As we are engaging in this week’s module on Inclusive Community Peacebuilding, I cannot help but reminisce. We are entering year 2 of the pandemic and how different does our world seem from the one I knew before. I have adapted to all of the changes as well as I can. Days at a time without leaving the house once. One year working from home in Mexico City without ever going back to the office. One year without my friends, nor going out to dance salsa. A year and a half without seeing my loved ones back home in the Netherlands. Feeling further away and disconnected from the various personal and professional communities I belong to than ever. Changes I can handle – my basic needs are covered, life simply goes on and at some point in the future things will probably run its normal course again. At least, for me.
Back in March 2020, while we all tried to grasp the severity of the pandemic as it swept around us, Madonna took a luxurious bath full of rose petals and stated that ‘COVID is the great equalizer’. It was already abundantly clear back then that this is a blatant misconception. The harmful effects of this pandemic are not and will not be distributed equally.
What about the more than 137 million children in Latin America and the Caribbean whose education is put on hold, in many cases for over a year? In November 2020, UNICEF published that a staggering 97% of the region’s students are still deprived of their normal schooling. Here in Mexico, for example, those who are privileged enough to access private education have been home-schooled for a year using Zoom. Far from ideal, but way better than those in public education. Only 40% of students have access to stable internet. So, what’s the solution? Millions of children are now receiving their education via state-run distance learning programmes offered via television and radio. Which means limited hours and zero direct interaction with classmates or teachers to receive extra support and explanations. What does that do to our education systems? What does this mean for the overall development of this generation?
It exacerbates already existing inequalities and inequities. Interrupted learning leading to a disruption of children’s development, coupled with increasing school drop-out rates, aggravated risks to child labour, enhanced risks of domestic violence, gender-based violence and violence against children, and further economic repercussions in the years to come.
And this only scratches the surface of the short and long-term impacts of the lockdown on society overall. We face enormous challenges, now and in the future. As for us in the fellowship, while we are trying to continue our work in the various (fascinating!) fields that we are active in, how do we maintain our impact and quality standards in community development and peacebuilding from a distance? How do we create meaningful and positive change during -what seems to be a never-ending lockdown? The idea of inclusive community peacebuilding is one of meaningful, equal and true participation, ownership and leadership of communities. Involving the voices of all those who are affected by programmes or initiatives at every stage of the process. It seems simple and straightforward, but unfortunately in practice it is not. Too often communities are side-lined and interventions built on assumptions, foreign agendas and the best of intentions that do not take into account local needs, voices or realities.
Our visions on community peacebuilding and the many examples of good practice and of persistent pitfalls that we discussed this week were based on our direct and in-person work experiences in communities. It makes me long for the days that I was still able to travel and co-facilitate workshops and meetings with rightsholders for my own work in human rights education. Human connection and direct interaction at its best. We are now largely depending on organizing and mobilizing in digital and distance-learning spaces. Yet, those who do have internet are absolutely overwhelmed and tired of Zoom and Google Hangouts, as am I. And experience shows that those we may specifically seek to include who are part of marginalized communities, such as indigenous peoples, at-risk youth, refugees, people with disabilities, rural communities and LGBTIQ+ communities, are harder to reach and involve if we can only rely on digital communication. All my best intentions aside, working on inclusion and equality seems harder than ever.
Looking ahead, how do we ‘build back better’? How do we reduce the widening inequality gap? Whatever the reconciliation and recovery challenges that await us in the future, the idea of inclusive community development is of vital importance here. But, let us please be more vigilant against tokenistic inclusion and participation. Our political and international arenas have to radically and urgently change its mind-set and practice in this respect. If we truly want inclusive community development and peacebuilding, it requires that we take a long and hard look at ourselves. All the best intentions aside, to be true champions of equality and equity we need to reflect, unpack and act better upon the power dynamics that come into play. The international development and humanitarian aid sector itself is a world full of oppression and privilege, stereotypes and prejudices, micro aggressions, micro politics and dominant development discourses. Official aid for development is a political instrument and a political process in itself. Civic driven change, political agency and power dynamics are main drivers for in- or exclusion. To acknowledge that is the very minimum. To act upon it would be a great step forward.
Imke van der Velde – The Netherlands/Mexico
Rotary Peace Fellow – Class 30Read More
Hi, my names Tim Mortimer and I’m an interfaith dialogue specialist from the UK, and part of the latest Rotary Peace Fellowship Class 30.
I applied for and was accepted to the Fellowship with the intentions of broadening my perspective. I’ve been working at The Faith & Belief Forum, the UK’s leading interfaith charity for the last 6 and a half years. I love it, but I’ve definitely become used to a particular methodology and context. I’ve worked on and lead different grassroots programming connecting people from different backgrounds, and it’s all been very locally focussed. For one example, over the last 5 months I’ve been leading a government funded dialogue programme in two British cities where diverse faith/belief communities engage and get to know each other through a series of facilitated online meetings. One Mosque and Church that linked were on the same street, and so we built connections through exploring each community’s experiences within the same locality.
I was aware that after so long in the same organisation, the chance to step back and compare my approach to practitioners from all around the world would be invaluable. Now, 8 weeks into the fellowship I can certainly say that the process of broadening my perspective is well underway.
