Thursday, February 25, 2016

Report Day 4, Monday, 15 February

The fourth day of the Dialogue again gave the participants the possibility for an early morning reflection outdoors with nature.

Plenary: Peace and Reconciliation: Exploring Innovative Approaches

Prof. Mohammed Khalil is Professor of Religious Studies and Law, and the Director of the Muslim Studies Program at Michigan State University, USA. Khalil helps his students, Muslims and non-Muslims, to engage with the religion and challenge media stereotypes. He left the audience with the idea that ‘there will be no peace and harmony if one does not recognise the humanity in the other.’

Venuri de Silva of the National Peace Council (NPC) in Sri Lanka discussed initiatives which the NPC runs including interreligious truth forums, war widows’ reconciliation, and encouraging people to share their stories.  She spoke of ‘a need to empathise and think deeply about the work we want to do.’

Anand Aithal from Mumbai, lives in Kenya. He started a community based organisation, Pamoja Amani Upendo, using music and art to generate empathy between different ‘tribes of humanity’. He talked about the concept of identity, expressing his belief that race, religion and nation are unhelpful constructs of identity and that every person ‘...should identify as a human being who is part of humanity.’

Hon. George Justin Achor is the former Undersecretary in the office of the President, South Sudan, and former Government Coordinator for the National Reconciliation Committee Program. He has been involved in launching training for peacebuilders from various states in South Sudan. He told of plans to continue these once the new government of national unity administration is in place. He said he has taken a value-centred approach towards reconciliation, encouraging forgiveness and apology. ‘It is our duty for us as individuals to look for ways to correct the wrongs we have done; we must learn from others’ experiences and expertise by asking for help.’

The dialogue that followed addressed extremism, the role of women and youth in peace building, negotiation in conflict and an urgency to create a more compassionate world.


Focussed Dialogue: Negotiation, Dialogue and Experience of the Post-Soviet States

This dialogue on the post-Soviet states was led by Taras Mykhalniuk, director of the Open Ukraine Foundation, Sherman Garnett, Dean of James Madison College at Michigan State University, USA (who was earlier a Senior Associate at Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, specialising in foreign and security policies of Russia, Ukraine and other former USSR states), and Santa Kristina from Latvia, who is executive director of an environmental NGO, Homos Ecos.

Kristina and Mykhalniuk spoke of the history of Latvia and Ukraine respectively. Mykhalniuk spoke about the annexation of Crimea, highlighting that Russia claimed to be fighting the West and its agents in Crimea, rather than fighting Ukraine itself. Santa spoke of the divide between Russian and Latvian speaking communities in Latvia. Making a distinction between governments and peoples, Garnett pleaded: ‘Please do not give up on the Russian people.’

The questions from the audience addressed ways to continue a dialogue, despite opposing ideologies, between Russia and its neighbouring countries. The dialogue ended with Sherman referring to people like Mykhalniuk and Kristina as ‘the future you can’t give up on’.


Focused Dialogue: Food Security, Rural Development and Just Governance

Phil Jeffreys from Australia and Claude Bourdin from France, coordinators of Farmers Dialogues on four continents, initiated the session on the national and international issue of food security and rural development.

The session’s intention was to link food security and rural development with just governance and to answer the question of why there is poverty in an area that is crucial for the survival of mankind. Farmer suicide is on the rise in many parts of the world but Bourdin pointed out, the issue has been kept undercover by governments. ‘For just governance, rural development and food security cannot be put aside,’ he said.



Toolkit to support students and prevent suicides

Film maker Ruchi Bhimani introduced and screened parts of a documentary concerning the growing numbers of student suicides. Having presented her project in an earlier session she now asked for input for a toolkit which will accompany screening in universities all over India.

The participants shared their experiences and thoughts on how youth depression is dealt with in their respective countries or fields of work. Suggestions of how to support students ranged from setting up anonymous help lines, social media forums, study groups that could also offer emotional support and peer mentorship.


Becoming Inspired Champions for Transformative Governance’ with Lord Pomperado, leader of a Philippines based international youth organization and Mayur Shah, an Indian adventurer and trainer, on how to empower young people to take leadership in their communities.


Non-violent Communication

In continuation of the workshop on Non-violent Communication led by Chris Rajendram, the participants focused on the methods and ideas.


Women’s role as Creators of Peace

Leena Khatri (India and Fiji), Cheryl Wood (Australia) and Asma Shah (India)  introduced the history, the concept and the tools for the ’Creators of Peace’ Circles to about twenty women. This was followed by a film about an African woman who, on finding a way out of her anger and hate of another tribe, became a bridge builder between the two tribes.  

During the ‘The cultural night’ participants offered their talent and humour, all held together by the social activists and artists Mayuree Pandit and Leslie Nazareth from Mumbai.

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