Remember the Peacebuilders

by Rebekah Sears

In Canada, November is often a month for remembering, notably with Remembrance Day.

I have worked for MCC for over 10 years, and during this time have wrestled with how to mark the day, given MCC’s and my own commitments to peace and non-violence. While at the same time contemplating families and communities who have lost loved ones to war and violence.

Growing up, Remembrance Day was always an important day on the calendar for my family. This was in part due to members of my family and community serving in the war efforts of days past. It was also a day of sober reflection of the devastating impact of the wars of the past and violence on families, communities, countries, and a hurting world.

In my work with MCC, specifically through visiting and collaborating with dozens of local MCC partners in Canada and around the world, I’ve experienced a shift in my understanding of conflict, the impacts of conflict and what it takes to build a sustainable, long-lasting, and just peace. I’ve found that my sober reflection of the past on November 11 has widened to include prayers and movements for change and peace – not to mention the people working within these movements – in a world where violent conflict and wars persist today.

I’ve connected with partners working in the aftermath of violent conflict, conflict that has impacted their communities, livelihoods, and the prospects for a lasting peace. In response to war and rising tensions, so many partners respond with active resistance to violence, all while in pursuit of justice and peace. So many are also looking for the warning signs of violence and tension, and actively working to build foundations of justice and peace, as a means to prevent outbreaks of conflict and war.

Let me share with you just a few of the peacebuilders I’ve encountered and am remembering this year.

Violette Khoury shows traditional Palestinian embroidery to MCC visitors from Canada. Khoury is the director of Sabeel Nazareth, the Nazareth office of Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Centre, an MCC partner that provides a theological and spiritual resource for the Palestinian church. (MCC photo/Elizabeth Kessler)

Women, youth and peacebuilding

Women are so often excluded from the high-level peace negotiating tables and formal efforts for peace, despite making up half of the population and often bearing the brunt of conflict. Yet this has not stopped women from being innovators and champions for peace within their communities, including within MCC’s partners.

In Colombia, MCC partner, Sembrandopaz (Sowing Peace) supports the community of Mampujan, where a group of local women have led the community in an innovative trauma healing through sharing their story of displacement on quilts. In Palestine and Israel, MCC partner Sabeel (The way) in Nazareth brings together women from different faith traditions to learn traditional embroidery, while discovering their common roots and experiences and building peace within communities.

Participants in an MCC-sponsored peace club in Lusasa, Zambia end their meeting with prayer. (Photo courtesy of Matthew Zylstra Sawatzky)

Like women, children and youth are often underestimated and overlooked for their role in leadership and building peace in their communities and at the global level. Yet, peacebuilders that MCC works with – like Issa Ebombolo, founder of the organization Peace Clubs, and now a coordinator for MCC’s peace programming in Southern Africa – see the potential in youth and children who are trained in peace practices to lead within their communities.

Issa’s Peace Clubs curriculum has since spread to other MCC country programs and partners across Africa, and around the world. In South Sudan, participants in peace clubs at the Loreto Girls Secondary School in Rumbek have become leaders in the local community, promoting dialogue, peace and reconciliation. In Nigeria, youth-led peace clubs in Jos have been instrumental in building bridges between students across ethnic and religious lines, building peace and preventing further violence.

Peacebuilding as food security and peacebuilding as an alternative to violent conflict

Peacebuilding efforts are a diverse set of actions that proactively seek to both understand and respond to the local social, political, and economic context. Two central pillars of peacebuilding are intervening without doing more harm; and addressing the roots of conflict, all with the goal of building a sustainable and long-lasting peace. Peacebuilding efforts are often overshadowed, however, by militarized responses to major conflict, or seen as too politicized when compared to development and humanitarian interventions.

Yet efforts to build sustainable peace need not be tied to political or security and military actions. Local partners point out that foreign military interventions exacerbate conflict and division, rather than contributing to long-lasting peace. And many of MCC’s local partners around the world see a clear place for peace within development and humanitarian projects, tied to local communities and not local political powers.

Luis Norberto Mosquera dries cacao seeds on his farm in the Lower San Juan region of Choc, Colombia in 2018. MCC supports this sustainable cacao production project in Choc through Growing Hope Globally (formerly Foods Resource Bank). The project aims for sustainability, both in specific farming practices and as a long-term livelihood option. (Growing Hope Globally photo/Alex Morse)

In Choco, Colombia, a region heavily impacted by the armed conflict and continuing violence as well as food insecurity, the local Mennonite Brethren Church initiated a rice and cacao (used in making chocolate) project, providing communities with essential food and resources, and as an alternative to illicit crops, which are closely tied to the conflict.

In eastern DR Congo, MCC partners with national church organizations to support both internally displaced populations and their host communities through kitchen garden projects. This helps to meet significant food security needs while preventing conflict between internally displaced families and the communities where they live.

Finally, MCC Syria partner Forum for Development, Culture and Dialogue (FDCD) has been heavily involved in building peace across faith traditions in the Qalamoun Valley, through the distribution of emergency food relief. This built such trust and relationships between communities that when the conflict came to the region, Muslim and Christian communities were ready to speak up for their neighbours.

On this Remembrance Day, and going forward, let us also remember the peacebuilders.

And in the spirit of this great hope in Christ, the prince of peace, may we have eyes to see and ears to hear the cries of those suffering as a result of conflict around our world today. May we have the compassion to pray and carry these stories in our hearts. And may we have the courage to speak out and act, to proclaim the hope we have in Jesus, and his undying compassion for the suffering and oppressed.

Rebekah Sears in the Policy Analyst and Government Communications Specialist for MCC Canada’s Peace & Justice Office

For Peace Sunday 2021, MCC’s resource, Defending Hope, brings together stories, prayers and reflections about and/from local peacebuilders from around the world. Find out how to access this year’s resource here.

To learn more about how you can get involved in peace and justice work and to stay informed, subscribe to our newsletter and send a letter to the Minister of Foreign Affairs about how Canada can better support the work of local peacebuilding and peacebuilders here.

Banner image caption: Residents of Sarajevo enjoy a warm night at a lookout overlooking the city. (MCC Photo/Matthew Sawatzky)

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