Monday, June 1, 2020


How do we heal broken relationships and rebuild trust?


Rev Dr Bernard Suwa from South Sudan was the Secretary General of the Committee for National Healing, Peace, and Reconciliation, and continues to be active in this work.


We are struggling to form a Government of National Unity. The contentious issues include how we can create a national army out of two forces that has been fighting each other. How do we overcome such a huge degree of mistrust?


I have been deeply involved in working to reconcile warring factions. Building trust in South Sudan is like pushing a heavy rock. Trust is based on truth. Where today’s victim is tomorrow’s perpetrator, we need to go deeper to find the truth. In a war situation, opponents are often so polarised that it is not possible to find the truth. But we can build trust if we are trustworthy.


As a church minister, our responsibility is to stand in the gap. There is so much expectation on us. We work to build bridges, recreate relationships, seek change within individual. This is needed in the family, in the community, in politics if we are to create the critical mass for the kind of change that the country needs. Sometimes we are not up to the task. After all, we too are human beings.


Governments often try to use fear to control. But that can backfire, and it cannot establish good governance. Good governance can only come when there is trust. Trust has to be nurtured, and that is costly. All of us must be prepared to pay the cost.



Jo Berrys father, a senior British politician, was killed by a bomb planted by an Irish Republican Army operative.


Initiatives of Change events have the remarkable quality of bringing together people from around the world, creating a human global family where everyone is valued and has dignity. 


The subject of trust is very close to my heart, as I have been developing my own experience of trustbuilding over the last 20 years. My father was killed in 1984 in the IRA bombing of Brighton hotel, and I chose to bring something positive out of the terrible trauma just two days later. I never wanted an enemy in my life, and I took strength from the inspirational example of Gandhi and committed to bring peace to the violence.


I asked to meet the man, Patrick Magee, who was responsible for planting the bomb which killed my Dad, in order to see him as a human being and to understand his story. Though I asked many times my request was always denied. In 1999, Patrick was released from prison as part of the Good Friday peace agreement. It was only then that we met in Dublin in a private house, where the first meeting consisted of just the two of us talking for three hours. My intention was to listen and find out what motivated him. He started by giving me the political justification and I listened with empathy. I did not listen with anger - I wanted him to feel it was safe to share with me.


After one hour his speech changed and moved from his head to his heart, later saying he was disarmed by my empathy. He stopped defending his position and instead moved into questioning and realising he had lost some of his humanity through violence. It was at that point he saw my Dad as a human being and wanted to know more about the kind of man he was. When he planted the bomb, he saw no one in the hotel, just the uniformed people. He then realised the cost to himself in using violence.


I left the meeting having seen some of Patrick’s humanity and this helped my own healing. Since then we have become friends and have spoken together publicly over 300 times. The trust between us is very deep and precious, but still requires emotional work and I see this is a key ingredient to trust building. I am grateful for all I have learnt through this dialogue and better understand the person I’m speaking with when I listen to their story.


I see it as a process: when I am hurting and I blame you, I can make you wrong and me right, therefore making you ‘less human’ than myself. This is a form of violence and it is challenging to see everyone in their full humanity. But once you commit to being restorative and empathic, the question becomes how do I challenge your behaviour without dehumanizing, while also upholding your dignity. You then talk about the impact of the behaviour and how it feels. These are the skills of restorative process, conflict transformation and many more new fields of learning. These are areas I have been studying and empowering others to take steps in.


I believe that, in order to stop the hatred in our world and the ‘othering’ that is happening, we need emotionally safe places where people can share and listen. We need support in having difficult conversations and we need to know it is possible to change from seeing someone as the enemy to seeing them as a friend.


I have faith in humanity, as we all have the same humanity, and with support we can connect to the love and compassion we share. We can all be positive change makers and create a more humane world.



Initiatives of Change is conducting a Trust-Building Program with the support of the Fetzer Institute. Pilot projects are at work in France, Kenya and Canada. The conference heard from participants in the French and Kenyan projects:


Christian Demesy, retired tax manager, volunteer at IofC France

Nowadays, young French people are in revolt against society, most of all the children of immigrants. In the 1960s, after decolonisation, many immigrants came from former colonies in north Africa, and have been used as cheap labour. Those families were housed in suburbs, called “banlieues”, which have been abandoned by governments. They are ghettoes with many social problems. In these “banlieues”, young people see society as unjust and anti-youth, which for them justify the violence. So some fall into gangs, drugs and burn cars. More than 1000 went to Syria to fight for ISIS.

The OUI ACT program aims to help answer these societal issues by working in the schools most affected by this situation. It enables young people to express their feelings, open their minds and find their own solutions. We aim at 12-17 years old and hold 13 weekly workshops. Before I took this on, I was not aware of the difficulties young people were facing. I had to change to understand them.


In the last three years more than 1,000 people have participated. We discuss discrimination, violence, the extremist agenda, secularism, relations with authority, civic engagement. With our help they create a civic project. This program is heightening their capacity to speak for themselves, think about their values, understand French society and become more active and responsible citizens.


Dan Mugera, public speaking coach and leadership developer, Kenya, who heads the Initiative of Change Trustbuilding Program in Kenya


In Kenya the team has done extensive work in Garissa University, where 148 people died in an attack by Al Shabab fighters in 2015. We are one of the few NGOs trusted to operate in the University. As, Deputy County Commissioner Margaret Muriithi said, ‘This trustbuilding forum gives people the opportunity to share their feelings and heal their wounds.’


We have invited historians to tell the history of the region, which has helped people understand better the roots of the anger and hate. We have brought together students and staff in open dialogue with imams and pastors, and this has been much appreciated. They have told of Muslims and Christians in the region who have risked their lives to stand with each other, and this gives hope.


However, this month’s killing of three teachers by Al-Shabab has meant that hundreds of teachers are leaving the region. Despite this, we went to Garissa because people need to know that we are not a one-time show, that we will be there until they are confident to continue this trust-building work themselves. At the memorial garden for the 148 killed, Muslims and Christians committed themselves to build trust with people of the other faith. There is hope that people can love unconditionally again.


For more information about the Trustbuilding program, click here