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.

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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

What’s fair about fair trade?

This weekend I will be celebrating World Fair Trade Day on May 13 and Mother’s Day on May 14. The combination seems very appropriate, as it was my mother who introduced me to the world of fair trade over 40 years ago.

In fact, the woman who started the fair trade movement in North America was also a mother.

Edna Ruth Byler

Edna Ruth Byler

Edna Ruth Byler was an MCC volunteer and mother of two who, while accompanying her husband Joe Byler on a trip to Puerto Rico in 1946, visited a Mennonite Central Committee project that taught women living in poverty to sew.

Recognizing the need for a new market for their beautiful lace products, Edna Ruth agreed to purchase some of their work to sell back in the United States, using the money from those sales to buy more products. Eventually, her work grew into Ten Thousand Villages, which is now the oldest and largest fair trade retailer in North America.

In some ways, it feels like fair trade has always been a part of my life, as for many years my mother sold fairly traded products out of our home. This was a time when SELFHELP Crafts of the World, now known as Ten Thousand Villages, was just becoming established in Canada, and there were few stores and festival sales, so the organization depended in large part on volunteers who sold product out of their homes. People would invite neighours, friends, family, and acquaintances to their house to learn about fair trade and to buy a gift.

My mother explained to me that selling the jewellery, cards, baskets, wooden boxes, ornaments, candle holders, tablecloths, napkins and other items handcrafted by people from countries around the world—and stored in our guest room—would help children in those countries go to school.

As someone who loved school, I couldn’t imagine a life without that opportunity. When the boxes were opened for people to shop, the guest room was transformed into a magical place where beautiful items were passed around and interesting stories were shared.

Ten Thousand Villages logoThanks to the creativity, initiative, and hard work of Edna Ruth Byler, the option to buy fair trade handicrafts has been available to North Americans for over 70 years. And today there are far more fair trade products, including food and clothing, available than ever before across North America and Europe.

I sometimes wonder, though, how most of us understand the concept of fair trade. What makes it fair and why isn’t all trade fair?

Fair trade is a both movement and a business model. It is defined as trade in which fair prices are paid to producers in developing countries—fair prices that adequately reimburse producers for the cost of materials and time spent making or growing the product.

The ten principles of fair trade focus on dialogue and building long-term relationships. They talk about transparency, accountability, capacity building, respect for the rights of women and children, safe working conditions, and environmental sustainability. In comparison, other trade and business models seem to be mainly about the rights of corporations and are concerned more with profits than people.

Rabeya Akter, Shuktara Handmade Paper Project, Bangladesh

Rabeya Akter at Shuktara Handmade Paper Project in Feni, Bangladesh.

However, people are at the heart of fair trade, and most of the producers or makers that Ten Thousand Villages works with are women, many of them mothers.

For those mothers, employment with a fair trade organization means income for regular meals, sturdier homes, school fees for some or all of their children, and access to medicines if someone falls ill. Flexible hours also mean mothers can be home with their children rather than spending twelve or more hours a day working outside the home. Women are provided with training opportunities, encouraged to participate in savings programs, and be financially independent.

This weekend, as we celebrate our mothers and the ways they have shaped us, we can also help to shape a better world through our consumer choices. Indeed, economic practices that place people first are a powerful way to change the world.

by Monica Scheifele, Program Assistant for the Ottawa Office. 

A giving spirit inspired by our past

This week’s writer is Clare Maier, Advocacy Research Intern for the Ottawa Office for September to December. She is from Kitchener, Ontario and studies anthropology at Carleton University in Ottawa.

The sanctuary is dark and quiet. The room doesn’t ring with hundreds of joyful voices. Instead, it echoes with the sound of box cars being thrown open and angry voices barking Russian orders not for the benefit of the cars’ occupants. Quiet sniffles, constant throughout the experience, break out around the sanctuary in earnest as the heavy metal box car doors once again creak open, this time, to the emotional and heart-wrenching singing of the reenactment crew. As the documentary And when they shall ask comes to an end, scattered sobs can be heard through the still darkened room.

And when they shall ask is a documentary exploring the history of Mennonites in Russia, ending with the persecution and escape of many communities via the railway in the 1920s. In fact, it was the terrible conditions that lead to people’s emigration from Russia that also prompted church members in North America to form MCC.

