As part of its year-end reporting, the Washington Post listed seven conflict zones in the world that had gone, in its view, under-reported. We had heard lots about Syria, Gaza, Ukraine and ISIS - and rightly so! Of the seven situations noted, some news had trickled in on Libya and Yemen and their respective descents into post-Arab Spring violence, of al Shabab in Somalia and Kenya, Boko Haram in Nigeria and the Taliban in Pakistan. Almost invisible were the Sudans and Assam/Northeast India - both for us places of long-time and profound relationships and collaboration with local partners in the work of peace.
The Sudans, North and South
Having spent a month a year for 8 years in Sudan and then South Sudan, the world's newest country, we have witnessed the transformation of a small group of 200 trained trainers into tens of thousands of activists working for non-violent change. Still, Darfur remains wracked with violence and South Sudan has made its own descent in to civil war, 10,000 people killed and more than 1.5 million displaced amidst battles between government and rebel forces. With hundreds of thousands of South Sudanese now joining the ranks of the displaced and the refugee, the impacts of the breakdown in the Nuer-Dinka agreements that had made the forming of the new country possible are flowing across both state and international boundaries.
In 2015, we will be working with an organisation in Uganda founded by two women who were participants in Conflict Transformation training in South Sudan in 2011 on two projects - one that is designed to build community out of the tensions and violence now marking relationships between a large and growing South Sudanese refugee presence and their Ugandan hosts. The second project is focussed on gender and development with 2000 girls in the same West Nile region. READ ON!!
Refugees and Reluctant Hosts: Turning Enemies into Neighbours on the South Sudanese-Ugandan Border
With the outbreak of civil war in South Sudan in December of 2013 marked by atrocities on both sides of the Nuer-Dinka conflict, CIPAD Uganda has been engaging host communities and the newly-arrived refugees in dialogue and mediation designed to reduce violence and de-escalate the tensions.
The already volatile situation escalated in September 2014 with an outbreak of violent conflict that ended with 50 people dead and many properties destroyed due to land disputes between communities in the Moyo District of Uganda and Kajo-Keji County of South Sudan.
Despite the 'diplomatic and policing interventions by the two governments, the victims and survivors of this violence continue to be exposed to revenge, vengeance, mob justice, hooliganism, and other unlawful acts'. CIPAD intervened with trainings and community meetings aimed at promoting peaceful co-existence. They have already conducted six trainings and have requested support from Partera. In October, we will be joining CIPAD staff in 'engaging the conflicting communities through community-led initiatives will facilitate safe processes of dialogue and community discussion fora. This will allow them to identify and discuss potential conflict trigger points, to adopt peaceful coping mechanisms to managing feelings and, resolve disputes peacefully though non-violent means.'
Keeping Girls in School
Uganda has come a long way since the brutal dictatorship of Idi Amin but the now three decade-long rule of Yoweri Museveni has contributed to significant retreats in the areas of human rights, political freedoms of expression and assembly, constitutional norms. While the President has won some praise for his expansion of rights for women, successful HIV-AIDS programmes, providing free condoms and offering supports for women to go to college, for example, economic rights and especially those of property and inheritance continue to privilege men. Education for girls in rural areas remains out of reach for many, with barriers to participation that include the inability of many to access what they need for basic menstrual-management.
Taking advantage of a morning break between classes in Buteba, Uganda, then-13-year-old Lucy Athieno set off to play with friends. Then she heard some boys shouting at her.
She looked down and saw a blotch of red on her otherwise clean uniform. Embarrassed, she quickly sat down. It was the only way to stop the boys from making fun of her. After all the other students had gone, she got up and went home. She did not return to school.
Every week empty chairs in classrooms bear witness to the fact that girls do not want to have to deal with the embarrassment of stigmatised bloody clothing and stained wooden benches. School and public facilities are inadequate for both the tending of their female needs and their safety. The result is a gradual slipping behind that, eventually, leads to early school-leaving, early marriage, early child-bearing and the ill health that accompanies the too-soon burdens of motherhood on girls barely more than children themselves. And doors to women's participation in the shaping of their communities and their country - and of their own lives - remain curtailed, their gifts, skills and insights untapped, their futures foreshortened.
Partera will be working with our partner agency, CIPAD, in the Yumbe and Maracha Districts of the volatile West Nile Region that borders South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The region has the lowest life expectancy in Uganda (40 years), has given its name to a deadly virus and been unwilling hosts to multiple insurgencies led by the Lord's Resistance Army. The project will include many elements - from training in and production of 'eco-pads', inexpensive, safe and reusable sanitary towels, to training in gender and development for several hundred adolescent primary school-age girls.
India's Restive Northeast
Tribal insurgencies persist in this odd appendage that is the northeast - after decades of violence, reneged-on promises and unfulfilled hopes of autonomy following the departure of the British Raj. More than a half million people have been killed, another half million displaced, dividing along ethnic lines conflicts that are, at their hearts, about economics, about scarce land and resources, Delhi's failure to distribute its growing wealth amongst the northeast's impoverished tribals, about corruption and nepotism.
Since the early 1990s, the Baptist Peace Fellowship has worked with insurgency movements, led by pious Baptist laymen in this oddly Christian and Baptist part of India. The ceasefire that was achieved amongst the five largest movements has persisted. Yet the violence continues, within and between ethnic groups, with Muslims targetted by many as illegal settlers and poachers. Christmas week, an extremist faction of the indigenous Bodos massacred 80 tribals in three districts of Assam, sending 50,000 fleeing their homes. Delhi responded with an extensive counterterrorism operation.
Touring and Teaching for Peace
We are very excited about our 2015 work with partners in North East India! Two Partera trainer-teachers (LeeAnn McKenna and Jeanette Quick Sandlin) will be returning to the North east to do two things: to work with and train 50 Bikers for Peace in non-violence (a story in itself: read about it here!) and to teach two courses in a new M.A. Programme in Peace Studies with young men and women from across the Northeast. The courses are on Human Rights and Conflict Transformation. We will be combining our usual methods of popular education/experiential learning and conflict transformation tools and exercises with academic readings.
The Bike Tour for Peace Project includes support for 50 men and women to borrow, repair, rent, salvage, and keep fuelled and in running order for a month 50 bikes ($7,000) - as well as their food and accommodation over approximately 30 days and 6,000 km ($2,000).
Welcome to Partera!
It means midwife, in Spanish. But there are no babies delivered here. Other things, however. Change. Solutions and resolutions. Plans. Tools. Whether equipping for working well together, living well, planning your organisation's future directions or intervening for the purpose of building and creating peaceful societies, the methods employed by Partera assume the wisdom and inherent strength of the participants in any process towards change.
So, come on in. Partera is part of a global network of trainers and facilitators with a wealth of experience and expertise. Visit our links, browse through the articles and gallery. Read and comment on our blog posts. Participate in the work as a contract partner, a donor, an intern or contributing writer.
Partera brings more than twenty-five years of experience in facilitation, training, mediation, strategic planning and third-party non-violent intervention in a host of situations around the world on four continents.
See About for more details. For further information, be in touch:
What You Honour Tonight
In November of 2010, Lee McKenna was awarded the YMCA Peace Medallion in recognition of her peacemaking work in war zones. Her acceptance speech provides a snapshot of her work. The script can be read here.
'Taking our fear for a walk'
Confronting Global Crises: A Non-violent Perspective
In November, 2011, Toronto was the site of a conference entitled 'Confronting Global Crises'. Lee McKenna presented the closing keynote address on the topic of the importance of critical consciousness - for both accurate analysis and fear-dismantling - in the confronting of multiple and overlapping global crises. The script can be read here.