Reclaiming walls and fences: finding art and resistance in Palestine and Israel

By Elizabeth Kessler, Donor Life Cycle Coordinator, MCC Canada

This past May I travelled with an MCC learning tour to Palestine and Israel to learn about the ongoing conflict and about MCC’s work with Palestinians and Israelis who are working for peace. I travelled with several other MCC staff members and supporters of our work.

Each day we visited a different place, learning about a different aspect of the context. We learned about the realities of occupation, illegal settlements, uprooted people, destroyed homes, checkpoints, and divide-and-conquer tactics that are used by the Israeli government to assert control. We met Palestinians and Israelis, researchers, activists, businesspeople, tour guides, religious leaders, farmers and even a journalist and a politician–all with different stories and insights to share with us.

But what really stood out to me everywhere were the visual reminders of Palestinian resistance that had been posted or painted on walls.

Palestinian Political Prisoners hunger strike poster

One of the first places we visited was the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, which sits on top of a cave believed to be the place where Jesus was born. While visiting the church was ostensibly more of a tourist stop, it quickly became clear that tourist stops are not immune to politics. Even before we entered the church, we got caught up in reading these banners that had been posted nearby.

The banners were drawing attention to 1500 Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails on hunger strike at the time of our visit. The prisoners were demanding an end to the practice of detaining Palestinians without a trial and also calling for other basic rights like the right of a prisoner to have occasional family visits.

It turned out to be only the first of several demonstrations of support for the hunger strike that we would see during our tour.  At the time, the strike had been going on for a month. While the courtyard around the church was mostly calm, the presence of the signs was powerful, as if the people who put them up wanted to remind the tourists that amid the holy sites there are current, serious justice issues here not to be ignored.

key

This key is painted on the door of Lajee Centre, an MCC partner in Aida refugee Camp in Bethlehem. Aida camp is home to refugees from a number of different villages that were destroyed by Israel in 1948.

The camp has art painted all over its walls. The key is an important symbol for the refugees, many of whom fled their homes in 1948 believing that they would be able to return shortly. Most of them did not pack much, but locked their doors and took their keys. Almost 70 years later, the refugees have not been able to return, but the keys to their homes have been passed down through the generations.

Palestinians continue to advocate for the right of return. The people we met are realistic that they will likely not be able to return to their villages, but they do believe they have the right to at least be compensated for the loss of their homes and valuable agricultural land. It struck me that the symbolism of the key – which is painted and sculpted in a several places around the camp – is important for helping the children in the camp understand their history.

wall graffiti

I’ve always been fascinated by political graffiti and street art, and I have taken photos of it in many of the places that I’ve travelled. What was unique about Palestine was how much of it there was. It makes sense: graffiti is a small way for Palestinians to assert power over their own fate and their land— a non-violent way of reclaiming the space as their own. It proves that they are not defeated.

This image is from a section of the wall that we visited in Qalandyia, a Palestinian village in the West Bank near Jerusalem. The section of the wall cuts off a road that used to be a main artery. There is graffiti all over the wall, in English and Arabic and a few other languages, much of it calling for a just peace. On the right, the faded words say “This wall will fall”.

“No more fear!” was one of the most powerful messages I saw on the trip. Fear is a major underlying cause of much suffering in the world but particularly in Palestine and Israel. Fear drives Israel’s obsession with security and it justifies everything from tight control of Palestinian movements, to the building of the wall, to violations of the Geneva Conventions. To build peace in Palestine and Israel, we have to deal with fear.

more graffiti

This is a scene a few blocks up the street from the wall in Qalandiya (also written as Kalandia). We were told that the street used to be a busy main artery, but the separation wall has stopped traffic and the local economy. The place is virtually abandoned and extremely quiet considering how close it is to a main highway and Jerusalem.