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Mennonite immigrants arriving in Rosthern, SK from the Soviet Union in 1923. Photo courtesy Canadian Mennonite and Mennonite Archival Image Database.

While the documentary tells the story of one major migration, it’s important to acknowledge that because of the unique history of Canada, many citizens share an experience of immigration buried somewhere in their family tree. Apart from Indigenous people, much of Canada’s identity is built around immigration, with people coming first from Europe but subsequently from around the world.

Each person is touched differently by the viewing of the film. The elderly remember those hard years in Soviet Russia and their paths to Canada. The middle-aged experienced the adjustments of their parents and learned to fit in at school. The young heard the stories, the fragmented tales of life “back then” and they appreciate their comfortable, safe lives. Together, they are remembering stories of fleeing as refugees from Russia, of arriving in Canada and learning new ways and a new language. They are remembering being welcomed as immigrants.

It’s no secret the world is experiencing an increase in refugee activity once again. Almost daily, stories of Syria, the Middle East, and the Mediterranean feature in the paper and pop up in our newsfeed. According to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), there are now more than 65.3 million people who are forcefully displaced around the world. Given the current multiplicity of crises around the world, this number is not likely to decline.

Canada has once again welcomed refugees to its vast wilderness (although most settle in cities), and in twenty years the scene described above may very well tell of the journey from Syria rather than Russia. It may be set in a mosque rather than a church, and its viewers may prefer to eat flatbread and hummus rather than Zwieback and jam. One thing that won’t change is the memories and the shouts of joy at the end of the journey.

Not all journeys, however, end in celebration. Some journeys are physically exhausting, some are emotionally draining, and some, like those crossing the Mediterranean, may end in heartbreak. As I write this, just over a year has passed since the world became intimately aware of the Syrian refugee crisis, stirred to action by the death of young Alan Kurdi. Since then, good things have been happening around the world with many countries taking in refugees and mobilizing other resources.

However, not all countries and not all citizens are extending a welcome to refugees. Some of the major rhetoric surrounding the recent Brexit decision (Great Britain leaving the European Union) was focused on distrust and the ways in which immigrants might be stealing jobs and generally ruining the country. This viewpoint, and the anti-immigration parties across Europe that support it, capitalize on fears, while also taking great care to emphasize cultural differences.

These thoughts and attitudes are not absent in Canada. I too hear murmurings from distrustful Canadians, complaining that the refugees are getting free housing and health care. Again, think back to Great-great-great-great Grandpa Martin (or whatever his name was). How grateful are you that Canada opened its borders for your family? Shouldn’t the same rules apply now?

Together, Canadians continue to welcome Syrian refugees — 31,444 to date, many of them families. A quick browse through old newspapers reminds us that Canadians have responded to their arrival generously, donating toys and furniture, time and settlement services and warm clothes. The articles praise the giving spirit of Canadians and our initial efforts to embrace our new neighbours. Indeed, it is our privilege to greet families at airports and helpfully show them how one sleds properly, but as Christians, it should also be our honour to serve them and walk with them as Christ has so beautifully modelled.

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Douglas Mennonite Church in Winnipeg sponsored and then organized a wedding celebration for Syrian refugees Brian Darweesh and Reem Younes, 2015. MCC photo/Matthew Sawatzky.

This is not to say that many Canadians aren’t already inviting immigrants into their homes, and that many aren’t already volunteering in other ways. Rather, I offer a gentle reminder of the motivation behind our actions, and a subtle push to do more where we can. As Canadians, most of our family histories have stories of acceptance and assistance. These past actions were not confined to “liking” a sympathetic story on Facebook, nor were they restricted to impartial donations on a Sunday morning. Instead, they involved concrete, sometimes scary, and occasionally uncomfortable expressions of deeply-held core beliefs. As Anabaptists, and simply as Christians, our desire and our mandate is to feed the hungry, care for the sick, and embrace the poor. We do that by following the Example set out for us in Scriptures, showering others with the Love that was showered on us.

We all share stories of arrival and of settlement. Now it’s time to go plant ourselves into someone else’s story. Evaluate what you can do, commit to it, and take one step further. After all, this immigration “situation” isn’t just an international news piece, it’s in our borders, and, luckily, it’s in our neighbourhoods. Go, get involved, it’s not far.

