day of workshops this morning. Farah Council of Institute for Inclusive Security and I are co-teaching days on Coalition Building and Strategic Planning. Additionally, I am teaching Managing Conflicts Successfully and Reconciliation/Forgiveness. So it’s a full agenda. Attendance has ranged from 30 to 18 daily thus far. Some of the women are known to us from previous work and others are new; they are varied in age, tribal/ethnic identity, and occupation, although most are with NGOs. They are not varied in heartbreak; each has had a life that no human being should be asked to endure. It is a wonder to me that they carry themselves with such dignity, dress up and show up for workshops, and care for their families as best as possible.
South Sudanese have been massively dislocated by war for decades. Juba was an army garrison town during the war, and its residents moved around within and beyond the southern region. Many women come from Khartoum, the capital of Sudan, and have never lived in Juba, while others have arrived here from rural areas having undergone endless hardships and profound loss. Everyone is either internally displaced or else a refugee returning from Kenya, Uganda, Europe, North America. A large group, perhaps thousands, arrived this week in Juba after walking for weeks from Nuba Mountains, far away from here. The tribes raid cattle, which is a traditional method for settling disputes and buying brides, now made lethal by the availability of guns. The border regions between Sudan and South Sudan are fiercely contested, with the Sudanese army responsible for massive death, displacement, starvation. The humanitarian community is unable to enter the region with aid and shelter. Juba has no armed conflict right now, but it remains a shambles of shacks and dust, and does not much resemble a capital city.
Many South Sudanese have ancestral villages someplace in Sudan that they will not likely return to, and they speak a variety of traditional languages, some English and some Arabic, and none of them unifying the country. Under Sudan’s leadership they had Arabic as a common tongue, making them probably the only non-Arabs and Christians/animists whose main language was Arabic. The new South Sudan government mandates English as the medium of instruction but it will be many generations before English is widely spoken, creating problems for unification. South Sudan has perhaps the worst literacy indicators on the planet; I have read that only 5% of girls complete primary school. The women we work with were all educated in the diaspora.
All of this points to an uphill struggle for the world’s newest nation, just 9 months old. The people we meet here express pride in their hard-won independence and seem determined to make a go of it. They depend on their oil reserves for revenue, but the pipeline runs through the north, which is charging them exorbitant fees and thus the pipeline has been shut down and austerity measures enacted. It’s already so austere and difficult that one wonders how much less they can survive on, but somehow life goes on in these strained circumstances…and women show up for workshops, organize for their rights, and express their solidarity for their even less fortunate sisters.
Our work is very well-received here, where the needs are bottomless, every concept is new, and there is so much to express and learn. Each story of tragic loss builds on the last, and each bit of resilience inspires and motivates the women to continue in a forward direction. I bow to their capacity for endurance, and I know you join me in wishing them a more peaceful future.
Earlier this summer, I facilitated a training in Peace Advocacy in Oussouye, Senegal as part of our ongoing work to support the Comites de Paix (Peace Committees) and community-based radio stations in the Casamance region. As discussed in the report of my last trip
, the Casamancais people have endured a civil war between rebels and the Senegalese national government for the last 25 years.
At the youth festival, there were many spiritual creatures such as this one (left), which play a role in the traditional religion of the region.
The three day training in Peace Advocacy in Oussouye took place immediately following a three day trans-border festival of youth culture, organized by World Education Casamance
for 500 youth from Casamance, Guinea Bissau and Gambia. I attended this youth festival, held in Sindian, Casamance, April 28-30, as a guest of the World Ed team. The training I facilitated, Plaidoyer et la Gestion Sensible du Conflit (Conflict Sensitive Peace Advocacy), took place May 2-4 in the town of Oussouye, and was followed by a de-brief for future planning.
The festival of youth culture was a profoundly exciting, engaging and effective experience, including ample opportunity for youth to sing, dance and compete together, as well as an intense day of collective dialogue about both the aspirations and the responsibilities facing the youth of the three countries. The festival culminated in the formal delivery of a declaration on the part of the youth to their respective leaderships at all levels.
