Planting peace, story by story

This week’s guest blog includes reflections and quotations from persons who participated in MCC Alberta’s two-week Planting Peace training, held May 5-17. The seminar brought together 25 young adults from around the world to explore what it means to build peace.

By Jackie Karau, Kenya

My idea of peace has always been tied to avoiding conflict as much as possible. If any conflict did arise, I would try my best to find which of the parties involved would be most likely to apologize and I would encourage them to do so as quickly as possible. I would then be very happy about having handled conflict so well. I never stopped to think about whether the apologies were heartfelt or not, or whether the apology was truly accepted or not. As long I had made “peace” and handed it over in a nice little box with a bow on it, then I was very happy with myself.

Planting Peace 2 Planting Peace has challenged most of what I thought peacebuilding should be. I have learned that sometimes peace has nothing to do with conflict at all. In some communities, peace means access to clean water and education, in others it may mean standing together as a congregation even when there is fear or doubt, in others it may mean listening to young people who are struggling with being accepted and helping them find constructive ways to channel their emotions. I have also learned that sometimes peace is looking beyond hijabs, turbans, colours, and accents and just engaging with someone, feeling their emotions, hearing their stories, crying with them so they know they are not alone, laughing and sharing in our humanity. Peace is not just hearing stories and feeling sad, it is about sharing these stories so that others can learn from them, so that future generations will not make the same mistakes.

There is a lot of conflict in this world, and perhaps the reason world peace seems like this unattainable utopia is because we want to solve all these problems in one big sweep. I thought of it as this magical peace inoculation that we could give to an entire population and declare it done. This is just not possible–peace is not a trophy handed at the end of a finish line, and it is definitely not a destination. Peace is found in the journey–when the walls we build to keep others out crumble, when uncomfortable realities are told and discussed and grieved, only then can relationships slowly be rebuilt.

Quotations from other Planting Peace participants

Planting peace 5“I want to work for peace so that everyone grows well.” – Jason  Konayuma, Zambia

“Life is very narrow without hope.” – Zeinab Hussein, Lebanon

“I came here to plant peace. I planted you all in my heart.” – Zeinab Hussein, Lebanon

“Sometimes all we can do is make ourselves forgivable.” – Will Loewen, Alberta

“Telling, listening, hearing,incorporating, sharing.” – Richard Wagamese, Ojibway author (trainer)

“I never know who will hear my voice. But if I keep silent then no one will hear me.” – Richard Wagamese

“We build the road and the road builds us.” – Sarvodaya

“Peace-building happens in the setting of the impossible.” – Jarem Sawatsky, Canadian Mennonite University (trainer)

“We are designed to heal. The whole world is designed to heal. You can go anywhere in the world and find violence and disgusting things that people do to each other. But there are always pockets of love and healing in the midst of the violence. Always. It is the impulse to move toward the other with love and healing.” – Jarem Sawatsky

“I eat life not with a spoon, but with a spade.” – Jackie Karau, Kenya

“My world has become smaller, but my house has become bigger” –  Fhuti Mnisi, South Africa

By Abe Janzen, MCC Alberta executive director

“Planting Peace changed my life,”said Bolin Laing, a young social worker from Cambodia. She talked about going home, having decided to forgive two people who, to this date, she had not been able to forgive.

Planting Peace 1At our two-week training, we learned that planting peace is about forgiveness, about advocating for others, about structural change, about standing in the middle, between the sides that cannot talk to each other to resolve their violence. It is about many realities that confound and enable the opportunities we all have–in our families, communities, countries, cultures— to help resolve conflict and, at times, to prevent it.

But more than anything, planting peace is about stories.  It is about any and all of us stepping into the story of our neighbour, and not only telling that story, but telling it as our own. Over a period of two weeks, we were challenged and nudged into each others’ stories, sometimes deliberately, and sometimes inadvertently, as part of a daily process of engagement. This was not an easy run–this is hard work.  But Planting Peace became a story in itself–a story about the redemption of a circle of about 25 people from around the world, all in different ways discovering some way to take this learning back to their (our) own worlds.  And most of us would say what Fhuti Mnisi from South Africa said on the final day review: “My world has become smaller, and my house has become bigger.”

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