 

Mango chutney with a side of radical kindness

By Anna Vogt, Context Analyst and Advocacy Support worker for MCC Latin America Caribbean (LACA). This post is part of LACA’s ongoing series on migration and was originally published on Anna’s personal blog. 

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Pedro Cano from Centro Bono. Photo/Anna Vogt

I could hardly eat lunch as I frantically scribbled notes. Pedro Cano from Centro Bono, a Jesuit organization on the border between Haiti and the Dominican Republic, has the most numbers in his head of anyone I have ever met. He rattled them off so quickly I was glad of the Spanish to English interpretation, just for the extra seconds to catch up. The numbers added up to a pretty depressing story of xenophobia based migration policies in the Dominican Republic. From January to the end of May of this year, over 3000 Haitians have been deported a month from official border crossing, violating all sorts of international standards. Given the number of unofficial crossings and the number of people who have choose to voluntarily leave, the numbers are probably much higher. (You can meet some of the children and youth now living in limbo here.)

For Pedro, these policies serve as a smoke screen to blame rising inequality and lack of public services on Haitians, not on corruption or government mismanagement of funds. In the van ride back to Port au Prince, our group reflected on how pervasive the narrative of hatred against individuals and groups seems across the Americas, not only in the DR.  Blaming a person is always easier than dealing with structural issues; generating hatred out of fear, however, only contributes to an escalating crisis that leads to spiralling rates of migration.

At the end our of meal in Haiti, Pedro gestured at the table, a mess of fish bones and leftover bowls of broth. “Maybe in the DR people serve the hot sauce on the side instead of directly in the soup, but the food is basically the same. That’s what we have to remember, when we talk about bringing people together, is that we are already sharing life together. Cross the border and it is not even obvious who is from where. Rather, there are mixed families, there are kids that play together, and economies and cultures are already woven together.”

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Photo/Anna Vogt

Last week, I ate squash blossom quesadillas in Mexico City and attended more meetings around migration. I sat in a circle with three partner organizations, Frontera de Cristo, Casa de los Amigos and Voces Mesoamericanas, who work and advocate around migration on the northern border, the centre, and the southern border with Guatemala. As we brainstormed how to better work together, we discussed the idea of alternative documentation, not simply of victimization and of violence, but also of radical hospitality, welcome, and the good that migration can bring.

From Douglas Arizona, Agua Prieta, Sonora, Mexico City, and the border state of Chiapas, people and organizations open up homes and hearts to those passing through, recognizing that because they are human, they also belong. Together, we reflected on how our local realities often cross borders and countries, despite narratives that demand we remain separate. We are all interdependent upon each other. How can we reflect on all the ways that our lives already go far beyond borders?

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The most damaging structures are the ones that rob us of our natural impulse for kindness. These are the systems that cause us to feel helpless and isolated, in the midst of events swirling beyond our control. While we continue to advocate for changes in policies and systems, sometimes the most radical acts we can engage in are kindness and welcome. When we recognize the humanity of those around us and do not allow smoke screen policies to dictate who is worthy, we are participating in a long human tradition of movement and acceptance that has already shaped our world.

Later that evening, Jocabed of Frontera de Cristo and I sat in Coyoacan, sipping on Mexican coffee and sharing stories at the end of a long day of meetings. She told me about a campesino from Chiapas who visited to the northern  border through Frontera’s work with Cafe Justo, for the opening celebration of a coffee shop. Cafe Justo sells fair trade coffee from Chiapas with the premise that when farmers are paid a fair price for their labour, they often don’t migrate. In fact, families are starting to return from the US to Chiapas, because of the  opportunities fair trade coffee provides.  At the border, the farmer stuck his hand out through the bars of the wall, just to feel the air on the other side. Later he shared about how he may not be able to cross, but his coffee, and therefore a part of himself, is constantly making that journey.

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Jocabed also told me a parallel story of a man in the US who cuts out the picture of the farmer on each bag of his Cafe Justo coffee and strings them together like a rosary, in order to remember each person as he sips his drink every morning. While I don’t think increased consumption is a solution to global problems, fair prices and the recognition that we are all already connected through the products we consume is an important step that should cause us to demand trade and border justice, and also open our homes.