The Palestinian flag in graffiti, like the one in this photo, were everywhere in the West Bank. Several of the Palestinians (and some Israelis) we met with throughout the tour spoke about the importance of pushing against the narrative that the Palestinians aren’t really there or have no history here–a narrative that is used to justify illegal Israeli settlements. The flag is a reminder that there is a people here with their own culture and history.

balcony

A sign on a balcony in Hebron reads “Caution, this was taken by Israel.” Jewish Israeli settlers have increasingly been taking over parts of this Palestinian city. Military rule has cut off Palestinian access to the market and, like in Qalandiya, had a severe effect on the local economy. Many of the buildings are abandoned.

mural

A mural in Nazareth commemorates the anniversary of the Nakba. “Nakba” means “catastrophe” in Arabic, and it refers to the time when more than 780,000 Palestinians were forced out of their homes to make way for the creation of the state of Israel in 1948.

Nazareth is a city in Israel that is primarily inhabited by Palestinians, many of whom are Christian. While these Palestinians have Israeli citizenship (as opposed to Palestinians in the occupied areas who do not), they are denied access to agricultural land and to municipal services provided to Jewish Israelis. They are also cut off from their fellow Palestinians – including family members – who reside in the West Bank and Gaza.

We were told that secular Jewish Israelis often come to Nazareth on holidays, and some had repeatedly complained to the municipal government about this mural, which was painted illegally. The mural had been painted over four times, and re-painted four times.

flowers painted on wall

A wall in a refugee camp in Jerusalem that we visited on the last day of the tour. The refugee camp is messy. There is litter everywhere, and we found tear gas canisters and rubber bullets by the curbside – a sign that the military had made their presence known. But it was busy with people going about their business, and we met friendly people and curious boys on the street.  I think the artist who painted these images must have wanted to beautify the neighborhood and these stencils seem like a solid and lasting way to do that under the circumstances.

Being part of this tour renewed my belief in the importance of MCC’s peacebuilding work and my commitment to pushing the Canadian government to end its complicity in the occupation. MCC has a number of resources about Palestine and Israel which you can access here. You can also support our local partners working for peace and justice by making a donation.

Canada 150 – Two rivers

by Kerry Saner-Harvey, Mennonite Central Committee Manitoba Program Coordinator – Indigenous Neighbours. This is the second in a series of reflections on Canada 150.

For many it’s a time for celebration. Others lean towards lament. Either way, perhaps “Canada 150” can be for us an invitation to “re-imagine” our nation going forward in the next 150 years.

Historian and political scientist Benedict Anderson has suggested that nations are “imagined political communities” in which we hold in our minds a mental image of ourselves in kinship with a large number of people whom we have mostly never met. This mental image frames our identity in relation to each other, and thus we also make certain assumptions about how others in “our nation” see that relationship as well. In the case of a nation state like Canada, this also includes assumptions about our political history and relationship to the Land on which we reside.

RCAP_Logo_rev2016At a conference marking the 20th Anniversary of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, Mark Dockstator from the First Nations University of Canada shared a provocative image of how European Settlers and Indigenous peoples have each imagined our histories.

Drawing upon the Two-Row Wampum from the Haudenosaunee legal tradition, he illustrated how each of us have imagined our history differently. In the almost universal Euro-Canadian paradigm up until 50 years ago, Indigenous peoples either didn’t exist at all or were imagined as “Indians” that needed to be assimilated into our historical stream or erased—essentially as “citizens minus.”

So, if I were to elaborate, while Indigenous peoples may have imagined themselves rowing their own canoe in their own river, if we Settlers perceived them at all it was to be brought aboard our steamship of civilization—or else tied on behind in some small broken-down canoe, pulled along in the wake of our river, if not already lost and forgotten somewhere downstream.

canoe on river

Unfortunately, we know that in many ways we are still taking away their paddles (or outboard motors) and dragging them along behind us.

Northern Stores and our welfare practices continue to create economic dependency. And northern mining and hydro development often care less about their consent than their compliance. I often hear that autonomy over Land remains one of the most important concerns for Indigenous communities today. Colonization is about taking away control and autonomy of a people, in whatever form that takes.

