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The power of nonviolent action in an increasingly violent world

This is a sponsored post on PCDN

The 2018 Global Peace Index shows the world is less peaceful today than at any time in the last decade.

In a world increasingly divided and violent, there is a growing need for individuals trained in, and equipped with tools in, peacebuilding and protection. Nonviolent Peaceforce (NP) is a global non-profit focusing on protecting civilians nonviolently through the unique tool of unarmed civilian protection (UCP). The Rotary Peace Fellowship programs train existing and emerging peace and development leaders with the knowledge, practice, and networks needed to address root causes of conflict to help build more peaceful communities.

I recently had the opportunity to meet with Mel Duncan, NP co-founder and Director of Advocacy and Outreach, to discuss the approaches that both NP and Rotary use to build peace within communities. The work of NP and Rotary has intersected in unique ways over the years: To date, fourteen NP staff and volunteers have received Rotary Peace Fellowships, several MA-level fellows have chosen NP for their applied field experience, peace fellows from our certificate program at Chulalongkorn University in Thailand have visited NPs work in the Philippines during their international field study, and local Rotary clubs contribute to both training and the development of new NP programs.

Founded in 2002, NPs mission is to protect civilians in violent conflicts through unarmed strategies, build peace side-by-side with local communities, and advocate for wider adoption of these approaches to safeguard human lives and dignity.

What does that look like once NP is working in a new community? Working on a nonpartisan basis, they meet key players, including state and non-state armed actors, local police, religious, business, traditional community, and civil society leaders especially women and youth. They live and work in communities within conflict zones alongside local people. This requires a tremendous amount of trust, courage, and adaptability.

To learn more about NP’s work and the linkages to Rotary, I interviewed several individuals who have been involved with both organizations.

 

 

What drew you to work with NP?

Asha: Most of NP’s work is at the grassroots level, where NP protection officers, both national and international officers, works and live within the community. The experience that I gained from NP, later, helped me to perform my responsibilities as Child Protection Officer with United Nations Mission in South Sudan. I consider my decision to join NP as one of the turning points in my life as it helped me to grow both professionally and personally.

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Asha (front and center) during a NP project monitoring and evaluation visit to Yida Refugee Camp in South Sudan.

 

Hope: NP does not seem to perpetuate the dependency syndrome. Communities and community leaders are challenged to think and practice localized solutions about their challenges. In South Sudan, I had opportunities to deeply interact with the communities, establish relationships and networks of influence for civilian protection. The identity and approaches of NP resonates with my life calling to serve in fighting injustice, poverty, and inequality. I believe in ‘servanthood’ leadership, and NP’s UCP strategies gave me the space to practice and inspire grassroots stakeholders for an improved protection environment, strengthen community-based protection mechanisms, and protection of populations affected by violence, deprivation, and coercion.

Jasper: NP is an innovative and people powered initiative that advances an approach to protection of civilians from an angle that is empowering for minorities, including women, and youth. NP’s work allows for creativity and lends well to adaptation to specific contexts to find the most effective ways to support communities in enhancing their own protection from violent conflict. In Myanmar, we placed a strong emphasis on partnering with local civil society, community leaders, armed group liaisons, and Myanmar Government, while facilitating training, and consultations with a range of stakeholders to support and develop programming.

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Photo courtesy of NP Myanmar: Jasper working with community leaders.

 

Jeanne: NP’s commitment to “transform the world’s response to conflict” is so necessary and hopeful. NP’s work to build relationships, to be nonpartisan, and to be willing to meet with different sides in a conflict, to help people learn to resolve and to prevent conflicts, and to build women’s skills and their commitment to standing up for themselves, and their children’s safety, education, and other needs is a much needed gift to the world.

Jeya: NP’s uniqueness is its application of nonviolent action for the particular context. We shaped NP’s approach in the Moro conflict in the Philippines in different forms: capacitating the local actors to take the lead in the mandated civilian protection component. NP trained local actors are now the leaders in shaping the normalization process of the Bangsamoro Region.