A majority of the Peace Advocacy workshop participants also attended the festival, thus, despite the effort involved in moving quickly from one experience to the other, the kinetic energy and hope generated in Sindian carried over into the work in Oussouye. The Peace Advocacy participants were a large group (50 people), about one-half of them representatives of the local Peace Committees established by World Ed through the Peace in Casamance Project. The rest were staff of community radio stations that work in synergy with the Peace Committees, and staff from a number of NGOs.
Day one was focused on group discussion of the work of the Peace Committees in the year since they were formed, including both successes and continuing challenges. The successes described were striking examples of ways in which Committee members had intervened in both acute and repetitive conflicts to enable people to find effective solutions, for example in situations where youth routinely fight after football (soccer) matches. At the same time Committee members expressed discouragement about the tendency for their interventions to be received enthusiastically but without follow through. The purpose of this workshop thus was to further strengthen the capacity of this core of activists to affect others in their communities with a similar sense of confidence and responsibility regarding their own participation in contributing to either conflictual or peaceful coexistence.
At the conclusion of our 3-day Peace Advocacy workshop, the group met with the traditional King of Oussouye (right) in a sacred forest not far from our training site.
With the Committee members’ reflections as a basis, the group began to explore the process of advocacy, both as an organized and coordinated set of activities, and as a process all people use in everyday life in an effort to bring about what they want. The purpose of this dual approach was to underline the value in all citizens learning to see themselves as capable of speaking up, both for themselves and on behalf of others, in ways that respect the needs and interests of others as well.
From advocacy in general we moved to advocacy for peace. A thorough presentation was made of the findings of the Do No Harm project
, as well as the Reflecting Peace Practices project
. Together, these two sets of very solid findings provide data of critical importance to peace practitioners. Do No Harm (DNH) offers humanitarian workers guidelines and processes to use to ensure that their work does not cause unintentional harm. Reflecting Peace Practices (RPP) applies this work to the field of peacebuilding, and in addition provides solid evidence about what effective peace practice entails. This includes the necessity for peace initiatives to assure that their work synergizes with the work of others in ways which eventually lead to impact at the level of socio-political structures, as well as impact on the values and attitudes of people. This information greatly interested participants and provided guidance for beginning to engage in the process of building a peace advocacy campaign.
The rest of the workshop was spent with participants in various work groups, actually going through each step in the process of developing an advocacy campaign, from conflict analysis to context analysis, to development of goal, strategy and action plan. An emphasis was placed on the creation of effective messages for a campaign, which were practiced via role plays. Doubtless partly in response to the impact of the festival, the group chose the area of trans-border relations as its focus, and developed two separate nascent campaigns.
At the end of the 2nd day of the Peace Advocacy training I led, a participant spontaneously got out his saxophone and people danced (left).
The workshop culminated in the entire group leaving our meeting room and walking through town for a visit to the traditional King of Oussouye in a sacred forest not far from our training site. This was an honor, and as Abdou Sarr (World Education’s Senegal Country Director) observed, it was transformed into an opportunity for advocacy for support of the project’s work for regional peace.
What was evident in this workshop was the extent to which the work of the Peace Committees has affected life and conflict in their communities. To say this was impressive hardly expresses how exceptional the work they have done is. The same is true for the radio staff, who take their responsibility as journalists for peace very seriously, and are generous in what they give to their work. I think a strength of this workshop lies in the way the RPP material instructs us to make sure that peace work is conceived to ultimately have an impact at the socio-political level, even if the work is primarily at the grass roots level. This impact may occur either within the project itself or through its synergies with other initiatives. Holding this focus helped immensely to support a sense of confidence that the work these Casamancais are doing may indeed affect the conditions of the lives of all Casamancais for the better. This helps to avoid the frequent experience of giving time, talent and passion to an endeavor which ultimately does not accumulate to peace in general.