At first the Fellowship experience was a little overwhelming. The language of ‘conflict transformation’, ‘multilateral organisations’, ‘global geopolitical trends’ and ‘UN Security Council resolutions’ is quite unfamiliar to me. I’m more used to talking about individual stories of faith, family, community and identity. There’s a risk that when broadening one’s perspective, that you start to appreciate the vast complexity of the wider problems we face.
I was also introduced to my incredible cohort of Fellows working and living in such different contexts all around the globe. From New York to Nepal, Liberia to Timor-Leste. It became evident extremely quickly that when we talked about peace we were often talking about quite different things. When I talk of conflict in the UK in 2021, I’m talking about the underlying community tensions that the Brexit vote has brought to the fore. I’m talking about the rising levels of hate crime against minority communities. I’m not talking about imminent threats of violence in the way friends from Palestine or Uganda might be. I have also consistently been reminded of my own privilege, not least digitally, as friends from other countries participate around power cuts.
However, as we get into the swing of the Fellowship, I am definitely learning a lot. Particularly, I’m learning fairly frequently that the grassroots principles that I’ve picked up over time in the UK do relate to the global conversation, in ways I never realised.
This recently hit home during our lectures with Itonde Kakoma (Director for Global Strategy) from Crisis Management Initiative (CMI), an internationally focussed mediation organisation based in Finland. While Itonde and I are both professional mediators, the conversations he mediates are between world leaders so I didn’t expect to find too many similarities in our practices. Certainly, the dialogues Itonde spoke of in Tanzania between leaders of different political factions in South Sudan are a far cry from my recent community dialogue project. Interestingly, when Itonde shared his methodology and approach to high level mediation, there were important similarities to my own practice. To name a few, these similarities include: the focus on preparation and the conversation needed before opening the dialogue space; the importance of learning mediation through an ‘apprentice model’ of observing seasoned mediators; the cruciality of co-production and the need to assess the power dynamics of the physical dialogue space.
As the Fellowship continues, I look forward to broadening my perspective, but also coming to realise that some of the answers I’m looking for are a little closer to home.
Tim Mortimer – The UK
Rotary Peace Fellow – Class 30Read More
No peace without peace of mind: Why we need to link mental health and psychosocial support into peacebuilding, now.
They say every cloud has a silver lining. While it took me a while to find the silver lining on the massive and ever-evolving dark cloud of Covid-19; I think I’ve found it: all of a sudden everyone around me is talking about (their) mental health. Cooped up in our homes, prevented from spending time with those we love; overwhelmed with anxiety and fear and uncertainty; mental health has become a far more frequent dinner table topic than it was before the pandemic reigned on us. I for one hope it stays that way; here’s why:
For me mental health is personal, professional and inextricably linked to violent conflict. My German grandfather fled his beloved hometown of Bautzen in East Germany during the Sovietisation in 1954. My mother and grandmother followed a few days later; leaving behind everything but a small suitcase containing their most urgent possessions. By all accounts my grandfather-desperately homesick- became heavily depressed soon after leaving Bautzen. This impacted heavily on his ability to earn a living and to be emotionally present for his young daughter and wife.
And, to this day, my mother, 5 years old at the time; says she has nightmares about getting lost in and amongst rows and rows of identical tents in a Berlin refugee camp where the family initially sought refuge.
Having spent much time understanding, talking about and analysing our family history, my sister and I have now made peace with the fact that our grandfather’s depression (or melancholy as he called it) has been passed down through the generations; via our mother, to her and I.
However, my professional aha-moment came in a dialogue session with community leaders in Juba, South Sudan in 2014. We had been circling around the same topic for days; trying to establish a feasible model for reconciliation dialogues in that country. At some point a young man who had witnessed the horrors of war first hand, opened up. His story was raw, fresh and filled with a pain and anger that appeared to resonate deeply with the other participants in the room. This unlocked something. As participants responded with an almost contagious energy, volunteering to share their own stories with us, something shifted for me. It became clear to me that unless peacebuilders systemically collaborate with mental health and psycho-social support practitioners to address the psychological impact of conflict; the peace we are trying to build will not materialise. We will not live in peace and be able to contribute to the building of that peace; unless we have peace of mind. Indeed, evidence shows that those who have not processed the wounds of the past; are less likely to engage actively and peacefully in community-rebuilding efforts.
Conflict destroys so much more than physical infrastructure. It reaches deep into society, carefully destroying link after link of its fragile fibre. As trust erodes; so do the relationships which govern our co-existence. The more those relationships are damaged; the less cushioning we have to protect us from the daily stress of everyday living. This in turn erodes us; our wellbeing and our resilience. As such there is no question in my mind, that peacebuilders and MHPSS professionals must work together if they want to effectively and sustainably rebuild societies destroyed by war. Advocating for this simple yet crucial truth, is what I care most deeply about. It is my life’s work. This is the topic of my SCI as well as the lens with which I listen to and participate in the tremendously enriching Rotary Peace Fellowship.
Friederike Bubenzer – South Africa
Rotary Peace Fellow – Class 30Read More