The need for humanity in peacebuilding

Through these three weeks, we have learned how the field of peacebuilding has become separated from the nations, individuals, communities, and places that it seeks to influence. It is another one of the great ironies of international work and the reality of how our societies function. The work of peacebuilding and development has come to be something that is planned in sterile offices and mapped without a sense of place, and connection to the geography, history and social context. This is a recipe for…well, not success. It might feel like we are so distant from the real answers to a more peaceful society, but they are often so much more accessible than we believe them to be. We need to access the immense ability to bring peace, development and health to communities, as the opportunity is frequently lying in wait – ready to for its potential to spread.

On our final day of SPP class, we had the opportunity to learn about a reconciliation process called Fambul Tok (meaning family talk), which is an effort to reintegrate communities in the wake of the devastating civil war in Sierra Leone. Fambul Tok invokes the power of local traditions in order to incorporate values of forgiveness and community healing. Through a series of hundreds of bonfires across the country, thousands of perpetrators of violence and victims have had to opportunity to unweight the burden of what they have experienced and what they feel. The documentary is a powerful example of the human capacity value the potential that each person has, even when they make horrible mistakes.

We have spent many sessions discussing the need to illuminate the voices of those that are closest to the issues of conflict, and have them lead the conversation about how to make change. This film and discussion took that lesson to the next level as it showed us the power that local initiatives have in recognizing the deeply rooted values, and incorporating creative and impactful strategies that recognize these values and human nature. We do the world a disservice every time we think that Western knowledge and development is superior. Even without having this explicit thought, there are so many ways that this is integrated into our biases, learning, everyday lives, and the way we were raised. This field needs to recognize where we can do more learning and less telling, and utilize resources to spread innovative ideas to the national level. Recognizing and unleashing this opportunity seems quite simple – but systems have a way of isolating the knowledge and potential that we need to implement real solutions.