There is power when we meet face to face, person to person, community to community.

Instead of focusing on what divides us, let’s celebrate what brings us together and the radical acts of welcome that connect us across countries, regions and the globe. In the book, Undoing Border Imperialism, Harsha Walia writes, “Undoing the physical and conceptual orderings of border imperialism requires a fundamental reorientation of ourselves, our movement, and our communities to think and act with intentionality, creativity, militancy, humility, and above all, a deep sense of responsibility and reciprocity.”

As part of a celebration of the trans-local, of cultures and communities that cross borders, I want to share this recipe for mango chutney with you. I learnt it in Haiti, from a Canadian women who worked in Sudan and now runs a lovely Airbnb on the Haitian seaside. The recipe is from the MCC cookbook Extending the Table, comes from Botswana and originally calls for peaches instead of mangos. In both Haiti and Colombia, mangos are much more common than peaches. Adjust accordingly for your local and serve with curry or simply on toast.

Ingredients:

1 onion, grated

1 small apple, grated

1 tps caynee pepper or a minced hot chili

4 large Tommy mangos, peeled and chopped

⅔ cup of sugar

¾ cup of raisins

¾ cup of vinegar

1 tsp salt

3 tsp curry powder

Combine everything together in a heavy saucepan, bring to a boil and then simmer for up to 2 hours, until the consistency of jam. Stir often as mixture tends to stick and savour the wonderful smell filling your home. Eat and enjoy!

When he woke up, the monster was still there

By Nancy Sabas, Connecting Peoples Coordinator for MCC Guatemala/El Salvador. She is from Honduras. Her reflection was originally published on MCC’s Latin America Advocacy Blog.

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“When he woke up, the monster was still there”[i]: The conflict of Banana and Oil palm companies in La Blanca community.

Tell me, given that you are a journalist and I didn’t go to school:
Drying lagoons is equal to development?
Fumigating communities is equal to development?
I didn’t go to school, but I know that that is not development
I am illiterate and I know that that is a violation.”

– Farmer and community member of La Blanca community.

A couple of months ago, I travelled to the community of La Blanca to interview neighbours and leaders of the South Shore Communities in Defense of the Territory along with the Co-Country Representative of the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) and the MCC Advocacy Analyst for Latin America and the Caribbean to learn more about the issues of monocrops and agro-industry in Guatemala.

I recognized the community immediately; I had seen it in the documentary “Ocos Despierta” produced by the Pastoral of the Earth from the Diocese of San Marcos, which we usually watch with the learning groups when discussing monoculture and agro-industries. The scene that always catches my attention is one with a man in the middle of the Zanjón Pacayá river who denounces the killing of fish, which he claims is caused by contamination from the toxic waste disposed of by the banana and oil palm companies in the area. This scene seemed peculiar for the language used, which not only reflects his concern about community subsistence, but also his love and anguish for a river that he understands as alive and in the process of being killed. This man´s connection with mother nature, as portrayed in that scene,  made me despise a little my own urbanity that has taught me to see nature as a mere resource.

Unfortunately, this poor understanding of nature as a commodity that can be abused and exploited is the legacy of a capitalist logic. Under this logic, the agroindustry of mono-cultures in communities such as La Blanca, Guatemala, is destroying ecosystems under the banner of development.

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Monoculture  is a growing industry. According to data from the National Agricultural Survey of 2014 (ENA), Guatemala’s second most important permanent crop, in terms of production volume, is oil palm. According to the ENA, palm oil production increased by 118% in 2014 compared to 2013. The cultivation of land for African palm, therefore also increased by 33%, compared 2013.[ii] Official data published by the ENA in previous years have shown inconsistencies compared to the data provided by the Union of Producers of Palm in Guatemala (GREMPALMA ) and other researchers, who estimate that the expansion of crops has been even greater.[iii]

Surely this industrial growth must be a reflection of an increase in cash flow. These mega-companies provide unskilled jobs and fund local infrastructure projects. Does this translate into an improvement in the quality of life for community members?

