Starting Small

By Terah Clifford

Thus far, my experience of peacebuilding has focused on strengthening the communities I live and interact with on a regular basis. I have worked as a camp counsellor for children in the foster system, striving to create a space of peace and healing they can retreat to for a few days. I also live in a co-op during the school year where the term ‘restorative justice’ is a regular part of our vocabulary when it comes to addressing roommate and house-wide disputes. When I visited my family for Christmas, I went on house calls with the nonprofit my dad overseas that partners with the local police force to provide support to families who have encountered domestic violence. While these things may seem small, I have come to recognize and appreciate the microcosm they represent: examples of human conflict on a small scale that mimic aspects of conflict on a wider scale.

Conflict does not always mean armed conflict. Conflict exists in fractured communities and broken families, many of whom are oppressed by systems that do not give them a chance to know anything different. My initial conceptualization of peacebuilding came from an understanding of its meaning in a broad sense as it relates to nations experiencing turmoil or areas enduring constant violence and upheaval. I connoted peacebuilding with assisting overseas nations emerging from wars and helping them to rebuild and structure a new way of life. But already, my understanding of peacebuilding has begun to evolve and change, expanding  even as it moves closer to home. I believe methods learned through use in local and national situations have a bearing on solving problems on an international scale by applying similar concepts. 

I am reminded of models. Architectural models help us to envision what a proposed housing project, office building, school, or hospital could look like. They help the architect, the builder, the designer, to see where the light comes in, what accents can be added to create a unique space, what parts need to be fortified and where a supportive beam needs to be added. This process involves mistakes, questions, and encouragement, all of which are necessary to get to the finished product. Projects start small and slowly morph from a two-dimensional, theoretical idea into a fragile model, and then into a strong, physical structure. Ideas start small, and gain traction and substance as they move through the various stages. This is similar to how striving to bring peace to the everyday conflicts you see around you can transition into something bigger. 

If a classroom is the blueprint, then family or friends or workplace tension is the first model; community-oriented projects that address areas of need are the next as the lessons learned gain shape. And as these models are built, people learn, and the models grow stronger and bigger, until eventually they are full-sized structures. Starting small allows you to learn how to build peace with the people that you know and trust so you can take those lessons into the world. I view the Peacebuilding Program as the next model, and I look forward to seeing what we build over the next few weeks.