Peace Takes Courage

Nov 25, 2019 | #PeaceTakesCourage, Featured

During our 25th year, we’ve been sharing photos and stories of a few of the courageous peacebuilders we have partnered with around the world. Some have summoned the inner strength to reach across divides; some have put themselves in danger to protect others during times of war.

Courage to protect the vulnerable:

Karilioyaranoya, a Buddhist, was an agricultural manager in Trincomalee, Sri Lanka during the 1983-2009 Civil War. One day, as he was leaving town for a business trip, two Hindu friends approached him, very upset and scared. They were being pursued by a Buddhist mob that was burning down Hindu homes.

He hid his Hindu friends under a tarp with materials in the back of his truck, and drove them past roadblocks to safety at great risk to himself. When his boss found out what he had done, he was demoted to a lower level job.

D. Kariloyaranoya contributed to Karuna Center’s 2011-2013 interfaith reconciliation program in Sri Lanka. Photo by David Garrison.


Courage to face a painful past:

Marie Uwambaje is a survivor of the Genocide Against the Tutsi in Rwanda. She has forgiven Boniface Twagiramungu (left), a former perpetrator, for targeting her family. Together, they now help others heal from trauma and find reconciliation.

When Marie and Boniface became involved in our Healing Our Communities program, they shared an unspeakably painful story. Following the genocide, Boniface had confessed to assisting with the killing of Marie’s children during the massacres. Boniface served nine years in prison for genocide crimes and, after his release, returned to being Marie’s neighbor. The two lived side by side by necessity, but in silence and fear.

Today, after long-term trauma healing work with facilitators from HROC (one of four organizations collaborating in the Healing Our Communities program), Marie and Boniface are a team of “Healing Companions” who guide others in their community through the process of healing from genocide trauma. Their joint leadership within Healing Our Communities is a living example of reconciliation that is helping others find healing and peace. Photo: John Stanmeyer, NG Image Collection

Courage to stand up for the persecuted:

Sarnia Appukurukkal is a Hindu priest who — against the wishes and orders of his superiors — used his position to protect Buddhist community members who were fleeing Hindu rebel fighters during the Sri Lankan Civil War.

He hid the Buddhists within the Hindu temple we see him standing inside. Today, he continues to work across divides to prevent the spread of religious violence.

Sarnia Appukurukkal was a leader within our 2011-2013 interfaith reconciliation program in Sri Lanka and has been a driving force in continuing the community activism of the interfaith councils formed during that program. Photo by David Garrison.

Courage to be vulnerable:

“Karuna’s project brought me back to life. I was able again to trust people and believe that humanity still existed. The work opened my heart and made me able to transform the hate and anger that was eating me up for years, to love, compassion and understanding.

“It taught me that this beautiful transformation was possible not only for me but for anyone who is brave enough to allow him or her self to be vulnerable and go through a healing process.”

— Vahidin Omanovic (pictured), a survivor of ethnic cleansing during the Bosnian War. He attended early Karuna Center dialogues in 1997-2002, then co-founded a local peacebuilding organization—Centar za Izgradnju Mira / Center for Peacebuilding—which now works in partnership with Karuna Center as part of the STaR project team.

Courage to intervene:

This South Sudanese woman—a resident of a camp for internally displaced people—was part of an unarmed civilian intervention team that had received training and support from our colleagues at Nonviolent Peaceforce. Walking within the camp, this woman patrolled the area to stop assaults against women and girls.

We met this brave woman through our work to educate women and youth about the reality of trauma and how it drives conflict, helping them build their skills to manage both—until a new wave of violence put education programs on hold as people struggled to survive.

Courage to Reconcile:

Emsuda Mujagic, a peace activist and a survivor of the Trnopolje concentration camp, called Karuna Center in early 1997 to ask us to work with her and a group of Bosniak (Bosnian Muslim) women who were refugees of the war. With time, the Bosniak women took the bold step to ask us to help them enter into dialogue with Serb women who had been on the other side of the conflict—a process that they thought might help them to heal, and be a first step toward returning home to their communities. 

Karuna Center agreed to meet with Serb women in Prijedor to explore bi-communal dialogue. For many of those women, it must have felt like an impossible conversation, and most of the people invited declined. A few brave women, however, participated in a five-day dialogue group. They did their best to create bonds of empathy based on their mutual despair, common history as Yugoslavs, and shared fate as women victims of a war they did not invite and could not control.  

Out of their concern for the next generation, the mixed-ethnicity group suggested that we work with Bosniak and Serb educators, whose attitudes and behaviors will partially determine the success of future repatriation and integration of their communities. Their advice led to the development of Projekt Dijakom for educators from Prijedor and Sanski Most.

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As we have shared these stories and more, we have also been inviting our community to participate by asking the question, “What does standing up for peace mean to you?” These are just a few of the responses we’ve received so far.

You can join the discussion too, by using the hashtag #PeaceTakesCourage on social media.

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