Around 1970, Dockstator suggests a significant number of Euro-Canadians began to perceive a diverging stream, as Canadian Settlers finally began to hear Indigenous claims to land and constitutional rights. Since then self-government and Nation-to-Nation negotiations not only emerged into our realm of possibilities, they began to slowly happen. We’ve begun to imagine a shift from “citizens minus” to “citizens plus” as we recognize much of the harms done and seek alternatives.

So, in our evolving Settler view of history, we look back on the last decades and see a new stream that has begun to diverge from our river. We now more broadly acknowledge that Indigenous peoples deserve to row in their own canoes. And this is significant.

But, as I think on this, I wonder if perhaps the Sepik Siawireal challenge for us Settler Canadians, looking back on the past 150 years, is to alter our perspective enough to re-imagine that Indigenous peoples have never really been traveling on our river in the first place.

Dockstator suggested that Indigenous peoples on Turtle Island have more or less always imagined themselves as sovereign. As far back as 1613, the original Two-Row Wampum (Tawagonshi) Treaty, the Haudenosaunee confederacy asserted that their Indigenous River should remain separate and parallel. Thomas King, in The Inconvenient Indian, reminds us that Aboriginal sovereignty is “a given”—and in fact has even been recognized in the U.S. and Canadian constitutions and Supreme Court decisions (194).

Perhaps we could look back across the field and see that the stream we thought has been branching from our river, has really been their own river all along. In other words, it never has been and still is not up to us to grant Indigenous peoples rights or sovereignty. To think this way is to recolonize history by assuming that we’ve been the ones to define the relationship since European contact. Rather, Indigenous Sovereignty is a continuous reality that we need to re-imagine for ourselves and to begin to act upon.

Perhaps we might even consider that our right to paddle in our river here actually emerged from the graciousness offered to us through the sacred Indigenous legal tradition of the treaties.

Of course, this is just about shifting our own Canadian Settler imaginations. The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) reminds us it is Indigenous peoples’ right to journey their own river in whatever canoe or speedboat or cruise-liner they wish to travel in.

In an ever shifting political landscape, we all need to navigate carefully, but if we are willing to be intentional and creative in recognizing the two rivers flowing independently, we will hopefully find a way to reconciliation and peace in the generations to come.

Canada 150 – Anabaptism and sovereignty

by Kerry Saner-Harvey, Mennonite Central Committee Manitoba Program Coordinator – Indigenous Neighbours. This is the first in a series of reflections on Canada 150.

For many it’s a time for celebration. Others lean towards lament.  Either way, perhaps “Canada 150” can be for us an invitation to “re-imagine” our nation going forward in the next 150 years.

In the modern era, nation states are framed on certain assumptions.  One of these is that governance and authority stem from a centralized national structure which we identify as “Canada.” Even if there are various sub-levels of autonomy, we understand them as liberties “granted” by the state.  We assume that even in our valuing the diversity of human expression and opinion within our borders, there is somehow a pervasive Canadian identity towards which these expressions coalesce.

IMG_20131007_181809 (3)

One of the threads running through Anabaptist thought that I have grappled with regularly has been the call to be “in the world but not of the world.”  This idea has taken a variety of expressions among Mennonites: from the politically disengaged—“This earthly world is not my home, I’m just a passin’ through”— to an engaged non-violent rejection of the structures of domination intertwined in the “principalities and powers.” We know that our forebears sought to distance themselves from political entities, whether it was the Rome of Constantine or the churches’ collusion with the state in the complexities of the Reformation.

politics-religionMany of us today experience at least a bit of dissonance standing up for the national anthem or “celebrating” our national anniversary, because we feel the core of our Anabaptism is our identification with the “Kin-dom” of God, which alone deserves our allegiance. This is not just about whose “authority” we obey, it is about which set of sacred values we choose to centralize in ourselves.  It is a critique of the unflinching patriotism that masks the undergirding hierarchies and militarism that upholds the state identity and boundaries.

Even while we appreciate the benefits of a stable, prosperous place to live, we also wish to reject the exclusion and systemic violence that have allowed us this bounty at the expense of others. I am very grateful for our Canadian public health care system, while at the same time am fully critical of the ongoing unjust colonial structures that keep many Indigenous communities from a flourishing, healthy life.  Many of us Anabaptists do identify as Canadian and happily so, even while fully embracing that we are followers first of Christ in the Anabaptist frame.  And perhaps it is possible to straddle this line, at least as long as we are actively seeking transformation.