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“In the past we had three crops and now there’s only one,” says Eduardo Juarez, president of the organization of the 12 communities on the South Shore supported by local partner the Diocese of San Marcos, “There are children with skin diseases and respiration problems.” Another member added, “Our river Pacayá gave us fish for our own consumption and to sell.  People from Coatepeque and La Blanca used to come here to fish. In the winter the river regenerated through small ponds. The prairie area, El Tigre, had lizards, turtles and different species of animals. The Monticulo hill became known as the ‘charm’ because of the sounds of cocks crowing and other animals. Now, only the oil palm lives. It is unfortunate that 10 years have passed and nobody is doing anything. The prairie still appears on the map but it does no longer exist. This has affected our right to life and food”

Indian environmentalist Vandana Shiva explains in an essay: “ Nature has been subjugated to the market as a mere supplier of industrial raw material and dumping ground for waste and pollution. It is falsely claimed that exploiting the Earth creates economic value and economic growth, and this improves human welfare. While human welfare is invoked to separate humans from the Earth and justify her limitless exploitation, all of humanity does not benefit. In fact most lose. Pitting humans against nature is not merely anthropocentric, it is corporatocentric”.[iv]

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Guatemala has failed to establish appropriate institutions or laws to oversee water use; this failure represents a huge accountability problem when agro industries, hydroelectric and mining companies use an enormous amount of water for their operations. The multinationals present in the community of La Blanca are Grupo HAME and BANASA. The Dole Fruit Company and Chiquita Banana are the main buyers of their banana production. According to local testimonies, the company BANASA and Group HAME had a legal conflict over the water coming from the river, the Ocosito, to perform their operations, leaving the community stuck in the middle.

According to members of La Blanca and independent investigations, companies use an estimated 40,000 gallons of water per minute. In a paper presented by the South Shore Communities in Defense of  the Territory in the IV TLA Public Hearing before the Latin American Water Tribunal, they state:

“The National Banana S.A. (BANASA) has built an irrigation and drainage system that connects the river Ocosito with the Pacaya River, which covers the entire planting and aims to control moisture conditions on the land. This causes two types of impacts to rural communities: (1) in summer / drought farmers suffer water shortage due to water extraction; upstream of the current with very low flow; and (2) in winter time/rainy season the population is affected by severe flooding increase in their crops and houses. In addition, the venting of water from the banana farms to the Pacayá river has caused industrial pollution and the presence of dead fish in it. (…) Multiple extraction authorizations are granted over rivers, generating conflict between companies and also between companies/communities, with the consequent reduction of flows that the communities need. The State has failed to conduct detailed studies of water systems.”[v]

Last year marked the 10th year of the struggle of the 12 communities of the South Shore. 10 years of demanding compensation for damages to communities, restoration of the prairies, closing off the canals and wells, the establishment of a water treatment system,conservation of rivers and the abolition of monocultures. 10 years full of dignity and resistance to a model that does not revere life.

“Confronting them feels like dealing with a monster” a member of the 12 communities of the South Shore reported. But somehow, that “monster” has been unable to silence their voices calling for justice and their right to good living.

Watch the Ocós documentary.

[i] Augusto Monterroso was a well recognized Guatemalan/Honduran writer, known for his one-sentence story:  ¨When he woke up, the Dinasour was still there”.

[ii] Republica de Guatemala: Encuesta Nacional Agropecuaria 2014.

[iii] Memorial de denuncia ante la Comisión Interamericana de Derechos Humanos (2015) Washington. Mikkelsen, Vagn. (2013). Guatemala: Comercio Exterior, Productividad Agrícola y Seguridad Alimentaria Pg. 10

[iv] Vandana Shiva (2014) Economy Revisited. Will Green be the Colour of Money or Life?Global Research

[v] Resolucion Banano y su impacto en las fuentes de Agua Guatemala (2015) Tribunal Latinoamericano del Agua

Haiti is passionate

The international press offers a single narrative of Haiti – one of political instability, malnutrition, disease and devastation. “The poorest country in the Western hemisphere” – this is how Haiti is too often described, ignoring the many layers that comprise Haitian culture and customs and make Haiti one of the most fascinating yet least understood countries in the region.

