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Networking in Peace Education

Report of a consultation for and with peace educations, St Clement, Belfast, Northern Ireland, 18-24 June 2001.

24 June 2001

Networking in Peace Education
A consultation for and with peace educations
St Clement, Belfast, Northern Ireland
18-24 June 2001

Thirty-two people from twenty-two countries embarked on a journey to Northern Ireland. Each one coming with a different personal story, different experiences in peace work, and different exposures to violence both structural and direct. Each one brought his/her own baggage of pain, hope and joy and the richness of a cultural diversity to share. We came with hopeful expectations.

An open space was offered to us by the World Council of Churches at St. Clements Retreat Center in Belfast St Clements, situated on the slope of a hill, lush with foliage and tall trees faced the open sea. With this scenic view in front of us and plenty of cool fresh air to invigorate us, it was a place where we could rest for a while and breathe more easily.

At the opening session, each one of us brought a symbol representing the pain and hope of our people to share with others. Within two hours the altar of St. Clements was transformed into a colorful mosaic of symbols and stories. Images of the sea were presented to us by Solomon Islands and the Philippines. Sierra Leone and Lebanon gathered nuts. Testimonies and emblems of reconciliation and hope were offered by Chile, Colombia, Indonesia and Romania. The aroma of India’s incenses and flowers were enhanced by the touch of Sri Lanka’s betel leaves. Four countries, shared their rich colors - Zambia and Nigeria, a native costume, Guatemala a Mayan doll and Nagaland, a warrior shawl. Other countries also brought special gifts - Fiji a fan, Rwanda a woven basket, Palestine a Coptic cross and Canada sweet grass. carved fish and maple syrup. Pakistan offered a hand made cushion for us to rest on along the journey. Mexico offered a bouquet of doll pens to rewrite our own stories. Puerto Rico brought part of its shore in Vieques contrasting the beautiful creation of Gods sea shells and the destructive human made bullet-shells. The US with a heaviness in the heart brought a brochure for the George W. Bush campaign entitled "Because a dangerous world requires a sharpened sword" as well as a dollar bill.

During the first days each one of us opened his/her own baggage of suffering, pain, hope and joy. With every new story we recognized more and more that there is "no monopoly over pain." And while each country and region suffers from a different expression of violence and injustice, a common pattern and source could be identified. These were structural violence present in forms of economic exploitation, increasing globalization, militarization, ecological destruction, media manipulation, increasing consumerism and weapon and drug industry. Direct violence expressed in genocide, gender violence, human rights violations, marginalization, domestic, ethnic and religious violence and discrimination, violence against indigenous people and armed conflicts increasing the spiral of violence.

A full day was used to undertake a journey into the context of Northern keland - one that engaged both the heart and the mind. The first included an academic analysis of the struggle by the Irish School of Ecumenics and the Corrvmeela Community. This showed the complexity and ambiguity of the history of this people. The more we recognized the complexity of the situation, the more difficult it became to understand. The heart came into action while visiting "interface areas" where different communities arc onh separated by a road or a wall. The name given to this wall - "the peace wall" struck us as incongruous. Suffering and pain on all sides, stories of life and death present in the memories of all. The images of hope and despair on the faces of small children are etched in our memory. Deep in our hearts are also the stories of women like Claire, a housewife and mother, who experienced violence at her doorstep and was moved to become pro-active in working for peace. We also saw seeds of hope in the trusting spirit of the people we met and in their warm welcome.

Returning to our reflections later that day we felt the strong bond of solidarity’ with them which we expressed in our own words "...we cannot be indifferent towards the pain that is being lived out in such a beautiful country like Northern Ireland. We empathize with your suffering because we love you all and because your children are just like our own, we love them too, like our own..."

Along the journey of sharing our pain, hope and joy, and in exchanging our different experiences in terms of both the content and the methodology of our work, we arrived at an open space which gave us an opportunity to unpack our various experiences. In the process of sharing our experiences we were able to arrive at a set of guiding principles that will help to forge creative links between us peace educators from around the globe.

Peace Education requires:

  • discovering ourselves as an enormous resource of richness and creativity
  • developing a shared vision, one that gives meaning to our life and work and keeps our hope alive.
  • working for justice, reconciliation and healing. Justice must be a prerequisite for lasting peace. the interrelationship between peace, justice and sustainable development also needs to be recognized.
  • respecting human dignity and diversities, promoting the ability to see "the other in me" both individually and collectively and developing relationships that give a face, a name and a story.
  • fostering values of love, respect and forgiveness. Respecting the sacredness of creation.
  • developing a methodology that is critical, participatory, dialogical, constructive, contextual. expressive, holistic and liberating.
  • recognizing the complexity and specificity of each context
  • linking the local with the global.
  • promoting a prophetic voice that speaks out against human rights violations, injustice and violence.

As the journey progressed we found ourselves bonded together by a common vision and faith. Together they united us into a living community of peace educators dedicated to peace and justice in our context and in the world. This coming together as a community especially’ during the creative morning worship brought strength and hope to each one of us manifesting in an act of solidarity’.

And as we return each to his/her own home, we start a new journey of commitment and solidarity with each other and to the cause of working for peace. A commitment to a living network that reaches out to each other sharing resources, personnel, ideas, stories, prayers, poems and anything that has worked for us. Sharing as well the risks of our involvement and offering one another a safe place in times of pain and suffering. A commitment to being supportive consultants to each other in specific initiatives. A commitment encouraging our centers as well as other institutions to join in the journey with us.

Although we speak various languages, we leave this resting place having experienced a language that goes beyond mere words, a language that unites us in understanding each other’s laughter and tears, enabling us to continue our sacred journey to peace.

Participants of the Networking in Peace Education Consultation
Belfast, Northern Ireland, 18-24 June 2001