I wonder if this Anabaptist thread also puts us in a vantage position to seek solidarity with Indigenous nations who are expressing their own sovereignty.  Quite frequently I have encountered Indigenous neighbours who reject the label of “Canadian” for themselves, choosing instead to identify foremost (maybe even exclusively) by their particular Cree, Anishnaabe or other nation.

Indigenous women

Photo by: Alison Ralph

When we hear this, can we as peacemakers appreciate that this may also be about choosing a different set of sacred, communal values than the ones represented in the violent, colonial national identity imposed onto them and the land?   When a speaker refers to “this land that some people call Canada,” rather than being affronted by their distancing disassociation, can we rather embrace their need to articulate their own names for the places, people, and paradigms that encompass meaning in their lives?

When Indigenous rights movements remind us that autonomy over their lands and its benefits are their most pressing concern today, can we recognize how we have benefitted from being amongst those with control of land?  And when First Nations speak of their Nation’s sovereignty and their need to break free from the colonial net to find autonomous directions for their own future, can we as Anabaptists in fact celebrate this aspiration as similar to our own various manifestations of communal autonomy that we have struggled for (and been privileged to establish) over the last centuries?

Sovereignty is only a term to arouse fear if we have allowed Westphalian nationalism to limit our imaginations for how human life and communities are able to flourish and co-exist.

I think it is possible to celebrate the many wonderful developments in this country in the last 150 years, without reifying “Canada” as a sovereignty towards which all people herein must bend. Indigenous sovereignty might look different for each band, even each individual, depending on the context.  Perhaps we can be among those who both appreciate and support these as coming from the best of our human aspirations. To whatever extent we may see ourselves on the inside, “Canada” is a construct we collectively imagine and create.

And so we have the opportunity to continue to recreate Kanata, our village, our society, our relationships, our Nation(s) in the next 150 yet to come.

Hope & Sumud – 50 Years of Israeli Military Occupation

By Seth Malone, Peace Program Coordinator, MCC Palestine and Israel

Today—June 5, 2017—marks the 50th year of Israel’s military occupation of the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem. Under international law, military occupation is always meant to be temporary. This is because the longer an occupation lasts, the more likely it is that respect for human rights and dignity are eroded. This is certainly the case in Palestine and Israel.

Magad Amgad

Magad Amgad from al-Najd Developmental Forum, an MCC partner organization in Gaza, walks through a strawberry field. This MCC-funded agricultural project aims to provide greater food security for the people of Gaza who have been subjected to a 10-year blockade imposed by Israel.

Day in and day out, Mennonite Central Committee’s (MCC) partners work tirelessly to help their communities grow and flourish. Our partners come up against the worst aspects of the Israeli military occupation but continue to work for justice and peace all the same. From rehabilitating homes destroyed in war, to providing counseling services to women whose husbands have been killed, to organizing against the construction of the separation barrier that devastates every community that it snakes through, our partners are active and hopeful despite all odds.

In Arabic, this “steadfastness” or “perseverance” is called sumud. Sumud, in the face of occupation, has become an indispensable part of Palestinian life and the work of MCC’s partners.

Nowar Educational Centre

Children at the Nowar Educational Center of MCC partner Culture and Free Thought Association are making materials for their community advocacy campaign for traffic safety, January 19, 2017

Despite five decades of brutal military occupation, our partners and the people of Palestine continue to embody sumud. This is because—despite all evidence to the contrary—they believe there is hope. In 2009 the Palestinian Christian churches issued a statement called “A word of faith, hope and love from the heart of Palestinian suffering.” Known popularly as the Kairos Palestine document, it describes hope in this way:

“Hope within us means first and foremost our faith in God and secondly our expectation, despite everything, for a better future. Thirdly, it means not chasing after illusions – we realize that release is not close at hand. Hope is the capacity to see God in the midst of trouble, and to be co-workers with the Holy Spirit who is dwelling in us. From this vision derives the strength to be steadfast, remain firm and work to change the reality in which we find ourselves. Hope means not giving in to evil but rather standing up to it and continuing to resist it. We see nothing in the present or future except ruin and destruction. We see the upper hand of the strong, the growing orientation towards racist separation and the imposition of laws that deny our existence and our dignity. We see confusion and division in the Palestinian position. If, despite all this, we do resist this reality today and work hard, perhaps the destruction that looms on the horizon may not come upon us.”

