Planting Peace Gathering: A place Where we can Grow Together

by Sarah Patterson-Cole and Macy Haahr

Planting Peace Gathering is a weeklong peacebuilding program for young adults ages 18-30 hosted by MCC Alberta. The program started in 2010 and runs every two to three years with the goal of equipping young adults to promote peace in their communities. This year, young adults from both Alberta and Saskatchewan spent a week at Camp Valaqua learning about peacebuilding throughout Canada and across the globe. Most of the 15 participants were in university or recent graduates with different experiences and backgrounds. The gathering was a place to learn about others, to build community, and to learn how to make a difference in the world.

Our motivation for participating in this program was to have a better understanding of both MCC’s local and international work. As summer interns with MCC’s Alberta office, this was a great start to our internship experience. I, Sarah, am studying International Studies at Trinity Western University in Langley, BC and my internship is with MCC Alberta’s program department. For me, this internship is a great opportunity to learn about a development organization with diverse programs in Canada and around the world, especially since I want to work in the international development and nonprofit sector when I graduate.

Macy Haahr and Sarah Patterson-Cole (MCC Photo/Carol MacNaughton)

For myself, Macy, I am a marketing student at Mount Royal University in Calgary and I am interning with MCC and the Alberta thrift shop team. My role includes work with social media policy training for the four shops located throughout Alberta. With my background being in business, I was excited about this opportunity to broaden my understanding in areas of less familiarity to me such as global relief and development. I feel a strong accountability to use my business career to work towards a more united global community.

On our first night at Camp Valaqua, the dinner table conversations centered around the significant difficulties and seemingly insurmountable challenges in our world. Our outlook into the future seemed to be filled with doubt and dismay leaving us feeling helpless to bring about change. So, we were eager to see what value the week at the Planting Peace Gathering would bring to our lives. Reflecting now, we could not have envisioned the restoration of hope and understanding that the sessions would bring us. We also did not anticipate receiving a toolkit full of resources that would equip us to be strong and effective voices advocating for peace and change in our world.

Students listen to a presentation by MCC Alberta staff Trish Elgersma and Darrel Heidebrecht about restorative justice and RAFT. (MCC Photo/Carol McNaughton)

 The overall message emerging from a wide variety of speakers, and in our conversations, throughout the week was that when stories are shared, change can happen. When someone has the courage to share their story, they can become an advocate for themselves and for their communities. Stories help to humanize the complex challenges of our world, and also help us envision ways forward. The group of participants quickly became a close-knit community that engaged nightly in storytelling circles, where we heard the experiences of each person and how we want to be advocates for change. Storytelling is a powerful tool to communicate and evoke change. 

On the theme of storytelling we talked about effective communication, Mennonite history, climate change and interfaith dialogue. One of the most impactful sessions was led by the Ottawa Office Director, Anna Vogt, about advocacy. She encouraged us to use our voices to advocate in our communities. Anna gave us information on how to advocate for our needs, concerns and stories to the government and provided us with tangible tools such as how to connect with our MPs through letter writing.  By having concrete next steps to take, we now have the confidence to take action. It also means no more excuses; when you have the tools and you have the ability you also have the obligation to act. By gaining these practical skills and resources we can go into our communities and share the knowledge we have received to create a ripple effect, with more people acting for change and promoting peace. 

The week left us with new friendships, a deeper understanding of connection and a yearning to use our new tool kit to advocate for peace and change in our world. We also gained a community of like-minded individuals with which to continue conversations about building peace and finding solutions to the problems we see in our communities and beyond.

Sarah Patterson-Cole and Macy Haahr are summer interns at MCC Alberta

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