Bridging the gap between theory and reality

August 10, 2015

One of the fantastic characteristics of this fellowship has been the opportunity to learn from both academics and practitioners from the field of peacebuilding. However, as we enter into our final week of the fellowship, I am beginning to rethink the ways in which the two different fields can collaborate. During our sessions with Professor Kathryn Poethig, she asked us about the issues that we are prickling with throughout this fellowship. My issue has been understanding the various players and stakeholders that are engaged on the ground and understanding their interest before trying to make a decision or believing in a certain theory.

We had extremely engaging and informative sessions with Professor Poethig. Towards the end of her last session, she asked us some broader questions – one of which was revolving around the idea of systems and our agency as human beings. I heard a lot of frustrated voices today, and some of them were revolved around the idea that the best solution to the kind of patriarchal, capitalist, unipolar society is to re-start a new system. Although it seems like the right thing to do (and I would sign up if Bernie led it), I believe that the system is not where the fault lies. I believe that the system, in its principle, works. However, what does not work as often, are the different functionalities within the system. For example, the system of prison, as a way of providing rehabilitative support for individuals who have lost their path in the journey of life – works. However, the way we treat our prisoners is problematic – instead of supporting and understanding their circumstances to help them cope with it, we lock them up and provide them with minimal programming. That is exactly the problem with the larger system of governance and world structures. I am one of the people who strongly believes that systems have the ability to change, and we have many examples to vouch for that – it was a change in system that led to the civil rights movements in this country. This was a result of years of perseverance and dedication on the part of citizens and leaders, who took up these issues actively and fought for what they believed was right. If Gandhi had given up hope on fighting such a monstrous British regime in India, the independence would probably take much longer.

Although theoretically, the thought of a world revolution sounds amazing, I believe that we have to get our priorities right – I am not trying to kill the idealism that we still maintain, but when working on the ground, that level of idealistic philosophy becomes crushed the minute you enter a place where the discussion starts from ground zero. Perhaps many of us will end up as academics, and some as practitioners. For all my practicing friends out there, lets keep fighting for a perfect system, but lets maintain our thoughts on the ground and more importantly, understand what the people on the ground need. For the ones more focused on academia, I suggest we maintain a stronger relationship because it is your research and study that allows the practitioners to understand best practices across countries, cultures, and years. Both groups have valuable input in the field of peacebuilding, but the collaboration is missing. I am confident that we can fill that vacuum and really leverage our education to support the ‘industry’ of peacebuilding in one way or another.


August 5, 2015

One key lesson that I am getting from the experience thus far at the Summer Peacebuilding Program is that peace building is a form of art. It is not something that one can learn from by just going through articles and papers written by renowned scholars (although that provides a strong base). From our experience over the past few days, I have come to conclude that peace building requires greater amount of engagement in the field from the very beginning to ensure that peace builders can make a connection between theory and practice. Almost all of the professors and speakers that we have heard from, have worked in the field at some point in their life, and that too, extensively. One of the many speakers who inspired this thought was Kazu Haga, who is the founder of East Point Peace Academy. In an extremely engaging presentation, he talked about how the army, before going into the field, practices and ensures that they are perfect and ready to wage war on countries. According to him, that is precisely the kind of training that is needed for peace builders to be able to wage war on violence. He said “you cannot face violence without serious training. I compare nonviolence to martial arts – its a lifelong learning process”. Therefore, he has started the East Point Peace Academy, which “empowers communities by helping to nurture the skills and the inspiration to be the agents for change”. By training and supporting local communities to voice their opinions and fight against injustice, he has been able to inspire movements in various prisons, and local communities. This was one example of how peace building is a form of art, because Kazu took the Kingian philosophy of nonviolence and created a program that can further motivate young people to take up nonviolent means of protesting. Another point that was interesting about Kazu’s presentation was his emphasis on how, as peacemakers, we should be comfortable with the concept of conflict. He urged us to understand conflict in order to transform such conflicts for the betterment of these communities. This is an important advice, because it reenforces the idea that in order to be peace builders, we should spend considerable amount of time on the ground talking to the different groups involved and ensure that we help foster solutions that are desirable by community members. As Kazu said, it is key to put yourself in other’s shoes and understanding their perspective before making a judgement about their action. And it is key to remember that understanding doesn’t mean agreeing with the other group and their perspective.