This is not a passive hope. This is a hope which calls all of us to action—to act in solidarity with those who suffer. It calls us to responsibility. In the face of such injustice and violence, we are called to act justly and peaceably in the hope that God can take our humble actions, multiply them and make them bear fruit. We are called to remain steadfast—to embody sumud—by never giving up on our responsibility to God and our neighbour.

Such a hope and such a steadfastness is terrifying for those bent on propping up such a terrible occupation. The resistance, however small it may be, will always be the quiet voice that bears witness to truth, and tells the world that this unjust and evil occupation must end.

Omar Haramy

Omar Haramy leads a group through Sabeel’s Contemporary Way of the Cross, which takes participants to locations representing the various forms of Palestinian suffering. In the background are soldiers preparing to discharge tear gas and rubber bullets at children who were throwing rocks in Shoufat Refugee Camp in Jerusalem. Sabeel, the Palestinian Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center, is an MCC partner organization that seeks to deepen the faith of Palestinian Christians in Palestine and Israel and works for justice, peace and reconciliation by using nonviolence.

So let us have the courage to join this resistance. Let us call for justice and peace. Let us call for an end to this occupation.

A note to Canadians:  Please send a message to the Minister of Foreign Affairs, letting her know that 50 years of occupation is enough.

Praying by the prison (part 4): “On earth as it is in heaven …”

By Randy Klassen, national Restorative Justice Coordinator for MCC Canada, based in Saskatoon, SK.

This week, May 28 to June 3, Canada is marking National Victims and Survivors of Crime Week. It’s an important initiative that aims at supporting and caring for the hurt among us.

And, I’ll confess, it’s specifically important for me, as I journey in this world of MCC’s restorative justice work, because I’m also so involved and invested in what we often call “offender-based” service. We visit prisoners; we walk alongside those who have offended sexually, in “circles of support and accountability” (the CoSA program). We do this because we sense a divine push to these dark places.

But in our willingness to enter these broken lives, we sometimes forget the trail of other broken lives left in their wake—the broken lives of victims.

victims and survivors of crime week

Or, even if we don’t forget them, we don’t invest in them in the same way. Maybe we assume that they’re being taken care of. Maybe we assume that since victims and survivors and crime have a moral right to attention and care that they are indeed getting what they need. But, if you listen to the victims’ voices around us, you’ll soon discover how the initial pain or loss, so tragic in itself, is often heavily compounded by how the criminal justice system deals with victims. This reinforces a perennial public complaint: our Canadian justice system focuses more on the rights of offenders than those of victims.

And so, as I walk along the river across from one of Saskatoon’s prisons, and as I walk the sidewalks of my neighbourhood where I know families are enduring the impact of crime, I ponder what part of the Lord’s Prayer I need to focus on. The phrase “on earth as it is in heaven…” pops into my head. But not in a good way. Today that phrase pulls me right into the biblical story of Job.

Job—the wealthy, the privileged, the pious—undergoes a frightful experiment of “heaven on earth.” He becomes the victim of a heavenly conversation that is baffling and, frankly, rather chilling. The conversation goes something like this:

God: Have you noticed my man Job? Isn’t he awesome?

Satan (the prosecution): Really? Take away the power and privilege you’ve given him, and watch him crumble.

God: Okay, you’re on.

Whatever we make of that divine deal, the outcome is that Job becomes a victim. And the basic needs of Job, shown throughout this ancient tale, are still the basic needs of victims and survivors of crime today: presence, communication, acknowledgement, and acceptance. Job rages, he despairs, he laments. Job calls for justice. Tragically, he does so alone—all while his so-called friends blame him for bringing such trouble on himself.