The deep vibrant cultural traditions of Casamancais were in full flower during these 7 days. At the same time, the question arose of the evolution of culture as an ever-changing set of beliefs and guidelines. Traditional attitudes in the area of gender have rarely supported the equal human rights of women in any culture. Thus a question which I think presents itself currently for peace workers in Casamance is how to hold and nourish the values which truly do sustain the remarkable acceptance of multiple ethnic groups and religious traditions, and also introduce values concerning equal rights and opportunities for all groups, whether this concerns men and women, traditional leaders and new leaders who may emerge among women and youth, and other areas as well. Casamance is unique, outstanding, in my experience, in the richness and vibrancy of its human resources, and those resources seem far more than enough to both bring peace and develop patterns of living together which sustain it.
By Adin Thayer - Karuna Center Associate
I recently returned from Nairobi, Kenya, where I facilitated dialogue for a coalition of 30 women from North and South Sudan. The people of South Sudan recently voted for independence, and on July 9 this largest country of Africa will become two separate nations, a result of peace talks that followed 20 years of civil war.
Karuna Center was invited to lead a workshop for these women by our colleagues at the Institute for Inclusive Security
(based in Washington, D.C.), which advocates for the inclusion of women in political processes such as constitutions, parliaments, ministries, and elections. Their Sudan desk officer was a student of conflict transformation who I had the pleasure to teach at the SIT Graduate Institute
. We have also received support from the Institute over the years, and are collaborating on a future program for women members of parliament and civil society in Nepal.
This coalition of women leaders from North and South Sudan has been meeting for about 5 years, offering support to each other and shared advocacy for women through all the years of the dreadful civil war. KCP was asked to facilitate a process where the women could share honestly with each other about the impending separation and its impact on their coalition. Dialogue skills, group facilitation techniques, and a peacebuilding lens on their advocacy work were new contributions to participants, and were well received. Some of the group members lead trainings at home, and they especially appreciated new tools and approaches for the design and delivery of their own workshops.
We worked very well as a team, and both the participants and my co-trainers from the Institute for Inclusive Security were pleased with the process and outcomes. The Sudanese women are determined to continue their coalition, supporting each other as their two governments write or amend constitutions and draft civic and legal structures. The government in the north may further enshrine traditional Islamic restrictions in ways that will be difficult for these activist and highly educated Northern Sudanese women. In the south, where the women fought alongside the militias, they are now sidelined while the men broker the peace.
Although I have worked with individual Sudanese women and men as CONTACT
students, this was my first time with a Sudanese group, and I hope to do more with the Institute for Inclusive Security to support this ongoing program. This group of Sudanese women felt extremely warm, feisty, and outgoing, filled with music and dance in spite of the hardships. They have truly come to understand that women from the various identity groups in Sudan are not their enemies and that they need each other for any hope of establishing human rights and dignity for women in both Sudanese countries. As they say, Insha’Allah.
This January, I traveled with 12 students to Rwanda for a weeklong field seminar, as part of the Graduate Certificate program that I direct as part of Karuna Center’s relationship with the CONTACT Program at SIT Graduate Institute
. My co-teacher, Adin Thayer, is also a Karuna Center Associate. The trip connected students with a variety of NGOs and government institutions, many of which Karuna Center has worked with in the past, and allowed us a glimpse of courageous processes of healing and reconciliation among a population that was traumatized by the 1994 genocide no matter their ethnicity.
CONTACT students visit a TIG (Travaux Interet Generale, or “Work in the General Interest”) camp, where those who have confessed to genocide crimes may perform community service instead of serving prison sentences.
One of the more remarkable testimonies we heard was from a young man who joined the Hutu militias in the Congo in the late ’90’s and participated in attacks that included rape and plunder on Rwandan villages. On one of these raids he was severely wounded by Rwandan government soldiers. To his great surprise, rather than being killed, he was treated in a Rwandan hospital and then sent to a demobilization camp. After returning to his village, he decided to participate in a local reconciliation training led by Karuna Center’s long-term partner ProFemme
, a national network of women’s organizations. The experience dramatically changed his outlook, and he in turn now co-leads reconciliation trainings together with survivors.