In late May, four staff from MCC’s North American advocacy offices and the Colombia-based regional policy analyst visited Haiti for one week to engage with MCC Haiti partners with the goal of strengthening MCC’s Haiti advocacy work among its New York, Ottawa, Washington, Colombia and Port-au-Prince offices. During this time they got to encounter Haiti as it is, not as the sensationalist press so often describes it. What follows is Rebekah Sears’ description of Haiti as she experienced it. It originally was published on the MCC Haiti blog

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Members of CCODMIR and the Dominican human rights organization Centro Bono with the MCC team in Malpasse.  Photo/Ted Owald.

Haiti and the Dominican Republic (D.R.) are facing a migration crisis. For much of their history, tensions have been high between the two nations, most recently due to D.R. policies that discriminate against Dominicans of Haitian descent and Haitian migrants. In 2013, a new law stripped tens of thousands of Dominicans of Haitian descent of their citizenship and, along with Haitian migrants, were made victim to sporadic and sometimes violent deportations to Haiti.

These policies and actions in the D.R. can be understood as a further attempt by the D.R. government to blame the country’s social and economic ills on Haitian migrants or Dominicans of Haitian descent, essentially scapegoating an entire group of people.

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When one person’s human rights are violated, everyone’s rights are violated.” — Pierre Garot Nere, Coordinator of CODDEMIR in Malpasse, Haiti. Photo/Anna Vogt.

During our journey in Haiti we spent time at the border, visiting those working on the front lines of this crisis. We met with members of a coalition of 15 Haitian groups, collectively known as CODDEMIR. For the past seven years, CODDEMIR (in English, the Collective of Organizations working for the Defence of Human Rights for Migrants and the Repatriated) has been pooling financial and human resources for one common goal of standing with the displaced from the D.R.

CODDEMIR engages in national and international advocacy on their behalf, through press releases, reporting, emergency assistance and education. Their passion and dedication spoke volumes to me; I felt hopeful creating a sense of hope as they shared their desire to protect  those who face difficult and divisive situations

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Stripped palms on Lake Peligre, in the border area of Malpasse. Photo/Anna Vogt.

The influx of people crossing the border since June 2015 has caused resentment in some Haitian communities. CODDEMIR has come alongside these communities to educate them about returnees’ needs. As a result, when CODDEMIR’s welcoming center is overcrowded, more local families and communities take displaced people into their homes.

Human rights groups, including CODDEMIR, are calling for significant action; action inside the D.R. to reverse laws discriminating against Haitians and those of Haitian descent, and action by the Haitian national government to come alongside migrants and also invest more in Haitian communities so people don’t feel they have to leave. They are also calling on the international community to pressure both governments to respond justly to the situation.

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In 2015 Michana (R) was living in the D.R. with her infant son. They were deported spontaneously and had no relations to help them on the Haiti side of the border. Miatrice (L) saw her crying on the side of the road and convinced her parents, who already had 8 people living in their home, to take them in. Terre Froide. Photo/Ted Barlow, Operation Blessing.

At the core, these organizations are calling for the recognition of our common humanity, encouraging all of us to welcome others, support each other, and stand together. In this, we can say that Haiti is passionate about welcoming and caring for others.

Rebekah Sears is a policy analyst with MCC’s Ottawa Office. 

How does Canada “walk the talk” on women, peace, and security?

I’m sure you’ve heard by now. Canada has a self-professed feminist prime minister.

Right out of the post-election gate, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau introduced a gender-balanced Cabinet (“Because it’s 2015,” he explained. End of story.). Then there is his snapchat video on how men can be better feminists, his statements on gender parity at the World Economic Forum, his comments pushing for gender equality while in New York at the Commission on the Status of Women, and the list goes on…

“I’m going to keep saying loud and clearly that I am a feminist until it is met with a shrug,” he said recently in New York (to enthusiastic applause, I might add).

The prime minister is promoting himself globally as a defender and promoter of women’s rights. And, the (decidedly un-feminist) Saudi arms deal aside, there is hope that this perspective will shape Canada’s foreign policy in positive directions.

Indeed, there is already an energetic wind blowing through the women, peace, and security (WPS for short!) agenda.

On International Women’s Day, several ministers announceddownload Canada’s “commitment to gender equality, and the empowerment of women and girls” (a rhetorical shift, as “gender equality” previously had been scrubbed clean from programs and policies, replaced by a focus on “mothers and children”). This commitment included the renewal of Canada’s National Action Plan on UN Security Council Resolution 1325a historic resolution calling for women’s meaningful and active participation in peacebuilding.