Way of letting goThe story of Job, as a case study in the experience of victims, has much to teach us. So do the on-going stories of today’s victims, such as the profound reflections in Wilma Derksen’s latest book, The Way of Letting Go

Survivors of crime need to be heard. Their experiences, their pain or their anger, need to be acknowledged and validated. They need to be empowered in how they move forward in life—something that the current criminal justice system really struggles to accomplish.

True, we have in Canada the option of registering a “victim impact statement” for the court. But even this tends to reinforce the victim’s role as a witness to the crime, rather than as the actual recipient of harm. It tends to reinforce the criminal justice system’s goal of finding and punishing the wrong-doer, rather than addressing and restoring, as much as possible, the harm done to an individual.

The biblical Job walks a journey from victim to survivor. The word “survivor” connotes an active accomplishment (“sur-” means “over, above”), a dynamic reality of outlasting, even triumphing. Job does so in an encounter with the “kingdom, power and glory” of the Creator, the Voice out of the whirlwind.

Wilma Derksen, in Letting Go, does a similar kind of thing, although the Voice shows up differently for her, throughout her hard journey of more than thirty years. The Voice gently appears as “the Nazarene” in chapter after chapter. Derksen bears witness to the resilience of the survivor. And in so doing, she also bears witness to the grace of the One who walks alongside all victims in this world’s vale of tears.

So now, I walk and ruminate on those final words of this prayer, “for Yours is the kingdom, the power and the glory…” I hope and pray that the invisible realities these words express will strengthen the weak, give hope to the struggling, and carry those who are grieving. In a word, that those who have experienced harm, and loss, and tragedy in this life, might arrive at their journey’s end not a victim, but a survivor.

The weak made strong – girls as agents of peace in South Sudan

By Candacia Greeman of South Sudan who is working as a teacher/teacher mentor with MCC at the Loreto Girls Secondary School. Candacia shares a powerful story of hope in advance of Africa Day on Thursday, May 25.  She also supplied the photographs.

It can be hard to have hope for South Sudan, and even harder to have hope in South Sudan. Daily news reports featuring the world’s newest country are filled with words like famine, civil war, rape and genocide. But that is not the whole story. In the midst of the political and economic turmoil facing the country, pockets of hope exist.

At the Loreto Girls Secondary School (LGSS) in Rumbek, a rural region in South Sudan, MCC is helping young women to promote peace in their communities through the Loreto Peace Club.  This is one of many peace clubs across Africa supported by MCC, and is based on the girls’ experience with the Peace Club Handbook produced by MCC Zambia.

These girls represent one of the most vulnerable populations in South Sudan. They are at-risk for early/forced marriage and pregnancy in a country where a girl is more likely to die in childbirth than she is to complete primary school. As the situation in the country deteriorates, these girls are more likely to be forced into marriage to improve the family’s economic condition through their dowries. In spite of these daunting odds, they are actively working for peace while pursuing a secondary education.

Peace Club member speaking to local women about conflict resolution

Peace Club member speaking to local women about conflict resolution

Some sources of conflict/trauma in my community are misunderstanding, revenge [killings], elopement of girls and tribalism. [Through peace club activities] I have learned about how to stay together, how to be generous, forgiveness and reconciliation. During this term, my brother and sister [who are older than me] quarreled at home and they even swore not to forgive each other. My sister decided to run away so I started with her, telling her the importance of forgiveness. Then I did the same with my brother. They listened and now they have forgiven each other. –  Elizabeth, LGSS student

While at school, the girls receive training in peace building, conflict resolution and trauma healing. Using this knowledge, they facilitate outreach events to the local community with a focus on women and children, groups that are usually excluded from decision-making during conflict. The peace club hosts an annual Peace Day celebration for local primary school children, an event filled with sports, dancing and music. For older students and adults, a solemn evening Peace Concert is held to reflect on the lives of those lost to conflict and to encourage discussions on peace in the community. The club also facilitates cultural presentations for the community that use drama, poetry, song and dance to explore topics such as revenge killings and blood feuds and forgiveness.

