Friday, September 10, 2010

Let's make peace

Published in the Fiji Times - Off the Wall with Padre James Bhagwan, Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Last Friday, peace-workers from around Oceania completed 120 hours of intensive Peace-building training with the Pacific Centre for Peace-building and the Pacific Theological College's God's Pacific People programme.

Over three weeks, lay and ordained church workers who work in conflict areas of varying degrees (from family and community conflicts to social/political /national conflicts) spent time sharing experiences and learning tools to help them be better peacemakers.

In the first week of the training intensive, the participants learned about the analysis of conflict, justice, violence and society.

Divided into two parts, participants were firstly equipped with the tools to "map" and describe their society as they experience it, giving them confidence in talking about issues of conflict, violence and injustice in our society.

The second part of the week focused on understanding the roots of conflict and injustice.

This involved a joint exploration of how the structures of society contribute to conflict and peace.

The exploration also included understanding the importance of human needs and human rights theories as a the core framework for examining the complex causes of conflict, crime, injustice and violence, including the roles of identity, shame and humiliation in the cycle of violence as well as the impact of structural violence on other forms of conflict.

By the end of the first course our Pacific Peacebuilders had gained skills in analysing power and culture and psychological analysis of conflict as well as applying the theories and models into real-life situation.

The second week of the training intensive focused on helping the participants to recognise that awareness in trauma healing is essential for any peacebuilding process.

The instructors from the Pacific Centre for Peacebuilding shared their learnings from the Eastern Mennonite University STAR Programmes, Father Michael Lapsley and Dr. Al Fuertes.

During this second course participants were introduced to various types of trauma and the effects of trauma on both individuals and communities.

They also examined the relationship between trauma, conflict and violence.

The course also included indentifying situations of trauma and resilience for individual and communal stories.

Particpants explored common responses to trauma; the role of the bod, mind and spirit in trauma; and the relationship between unhealed trauma and cycles of violence.

As part of understanding the trauma healing process, participants were introduced to the trauma healing journey model and analysing in the light of their own insights.

They learned new skills to address trauma at various stages.

The concepts of reconciliation and forgiveness were discussed in detail as participants examined what non-violent responses to violence and peacebuilding concepts transform and prevent trauma.

During this week, students shared their personal and common stories of trauma healing and discussed case studies from Oceania and the rest of the world.

The final part of this training intensive focused on the essential skills and knowledge for communication and building relationships.

According to the Pacific Centre for Peacebuilding, no matter the level of peacebuilding work, effective practice relies on self-awareness and respecting others through human relations skills.

Practical peacebuilding skills needed for facilitating conflict transformation include active listening, getting beyond posturing, issue identification, identifying and working with commonalities, problem-solving, group facilitation, methods for structuring conversation in group settings, awareness of the impact of self on others.

Participants were challenged to try out new ways of addressing conflict in and out of class.

On the final day the participants spent the morning in a conflict simulation exercise.

As a fly on the wall I observed them putting into practice the many skills learned and understandings gained as they simulated transforming and resolving a violent conflict in which an occupying force invaded a country.

Community leaders, politicians and the military attempted dialogue while rebels tried to disrupt the process and representatives of big business tried to exploit the vulnerable but volatile situation.

In an unusual but positive result the Pacific peacebuilders were able to transform and resolve the conflict peacefully.

According to the facilitators, this particular simulation, based on the US-led invasion of Iraq, usually ends in violence with parties shooting each other.

However this exercise was not without its challenges as naturally non-violent people were challenged to play the roles of aggressors and oppressors.

I (and I am sure at least some of the participants) was amazed at the number of factors that need to be taken into consideration when attempting to resolve conflicts.

The types of trauma experienced by both oppressors and oppressed, looking for the root causes of the conflict rather than merely addressing things from a superficial or surface level, active listening and perhaps above all creating safe spaces for sharing and parties being able to trust peacebuilders are often things we over look in our rush to resolve or sometimes end conflicts we experience in our personal, communal and national life.

While the answers to our problems and conflicts may not be as clear cut or easy as we would wish, if we are serious about resolving them once and for all we need commit our time, our minds, our hearts, and be willing to look at ourselves and be open to others.

The longer conflicts remain unresolved the deeper they entrench themselves, the deeper the trauma and negative effects and the longer it will take to resolve them.

We need to commit to transforming conflicts in our lives. We need to support the peacemakers and peacebuilders in our communities.

May the rest of your week be blessed with simplicity, serenity and spontaneity and the courage to transformation whatever conflict you face.

"Be still, stand in love, pay attention"

* Reverend J.S. Bhagwan is a member of the Faculty at Davuilevu Theological College and the Associate Minister of Dudley Methodist Circuit in Suva.

This article is the sole opinion of Rev. J.S. Bhagwan and not of this newspaper or any organisation that he is affiliated with. Email:

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