When thinking of conflict resolution and peacebuilding in general, it is easy (and often insufficient) to center our attention on the more traditional methods for peacebuilding. There is a tendency in academia, as well as in the more well-known international organizations and NGOs who work on post-conflict situations, to place a disproportionate emphasis on the macro-level factors of conflict resolution, mainly focusing on aid, democratic institutions, and so on. Meanwhile, academics and practitioners alike often forget to focus on trauma healing and reconciliation at the community level. Enabling conversations between peoples who have been torn by war, creating venues for contrition and forgiveness, working on healing the wounds of those in the affected communities who have come to antagonize others.
Even though I recognize that the “macro” factors are indeed critical in the process of peacebuilding, I am also deeply interested in learning and working with communities (especially back home, in Caracas, Venezuela) towards reconciliation. This is why Wednesday’s morning activity was so special. We had the fortune to begin the day with an incredibly interesting and fun session: Storytelling for Peace, with Susan O’Halloran. Sue’s talk helped us discover the ways in which we can use storytelling as a vehicle for peacebuilding among diverse peoples, and gave us excellent advice on how to tell our stories in a way that is engaging, respectful, and that conveys a powerful and long-lasting message. We are all natural storytellers, and people naturally like to listen to others tell great stories. All we need to remember is to include all the key elements good stories require, and to follow the STAR (Sensitivity, Trust, Appreciation, and Respect) principle when telling our stories.
Ever since I participated in a month-long theater workshop focused on social reconciliation and peacebuilding in Belgrade, Serbia, I have been aware and excited about the power of the arts and communication in shaping people’s identities towards this goal. I learned that we can use powerful and moving theatre plays, music, visual arts, and comedy, to heal the wounds of peoples who have been divided by war and violence. And it is this personal curiosity about community-level tools to promote reconciliation and conversations among conflict-torn communities that made me enjoy every single second of Sue’s lecture. All in all, it was a great pleasure, as well as an intellectually stimulating opportunity to learn about how useful storytelling can be in the process to bringing these communities together.