Peace Club members facilitate Listening Circle for other secondary school students

Peace Club members facilitate Listening Circle for other secondary school students

When someone was killed and it was not we who were responsible but our houses were burnt, I was there all alone. I am the only person in my family, everyone is dead except for my brother who takes care of me. [Through Listening Circles] I have learned how to open up. If you have stress, whatever has happened to you will not go away. Now that I have come here, for a while, the stress has gone away. It is forgotten. I also learned how to approach someone if I have stress, how to share. It [Listening Circles] has given me hope that somebody somewhere cares for me to invite me to come to this. It will help me to survive. After it [the burning of the homes] happened, the school gave us food but now they also give us help for our heads. – Mary, local woman from Rumbek

After a workshop on trauma healing in 2016, the Loreto Peace Club members were inspired to share the strategies they had learned with other members of the community. In response to an incident of inter-communal conflict, the club started Listening Circles,a rapid response trauma support resource. Listening Circles were held to help local women who had been forced to burn their own homes by armed groups, and to provide grief support for primary school children after the loss of their schoolmates. They comprise groups of 5-20 participants with 2-3 facilitators depending on the age and/or gender of the participants. Participants form a circle or semi-circle and are guided through a range of activities focused on trauma healing for 45-120 minutes.

Peace Club members facilitate Listening Circle for other secondary school students_2

With the knowledge I gained in the [trauma healing] training, I was able to help in conflict resolutions. For example, during my holidays, I was assigned as peace mobilizer in which I approached and talked to some elders about the long conflict between two clans of Pan-aguong and Pan-awur in Cueibet. With the knowledge I have gained I was able to convince the elders and the youth and now they are living in peace. What I was telling them were the dangers of revenge killing and dangers of conflict .I detailed to them until they all understood the fruit of living in peace. This was in January 2017.  – Jennifer, Loreto Peace Club member

The Loreto Peace Club members are selected for membership based on an interest in peace making or prior involvement in conflict at the school. During their participation in the club, many girls report on their personal growth and their efforts at peace building not only at school but in their home communities as well. Driven by the credo, Peace begins with me, the Loreto Peace Club members exemplify the strength and resilience of the South Sudanese people.

They are a source of hope for South Sudan, and a reason to hope in South Sudan.

Loreto Peace Club members

Loreto Peace Club members

Climate change and hands of resistance

By Rebekah Nimtz, an MCC Service Worker in the cross-roads, bread-basket city of Cochabamba, Bolivia. This post is part of a series by MCC Latin America and Caribbean (LACA) on climate change and food security

Several years ago in Bolivia during the rainy season I noticed that a drip bucket in my house was nearly overflowing when I returned from an annual absence of a few weeks. The next year I was surprised to come back to find it only half full. The rainy season had begun a month late. This past year it began well over two months late. On the south side of Cochabamba, in migrant zones where many kids I work with live without running water, even the cacti appeared to be drying up. Bolivia continues to experience the effects of its worst drought in almost four decades and the highest recorded temperatures in the past ten years.

The drought on the ground

The drought on the ground. Photo by Edgar Chuquimia.

El Niño and climate change are credited with playing the major roles in  weather fluctuations, in a country whose ecosystems the UN considers some of the most vulnerable worldwide to the effects of global warming. Late rains have made only a dent in lost reserves, which hovered around 8% capacity, with a reservoir in the governing capital of La Paz at only 1% at the end of last year. This lack of water caused President Evo Morales to declare a national emergency in November. Friends in the city of Cochabamba weren’t as startled by the state of the emergency as those in La Paz, as rationing of water in Cochabamba is the norm. This past year Cochabamba only received, on average, water via the municipal water company, SEMAPA, a few hours once a week.

In the region of Mizque, 160 km outside of Cochabamba, adaptability to the effects of drought depends on whether one lives closer to the village, with more access to an irrigation system and agricultural machinery, or half-an-hour further out in the mountains, where one’s livelihood is more dependent on cultivating corn and raising cows, goats and vicuñas.