An example from SPP that helped me understand some of the ideas that were put forward by Kazu was during our visit to the State Prison in Salinas, I was walking across various prisoners who had been tried for decades, if not for life. It was absolutely disheartening to see these people, yet I could not but think of the reasons for them to be in prison. At first, my thought was that they were in prison for doing the wrong thing. However, the same evening, we met with Willie R. Stokes, who was once part of the Nuestra Familia gang which is the Northerner gang in California. The gang culture in California is very powerful and maintains a strong network. As a young boy, he was a smart and hardworking kid, who went through difficult circumstances in life, eventually leading to a life in the gang, and eventually in prisons. Although he went through such difficult situations, he was able to change is life. Currently, he runs a program called the Black Sheep Redemption and works in prisons, schools and various halls to provide training and support to the youth who are about to enter the dangerous gang culture. After hearing from him for a few hours, I was able to understand the words of Kazu, who said that it is important to understand the perspective of the group which we usually consider to be in fault. Yes, Willie has made mistakes in his life, and yes he was involved in a poisonous gang culture, but there were powerful reasons which led him to such a life. Even more importantly, he is now a changed man who is helping other young people while risking his own life. It is also important to remember that many times, the real oppressors are not gang members such as Willie, but actually the society which provide minimal support to young children in vulnerable communities, eventually leading them to find groups which are more accepting.

Finally, as we enter this art of peace building, it is important for me to remember the word Agape, which was also put forward by Kazu. Agape is the unconditional love that we have for all of humanity – the idea that I love you because you exist. This kind of unconditional love is important as we become peace builders because only then can we become true listeners and support communities in the way they desire.

Development as peacebuilding

August 2, 2015

The first week at Summer Peacebuilding Program was an exciting opportunity for me to learn from and network with different academicians, practitioners and thinkers in the field of peacebuilding. Out of the various sessions, I was very interested in learning more about peacebuilding and the relation between development and peacebuilding. Coming from a nation which is struggling to do both of these things, I want to be able to learn more about how development can be used to build peace in communities which were once hostile against each other. Nepal went through a ten year civil war, which was led with a promise for development in the poverty stricken regions of the country. After the revolution was ‘successful’, most people expected the Maoist led government to stand up to its promises, especially in the rural areas. That was in 2006. Today, almost 10-years after the end of the revolution, we have had seven Prime Ministers (unstable government), and the economy has only deteriorated. Many of the former rebels who were promised an opportunity to join the Army were rejected as they did not meet basic educational and/or physical requirements. A large majority of these young people, frustrated and rejected by the society, have taken up difficult work in the Middle East as construction workers. Others, have joined the informal sectors in the capital city, Kathmandu, leading to greater urbanization. As if these were not enough challenges, the earth decided to give us another setback with a series of earthquakes, which have destroyed our precious heritage, cost us precious lives of almost 10,000 Nepalese and pushed back the tourism industry which is our second most important sector. The situation is bleak, and it requires a lot of thought and action – both of which is not happening right now.

Coming from a situation that many development workers consider ‘difficult’, I still have hope in my country’s ability to develop. This week at the Summer Peacebuilding Program helped me maintain that hope. First of all, I learned about the relation between economic inequality and peacebuilding. As a country that is trying to come out of underdevelopment, Nepal certainly needs to ensure that our rural poor are provided with an opportunity to control their own destiny. Quite often, when focusing in development, projects are catered to meet the needs of the urban elites, while ignoring the needs of the people who are actually the driving force for change – rural poor. In the case of Nepal, this would mainly include the young people who were once part of the armed revolution. In order to change this situation, we need to provide education, vocational training and bring them into the formal sectors. The post-earthquake situation in Nepal is a wonderful opportunity to engage in these campaigns – we need more construction workers, architects, designers – and now is the time for us to train these people so that they can rise above the level of poverty while contributing to rebuild their communities. The visit to Rancho Cielo was an important example for me to understand this phenomenon – the way they engage young people in ensuring that they are able to follow their passions and then connecting them with the formal sector is absolutely fascinating.

Another session which has helped me find solutions to the problems in Nepal was during the session with Professor Jeff Langholz. He gave an engaging presentation about an innovative idea to deal with water problems in the world. During his presentation, he gave an important lesson – in today’s world, the focus is all about taking the power to the people in communities. In his examples of Airbnb, Uber and other such services which have come up over the past few years, he talked about how we can engage local communities in coming up with solutions to many challenges. I can relate to this theory because with my work in Sankhuwasabha as a team member of Diyalo Foundation, I have realized that the way we can make our schools self sustaining is by allowing communities to engage in a farming cooperative, from where, we generate income, part of which goes towards supporting local schools. Instead of depending on financial support from donors, we are now creating a community which does not need much support from outside. However, incubation is key, which is where individuals such as Professor Langholz play a big role – in inspiring communities to come with solutions for their problems and training them to self-sufficiency.

As I reflect on the past week in Monterey, I must also say that very rarely do we, as emerging members of the peacebuilding community, get an opportunity to have such intimate interaction with some of the most experienced individuals from the field. I look forward to more learning and fun, all while enjoying the beautiful (although a bit chilly!) city of Monterey.