Ann: It was serendipity, I went to a lecture in 2002 about this new concept of UCP, signed the roster, became a donor, and then became a member of the advocacy committee. Before I knew it, I was an unarmed civilian protector in Guatemala, protecting women human rights workers. Likewise, when I first heard of efforts at Rotary to start a Rotarian Action Group for Peace, I joined. I joined with other Rotarians to form a Nuclear Weapons Education committee. Because of overwhelming interest in providing opportunities for education about nuclear weapons, we now have 38 members of my subcommittee from 14 countries, all working in their own way as Rotarians. I’ve also mentored twelve of the fourteen NP staff and volunteers that became peace fellows.

Do you see linkages between the work of NP and Rotary?

Ann: Both NP and Rotary are dedicated to peace and nonviolence.  Both understand that you must engage, speak the truth, follow your principles, and persist.  Both are international organizations but focus on the local level recognizing and building on the abilities, creativity and courage of individuals at the grassroots. From NP I learned that getting agreement on big issues, like protection of civilians and creating a livable habitat (the planet), involves recognizing local leadership, listening to each other, respecting each other, and using nonviolence.

Asha: Both Rotary and NP aim for world peace through service and nonviolent methods. It will be helpful, if UCP is included in the Rotary course curriculum as it will help the RPF to understand a different technique in peacebuilding.

Hope:  I strongly believe there is a direct connection between NP’s work and Rotary’s global work as both organizations develop, equip, and empower leaders at different levels to promote inclusive peace.

Jasper: As a peace fellow I have had the opportunity to meet a range of Rotarians around the world and have been able to see how the work of NP and Rotary has many complementarities. Civil society organizations like Rotary have a fundamental role in building and sustaining meaningful spaces for dialogue between communities and supporting civilians in voicing their support for peaceful resolution of conflicts. In Myanmar I found NP’s work to fundamentally rely on the tireless work and drive that civil society organizations maintained.

Jeanne: Both NP and Rotary have connections with the UN and both have a long-term commitment to building a more peaceful world through nonviolent practices.

Jeya: NP and Rotary’s global work are interconnected and complement each other in transforming the current world. If both organizations can increase the focus regionally, the impact can be even more.

Are there any skills you gained through the fellowship that have helped build on your peacekeeping work with NP?

Asha: The fellowship is helping me to achieve a lot of my life dreams, which includes advocating, at an international level, for the rights of women and children in armed conflict. My main focus of area after my fellowship will be to advocate for the participation of women and youth in peace process in conflict and post conflict countries. And for the same reason, I need to acquire policy drafting skills and my fellowship at Duke’s Sanford School of Public Policy is supporting me to acquire the skills.

Hope: The fellowship inspired more hope. Particularly on the aspect of inclusivity, self-care, relationship building, blending protection with peacebuilding, conflict analysis, facilitating dialogues, and influencing. Another aspect I like in my protection work is to be able to encourage conflict analysis so that our work is supported and informed through conflict sensitive approaches for safe programming.

Jasper: I have been able to gain a new set of research and data analysis skills, in addition to deepening my knowledge of conflict resolution and civilian protection methods and theory. One specifically applicable skill I have developed as fellow is conflict analysis, which is essential to conducting NP’s work at the local level as well as in monitoring national and regional developments. Having a more comprehensive background on civilian protection and development theory has also enabled me to be more detailed and critical in evaluating policy makers and donor claims regarding what works and what does not.

Jeanne: The fellowship helped increase my conflict resolution skills as well as my commitment to, and belief in, NP’s work, and my ongoing connections with Rotary. It has also resulted in collaboration to bring in trainers for conflict resolution in Midland and in Rotary District 6310 in Michigan. 

Jeya: The fellowship helped shape my thinking in locating the core problem of the complex issues that resulted from the armed conflicts. One of the reasons for my interest in studying and researching development studies was to better understand the ‘development’ part in designing better and workable strategies for integrated peacekeeping and peacebuilding. For example, in my current program for social cohesion and resilience in Mindanao.

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