About two weeks ago I came home after three weeks away facilitating an intensive nonviolence training of trainers course in Juba, South Sudan. Some people have heard ‘Cuba’ when they’ve asked me how I’ve been. I’ve been away, haven’t I? And where was that? … Cuba?
No, not Cuba, the island country in the Caribbean. But Juba, South Sudan.
It was my second time there.
Last year about a month after our training, a violent conflict broke out between factions of the government of this new nation. It was an upsetting experience for all.
Lives, homes, livelihoods were lost. People are still displaced. Spells of fighting still break out despite on-going peace talks. Growing weary of the fruitless negotiations, women peace activists were calling for a sex strike to pressure male counterparts to really get serious about talking peace. A colleague from the humanitarian and development field told me (after 5 years in South Sudan, and 20 years cumulative experience) she expects when the rainy season ends that the conflict will swell up again. It’s difficult to move troops and equipment around in the mud, so while both sides are making an effort at peace talks, but they know better and feel more comfortable with armed conflict.
That saddens me. But I also understand it. Violence shapes who we are and permeates nearly every corner of everyday life. Defining violence and defying violence by living nonviolently requires a lot of mind, body and soul.
The course I run supports grassroots peace-building projects undertaken by a range of people – faith leaders, students, teachers, humanitarian, development and community workers, … The participants ranged from their 20s to 60s, 14 men and 7 women and similarly imbalanced between Muslims and Christains (4 and 17). Last year had a better balance of both, but finding the people with the right profile who are also able to free themselves up from their usual duties for a two-week training is hard. Three volunteers from the host organisation ONAD – Organisation for Nonviolence and Development also made themselves available for the full two weeks plus more for preparation and then wrap-up/evaluation.
The main purpose of the course is to prepare people to run community nonviolence events like workshops, forums and meetings, as well as advise, support and be a model for others in nonviolent living. The course also recognises that the big political forces like the government
dividing and taking up arms is also related to the micro-political like family and community conflicts that arise over things like rigidly held cultural taboos about what women ‘can and cannot’ eat for instance, or the value and role of girl-children in families. Then there’s also pressure on men feel to be macho and not be seen as too submissive to the women – be they mothers, wives or aunties – in their lives. So the course also has a thread of the inner-person and examining our values, beliefs and attitudes and defining what is violent and what do we reject, finding ways of doing that, … , finding the nonviolent alternative value, belief, attitude.
I learn so much doing an intensive course like this. It can be a very special space. It is challenging, it is a heavy workload, but it is also a privilege to collectively contemplate and then explore new ways of living nonviolently every day for two weeks with the co-facilitation team and the group. No matter whether we soar or fail with our attempts, we do it in a group safe to take risks, making ourselves vulnerable by sharing our processes of change. I find it fascinating. And I carry these memories and learnings with me through the most ordinary ways.
table of offerings
To introduce ourselves on the first day we used a workshop tool called the table of offerings.
In the table of offerings exericse a table is prepared with a random collection of everyday objects and people are asked to choose an object and introduce yourself by explaining –
How does that object relate to you and what you do to build peace in your community?
People are welcome to pick up and examine the things more closely but choose individually and silently. Once everyone has chosen something, one by one people tell which object they chose and why.
salt and peace
One of the young men in his 20s picked up a packet of salt and spoke about salt and peace.
‘Salt is an ordinary, everyday commodity. Something every home has, even the poorest. In times of violent conflict, when we are forced to flee our homes, run with only what we can carry, like what happened last year in December to me and my family, we may or not be able to take some salt with us.”
Salt and peace. Salt, essential for cooking, eating and life.
And peace. Yes, that too. From peace on the plate, to peace within the family, community and more broadly in society.
… do it anyway …
On the last day of the training we reflected on our journey forward after the training and Gandhi’s quote, which is essentially all the course was all about —
Thank you to Martin my co-facilitator for most of the workshops photographs in this post, and again to him, the local team, group, ONAD and the Swedish Fellowship for Reconciliation for an amazing experience, which I remember most powerfully and with great inspiration every day.
Want to know more?
I first became vaguely aware of South Sudan’s bid for independence in the Summer of 2010 when I was preparing to go to Kenya to work for 3 months. A year later in July 2011 the Republic of South Sudan emerged after years of civil war with the Sudan. I don’t know a lot but I’m learning. Here are some things I recommend to know more about the situation.
Emma’s War — follows a Westerner who travelled to the Sudan, married a warlord, and … it’s complicated. Good, honest book about the complexities of our contemporary colonial hangover and the geo-political context
War of Visions: Conflict of Identities in the Sudan by Francis Deng, a classic
Into Africa: Intercultural insights by Yale Richards and Phyllis Gestrirn, written for the diplomat, corporate ex-pat tyype of visitor but with useful information nonetheless, perhaps leaving some of their analysis and ways of understanding the world behind
There is a country: New fiction from the new country of South Sudan, 8 short stories and the firstcollection of its kind. Wrestling with a history marked by war and displacement, the work here presents a fresh and necessary account of an emerging nation, past and present. Definitely worth a read for a new view on daily life during conflict and war. I read it last year and gave the book away, so I can’t pick up my copy and check but I recall my one criticism is that all the stories were written by men and about the male experience. But like I said, still worth a read and the book cover is lovely and beautifully made.
Let’s stand together for peace by Silver X and All Stars — music for peace
Hip Hop artists the Jay Family encourage agriculture and fighting hunger, peace for all …
And lots of mainstream media out there, the younger participants were reading Talk of Juba, not sure how good it is, but it’s one place where the local get their information
And I was told that Al Jazeera has the best coverage and push the boundaries the most with their reporting on South Sudan of the mainstream news shows