Adapting our peacebuilding work to a changing world

Sep 4, 2020 | Featured

Over the past several months, we—like everyone—have been adjusting and readjusting our work to a constantly changing context. The political and social dynamics that fuel violent conflict have not faded away as the pandemic has spread. Instead, new challenges to peace—as well as new opportunities—have been coming to the surface.

Throughout 2020, we have been leading initiatives within NigeriaBosnia and HerzegovinaEthiopiaWest Africa regionally, and the United States. We are also very excited that we appear on the cusp of winning a multi-year grant to build on our previous work to build interethnic and inter-religious respect and support for human rights in Myanmar.

Thank you to those of you who have continued your support and involvement in peace work throughout this time. As new challenges to peace emerge, our initiatives continue to build resilience during changing times. Here are some promising updates from our peacebuilding programs around the world:

Nigeria: Protecting Our Communities

Our Protecting Our Communities initiative supports rural Nigerian communities who are at the center of violent clashes between crop farmers and nomadic cattle herders. In partnership with the Nigeria-based Neem Foundation, we aim to work with women and youth in those communities to share peacebuilding tools to help reduce the cycle of violence.

Unfortunately, the pandemic has limited our ability to convene people. And on top of that, the affected communities are facing increases to violence and kidnapping along travel routes, tensions with the government, and economic hardship—pressures that make peacebuilding more urgent.

As a result, our team has adapted its approach. For example, where originally, we were planning to convene one large gathering, Neem established new, local trainers and held 18 separate, local workshops to teach community members how to lead an Early Warning-Early Response (EWER) system (photos above). These local response committees—drawn from many sectors—can now consider reports of brewing incidents and pull from a range of solutions to collaboratively de-escalate that potential violence.

Soon, Karuna Center dialogue mentors will remotely train dialogue facilitators from Neem Foundation to work closely with community members, teaching them how to lead dialogues across farming and herding communities’ ethnic and religious differences.

Bosnia and Herzegovina: Project STaR

In Bosnia and Herzegovina, our Project STaR (Societal Transformation and Reconciliation) continues to engage youth and community members across deep ethnic and political divides that persist more than 25 years after the war. Project STaR is a collaboration among Karuna Center and four Bosnian peacebuilding organizations: Center for Peacebuilding (CIM)PRONI Center for Youth DevelopmentYouth Initiative for Human Rights (YIHR), and Mali Koraci (Small Steps).

Since internet access is widespread in Bosnia and Herzegovina, we have been able to move many community discussions and workshops onto virtual platforms—which has in some ways expanded the project’s reach. The team holds virtual workshops and community conversations, trains youth as facilitators and to specialize in youth social work, and supports youth as they produce shareable videos and memes that highlight the importance of cooperation (not scapegoating) during the pandemic.

In terms of in-person activities, 70 Bosnian youth and young adults have graduated from intensive STaR peace camps over the past year—which continue now in an outdoor setting with social distancing (photos at top). The peace camp graduates have worked in teams to lead dozens of activities and workshops to bridge divides in their own communities.

Ethiopia: Building Community Resilience

Since last fall, we have been working with diverse Ethiopian leaders from the cities of Harar, Dire Dawa, and Jijiga—supporting them to establish city-wide community resilience committees, advance interethnic and inter-religious cooperation, and improve local resilience to violence and radicalization. The pandemic interrupted our series of forums in Addis Ababa, which were focused on dialogue and peace leadership skills. We have adapted to provide webinars, in cooperation with our project partners: African Immigrants Communities and Ethiopian Interfaith Forum for Development, Dialogue and Action (EIFDDA).

Since last fall, we have been working with diverse Ethiopian leaders from the cities of Harar, Dire Dawa, and Jijiga—supporting them to establish city-wide community resilience committees, advance interethnic and inter-religious cooperation, and improve local resilience to violence and radicalization. The pandemic interrupted our series of forums in Addis Ababa, which were focused on dialogue and peace leadership skills. We have adapted to provide webinars, in cooperation with our project partners: African Immigrants Communities and Ethiopian Interfaith Forum for Development, Dialogue and Action (EIFDDA).

Bridging Divides in the U.S.

In the United States, we focus on working through partnerships to advance broader progress on issues of structural violence—racism, extreme inequality, and other forms of systemic oppression.

In our home office community of Western Massachusetts, we are convening a discussion series (currently conducted virtually), Erasure and Restoration: An Exploration of Past and Present in the Kwinitekw Valley’s Indigenous Communities. The series is funded by Mass Humanities with additional support from the Ellis L. Phillips Foundation.

Through events facilitated by Native people and non-Native allies, this series will consider who the narrators of history are, make space for a strengths-based retelling, and analyze the meaning and matter of relationship-building, reconciliation, land caretaking, memory, and inclusive curricula that explore Indigenous histories, cultures, and lived experiences. 

On a national level, are currently co-developing and co-facilitating a series of dialogues—Transforming the Conversation on Carbon Pricing—in partnership with the Deep South Center for Environmental JusticePricing Carbon Initiative, and Citizens Climate Lobby.

The goal is to create a constructive space for leading advocates of carbon pricing policies and of environmental justice to talk together about how to better include the concerns of vulnerable communities in proposed policies—so that efforts to address overall emissions do not inadvertently continue the existing, deadly racial health disparities caused by pollution.

In closing, we want to share that—just as we, as a Karuna Center community, support the struggles for peace of people around the world—our international colleagues and friends often share with us a sense of solidarity with what people in the United States are going through. Many people all over the world have been hoping and praying for peace in the U.S: for an end to the systemic violence established by centuries of racism, for respect of the right to peacefully protest, and for free and fair elections this fall. 

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PHOTOS ABOVE: The Mawlamyine Seeds of Karuna team held a series of activities at Hindu, Buddhist, and Christian religious schools and temples. At each place, the team organized a broader interfaith volunteer team to feed and play games with the children while talking with them about acceptance of others. The team also donated food, labor, and supplies, and met with teachers, staff, and monks to discuss interfaith tolerance.

The Mandalay Seeds of Karuna team held an interfaith program for mothers (1st photo) that blended information on child development with messages of tolerance and understanding—since our upbringing does so much to influence our outlook. The team reached out to and involved a broader array of community and faith groups who also provided support. 

PHOTOS ABOVE: The Mandalay Seeds of Karuna team brought together an interfaith gathering of community members who planted 81 trees at a Baha’i cemetery (3rd photo). In October, they again worked in interfaith teams to plant trees at a Buddhist monastic school (even when the path is not easy!) and in a Muslim neighborhood. 

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