We witnessed post-genocide work on many levels. We heard from a panel of survivors working with the Quaker-led Friends Peace House
on a trauma healing program (which Adin helped to develop) that engages survivors and perpetrators together, recognizing that all were emotionally wounded by the violence. We also held a dialogue with staff at the Kigali Genocide Memorial Centre
who teach the history of the genocide to high school students of mixed ethnicity.
We met with the Women’s parliamentary caucus on the gains and remaining challenges for Rwandan women (at 57%, Rwanda now leads the world for the highest number of women parliamentarians)—and the Rwandan Men’s Resource Center
, which leads trainings on positive images of Rwandan manhood. We also talked with staff of Radio La Benevolencija
, an NGO that leads radio soap operas with a theme of reconciliation and has a listenership of over 90% of Rwandans (and with which Adin consults). Yet more of our community visits are detailed in SIT’s blog about the trip
We were surprised with a rare opportunity to witness a Gacaca
trial relating to the 1994 genocide. Though Gacaca trials have been drawing to a close, we were invited to attend an appeal. The Gacaca trials are a system of community justice, inspired by traditional methods, in which perpetrators of the genocide are tried within the communities where the crimes were committed. Those who confess receive reduced sentencing. One of the CONTACT Graduate Certificate students in our group, Derek Miodownik, wrote up his impressions of the Gacaca process he witnessed:
Upon arrival, we could see a man approximately in his 50’s clad in a pink shirt and long shorts that, as we came to find out, is the standard issue prisoner attire in Rwanda. The man in pink who I will call Bertrand was appealing his original Gacaca Court conviction of rape and violent attack at a roadblock for which he was currently serving a life sentence.
The judges took their seats behind a table at the front of the room and put on sashes that said Inyangamugayo, meaning “Person of Integrity.” The process seemed to follow a loose structure whereby the judges first took testimony and asked clarifying questions of witnesses from which they derived questions for Bertrand, and his responses would often be refuted by either the witness or anyone else who claimed to have pertinent and contradictory information. Once all the listed witnesses had been deposed, the floor was open for anyone else who wanted to come forward with information, and this same clarifying and questioning process ensued. This discovery phase often turned up names of other people who were not present at the hearing, but who could provide critical testimony if summonsed.
The site of the hearing on the second day was under a large tree at the base of a slope where it flattened out to meet the road. By the time we arrived many villagers had already assembled, and it was then that I truly understood why it was called Gacaca (Grass) Court.
The second day of the hearing brought new witnesses, and the questions from the judges got increasingly detailed and investigatory. They would hone in on questions such as, “What did you buy at the store?”, “What time were you there?”, “What were you carrying?”, and the responses would spark many doubtful snickers for community members in attendance. Once again, the judges’ highly investigatory approach led to new names and details being surfaced, and, accordingly, new summonses issued for another session.
The third day of the hearing brought additional witnesses who contended that they did not see Bertrand at the roadblock or participating in any of the violent attacks that occurred there as Tutsis tried to flee and take shelter outside the village. The day was marked by more sounds of disbelief or contempt among those present, with several community members becoming visibly shaken and upset. Bertrand was given a final chance to make a statement and delivered an impassioned insistence of his innocence.
The entire process was truly fascinating to witness: The thoroughness of the judges; The open forum approach to participation; The spontaneously unfolding content and responsive line of questioning; The myriad pieces of a jigsaw puzzle picture held by community members and assembled by the judges, themselves volunteers.
I heard it remarked several times that the genocide happened in broad daylight, so people must have seen what happened. This notion that the truth is discoverable through the pooled knowledge that inherently exists in communities seems to drive the Gacaca Court process. While so many people perished, there are still survivors who bore witness, or know someone who did, or carry pieces of critical information. And in much the same way that the Gacaca Court judges piece together their cases question by question, the Gacaca Court process itself has seemingly pieced together the fractured image of Rwanda, relationship by relationship.
This is the reason I lead this trip to Rwanda. Out of the most horrific violence, Rwandan people have developed new methodologies for transforming conflict and promoting healing and reconciliation. While many justifiably criticize the lacks in open political space and freedom of the press and there is undeniably a long way to go, we have much to learn from what is happening in Rwandan communities.