Jaime Pardo works for OBADES, the social arm of the Baptist church in Bolivia. MCC partners with OBADES in its work with locals in Mizque on food security projects such as irrigation systems, greenhouses, and crop diversity. Jaime shared that in early 2016 the rainy season not only started late, but was cut short when the rains stopped in March, leaving already planted corn unable to reach maturity. By the end of the year there was no more pasture left for livestock. Animals had to move around for hours in search of first water and then food, complicated by the drying up of once full rivers. It was a bit easier for the goats, who would eat anything within sight, even plastic. Jaime commented that the image seared in his mind of this past year is of skin-and-bone cows wobbling down the mountainside as though drunk, trembling and barely able to stand. As for their owners, without water to sow their crops, the only option has been to leave for the city.

A corn crop unable to reach full maturity

A corn crop unable to reach full maturity. Photo by Jaime Pardo.

A vast number of farmers have also left Bolivia’s already dry southeast Chaco due to the unprecedented rate of cattle deaths, the region’s primary income. Lake Poopo in the western part of the country completely dried up at the beginning of 2016, not only due to drought,  but also water deviation for mining. The Uru people, who lived off the lake for centuries, have long since gone, along with their way of life. The swell in already exploding urban populations exacerbates poverty and puts greater demands on failing infrastructure and local municipalities to implement solutions.

In rural and urban areas alike, communities have plead with the government for assistance, with the repeated loss of crops resulting in economic ruin for families. Some irrigation and groundwater projects have come about as a result. Nevertheless, even the breadbasket of Cochabamba unprecedentedly began importing food from neighboring countries. Outdated infrastructure exacerbates the problem with up to 50% losses of water in some places within pipes and distribution networks. Privatization is an option, but faces opposition for often failing to reach city outskirts and municipalities. The Misicuni dam and hydroelectric project of Cochabamba, underway since 1957, is a set-back filled effort of 10 private local and international companies that is only now gradually approaching completion. It was originally planned to give water to 400,000 people in a city with now closer to a million inhabitants.

Meanwhile, deforestation of the northern Amazon, in Bolivia and beyond, inhibits the flow of humid air and rain to the Andes. Hydroelectric projects damage the river arteries of the jungle and affects the natural water preservation cycle. Damaged water cycles leave torrents of rain that show up late, to destroy crops at the time of harvest and cause catastrophes with flash-flooding, as opposed to the gradual, soft rains of days gone by. The need to address emergency situations means that working on root causes turns into a catch-up game for a government that is already behind on developing prevention and relief plans for a problem long foreseen.

Bolivia has accessed, however, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN’s green fund for a “My Irrigation” program to assist in rural areas. The construction of grain storage plants are underway. Experts emphasize the need for long term water shortage plans such as dikes for water storage, preservation and education initiatives, and continued efforts to renovate outdated water distribution systems so they can be ready to carry, for example, the water now beginning to finally gush from the Misicuni dam project.

Elizabhet Trujillo of the community of Totorani harvests drought resistant maca

Elizabhet Trujillo of the community of Totorani harvests drought resistant maca. Photo by Edgar Chuquimia Ramos.

The small, hopeful steps of local communities across the country, especially alongside governing bodies, are prevailing against the obstacles, even if those steps begin as little more than drops in a dry bucket. The community of Villa Vinto, not far from Mizque, in partnership with OBADES, is enlisting a Peruvian model in the creation of artificial lakes and dykes to capture and store rainwater. With municipal government offers of new farming tools as prizes for the best efforts, the project is hoped to spread to communities throughout the entire region. Mizque continues to produce drought-resistant maca, which in addition to being a delicious superfood, reaps greater economic benefits than typical potato crops. The persistent well-digging of colony Mennonites in Durango on the border with Argentina has allowed them to grow crops in previously declared agricultural dead-zones. If a drop of water can carve out a canyon, the small efforts of hands working together might be able to eventually fill that canyon with more water for the future.