for release July 5, 2002
by Melodie Davis
World Class Peacemakers Train in My Backyard, One at a Time
I interviewed Sam Gbaydee Doe in 1996. He and his family had fled from renewed fighting between warring factions in Monrovia, Liberia on April 6 of that year. He had come to our town, Harrisonburg, Va., to study peace-building techniques in Eastern Mennonite University's (EMU) Conflict Transformation Program (CTP), while his wife and child stayed safely in Man, Ivory Coast.
Today he is executive director of the West African Network for Peacebuilding based in Accra, Ghana. Doe does peace building training and intervention throughout West Africa, and his specialties include post-conflict reintegration, and dealing with children and war, both issues with which he is intimately acquainted.
This summer he returned to Harrisonburg, to speak to CTP's Summer Peacebuilding Institute where he told participants they should expect culture shock while here. He recalled his astonishment in 1996 to see "tables richly laden with food while squirrels scampered undisturbed nearby." In his native Liberia, where he had gone hungry, Doe hunted squirrels to eat.
By the way, EMU's program is called "conflict transformation," rather than "conflict resolution" (which is also a popular term) to emphasize that peace work is more than resolving specific conflicts. It is working to bring about transformed relationships and societies.
Two more graduates of this innovative program which has gained international respect, are Fidele Lumeya and Krista Rigalo, a married couple who currently work at the Mindolo Ecumenical Center in Kitwe, Zambia. As part of their training, Lumeya, who is from the Congo, wrote a conflict transformation training manual for use in Africa. Earlier they had worked with Rwandan refugees who fled the 1994 genocide there, as well as refugees from internal fighting within Congo. There is now a peace building institute in Africa, which 30 people from 10 African countries attended last year.
Other graduates work around the world including the U.S. and Canada in an impressive array of programs related to conflict and peace (for more stories see <http://www.emu.edu/ctp/fieldintro.html>) To be sure, the work is often plodding, filled with despair and many setbacks. But overall the work and emphasis is spreading.
This past semester while my daughter was studying at the Catholic University in Leuven, Belgium, she had a Muslim roommate from the island of Cyprus. Her roommate was taking a course in Peace Research and Conflict Management, and one textbook being used had chapters or referred to Ron Kraybill, John Paul Lederach, Howard Zehr, and all leaders in the EMU program. My daughter's roommate was excited to know that these are all people whom I have worked with or consulted. This young woman is planning to pursue graduate work in peace studies; her island's own history of conflict (between Turkish rule and Cypriot rule) were what propelled her in that direction.
We tend to look past stimulating programs that exist in our own hometowns. The United Nations has called on CTP for help with training. The U.S. State Department selects CTP for the training of Fulbright scholars in conflict resolution, and CTP professors and leaders have frequently been asked to travel to various hot spots in the world to help with training or dealing with trauma.
Founded in 1994, the CTP program began with two students. Today it encompasses a graduate degree program, the Institute for Justice and Peacebuilding, and the Summer Peacebuilding Institute where this summer 179 people representing 50 nationalities participated.
World peace for many is a distant, impractical, goal. It certainly seems like that on many days. But I'm encouraged by these peace practitioners who are working one person, one conflict, one community at a time to solve conflicts at every level: between landlords and tenants, police and community, warring tribes and ethnic groups, often putting their own lives literally on the line or in harm's way.
It's like the Habitat for Humanity model that has worked so well, if slowly: improving housing one house, one family at a time. As a grassroots peace effort spreads among people who are sick of conflict and fighting in their lands, we hope to gradually get to the place where people find other ways to make decisions, create change and solve conflicts.
For more information on the Conflict Transformation Programs, call 540-432-4490 or go to http://www.emu.edu/ctp/.
Comments? Write to: Melodie Davis, Another Way c/o Name\Address of YOUR newspaper; or e-mail: Melodie@mennomedia.org.
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Melodie Davis is the author of seven books and has written her column since 1987. She taught feature writing and has won awards from the National Federation of Press Women, Virginia Press Women and the American Advertising Association. She and her husband have three daughters.
NOTES TO EDITORS: text = 750 words; end material = 105 words
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