It’s an important agenda for any feminist prime minister.

Why?

As even a cursory glance at media headlines tells us, armed conflicts continue around the world. And while women and children are the minority of combatants, they are disproportionately impacted by war—targeted by armed actors, facing sexual violence and gender-based discrimination, and having fewer resources than men to protect themselves.

And yet they are regularly excluded from peace processes and post-conflict reconstruction efforts.

UNSCR 1325—unanimously adopted in 2000, and followed over the years by interconnected resolutions 1820, 1888, 1889, 1960, 2106, 2122, and 2242—recognized the important role women play in every stage of peacebuilding.

These resolutions highlight the need for the prevention of violence and the protection of women in peace operations, and the participation of women in peace negotiations, political decision-making, and institution-building in post-conflict societies.

Doreen Ruto

Doreen Ruto, director of Daima Initiatives for Peace and Development of Kenya, leads a retreat for first responders on trauma healing. She died in January 2016.  (MCC Photo/Katie Mansfield)

They embody a monumental shift in how the international community grapples with the rights and security of women leading up to, during, and after conflict.

In 2004, the UN Secretary-General called on member states to give legs to these resolutions by developing national action plans that implement concrete initiatives, monitor progress, and strengthen policy coherence across government departments.

In 2010, Canada responded with its own five-year National Action Plan. And, since Ottawa loves its acronyms, we call it C-NAP for short.

Led by foreign affairs (and collaborating with defence, development, public safety, justice, and other departments), C-NAP made broad and ambitious commitments to the WPS agenda through 28 different actions and 24 indicators.

Women Peace and Security Network-Canada has done thorough analysis on C-NAP’s successes and shortcomings (check out their 2015 and 2014 reports), and there was an external review that offered 6 recommendations (the need for high-level champions, better monitoring/evaluation, stronger consultation with civil society, etc).

While C-NAP expired at the end of March, efforts to renew it are now underway. And the great news is, interest in the WPS agenda can be heard in other quarters as well.

On March 9th, the Liberal Senate Forum Open Caucus—a space for non-partisan exploration on issues of interest to parliamentarians, media, and the public—held an expert discussion on women, peace and security.

In the Lower Chamber, the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development—at the urging of its sole female member (!), Hélène Laverdière—conducted a study on WPS. Alongside other civil society witnesses, MCC’s partner KAIROS testified before the committee, drawing on its grassroots partnerships in DR Congo to highlight the need for ambitious funding for women peacebuilders around the world. The Chief of Defence Staff also testified about a policy directive for integrating UNSCR 1325 and related resolutions into Canadian military planning and operations.

So, the wheels of government are turning. Global Affairs representatives, present a few weeks ago at a conference put on by Women Peace and Security Network-Canada, are also in active listening mode, looking for ways to make progress on a renewed agenda.

Cambodia

Chea Muoy Kry (front), executive director of Women Peacemakers in Cambodia, trains young people on domestic and sexual violence and gender issues. (MCC photo/Amanda Talstra)

And there are ways to improve. As some conference participants aptly noted, we shouldn’t reduce the WPS agenda to sexual violence. We should also be actively considering the ways in which trade regimes, property laws, natural resource extraction, and so on, also impact women’s rights and lives in post-conflict situations.

And we need to find ways to bring the agenda from the margins to the center of policy conversations. As a (rather hefty) 2015 UN-commissioned Global Study illustrated, while there has been a normative shift on the global importance of the WPS agenda, implementation remains weak, and funding levels have been shameful.

In other words, while a rhetorical shift is welcome, we need to walk the talk.

As Canada makes its bid for a Security Council seat (Trudeau was busy recently doing as much), the prime minister could be a real champion for feminist foreign policy by putting women peacebuilders at the heart of the international security agenda. 

It’s an obvious win. And an obvious extension of his values. As Prime Minister Trudeau said himself (rather cheekily) to the UN crowd, “It’s just really, really obvious. We should be standing up for women’s rights and trying to create more equal societies? Like duh.”

My thoughts exactly.

By Jenn Wiebe, MCC Ottawa Office Director