This work draws heavily on the wisdom and skills of these local partners. Our particular focus is on helping people to discover their inner drive to seek peace, even in the midst of bitter conflicts. This is compassion-based work. It changes hearts, promotes healing, and rebuilds shattered communities and relationships.
Project Muinda, Kinshasa, DR Congo
“Muinda” comes from the word for “Light” in several of the languages of Kinshasa—a bustling city of well over 11 million, located toward the west of the continent of Africa.
Project Muinda has grown from the light of hope in each of its members, all Congolese people determined that their city and their country can be a peaceful home.
In a place where local and international political and commercial interests have acted to aggravate conflict and increase poverty for generations, Project Muinda has taken every opportunity to learn how to build peace and to share these skills.
Muinda is a project of Kinshasa Monthly Meeting, a small unprogrammed Quaker Meeting isolated from other Congolese Quakers who are all in the east of the country. In 1996, by a series of chances, CFSC came to support Muinda’s work in training community volunteers to lead in local conflict transformation. We’ve been the major financial backer of this work ever since.
What is a peace cell?
“Peace cells” are groups of volunteers (usually there are five) who work together to respond to conflicts in their neighbourhood of Kinshasa. The members are trained by Muinda in five peacebuilding skills:
- peace cell facilitation,
- communication skills,
- conflict mediation and resolution,
- community building, and
- working with trauma.
When conflicts arise (typically domestic disputes or landlord-tenant disputes), people know to seek out the assistance of their neighbourhood peace cell.
Peace cells also animate their communities to find collective solutions to problems they have in common. The community-based connections of the network, as well as the members’ peacebuilding skills, make it a strong vehicle for public education on any topic, such as election participation and observation.
The peace cells operate with the permission of the municipal authorities and have appropriate working relationships with them.
Take a look at pictures from Project Muinda:
Pictures of our partners Project Muinda of Kinshasa Monthly Meeting (DR Congo) taken during visits in 2014 and 2011
In the DRC, encouraging democratic participation is important. Project Muinda recognizes elections as an excellent “teachable moment.” The peace cell network contributes by providing: (a) non-partisan observers making regular reports, and (b) mediation teams that can de-escalate minor conflicts that may arise.
For a country the size of DR Congo, there can never be enough international observers to cover polling stations and ensure that there are no pockets of malpractice. Also, the dedication of local people to election monitoring creates a sense of responsibility for governance, showing political candidates and electoral officials that people are watching them.
The very act of maintaining an impartial, balanced attitude is an important element of peacebuilding, and is a skill that has to be learned, not taken for granted. Election observation offers an opportunity to help people develop this skill in a practical setting. It also provides a timely context for people to learn about their human rights and appropriate expectations for good governance.
For more on election monitoring see November 2011 D. R. Congo election observer team reports (PDF) and Joint Press Release on Conglese Election from Development and Peace, Entraide missionnaire inc. and CFSC (PDF).
Confronting gender-based violence
In addition to running a medical clinic to provide free and affordable quality care, FWA also focuses on addressing one of the roots of violence—discrimination and violence directed at women and girls.
FWA delivers training and raises awareness about gender-based violence, with a focus on getting church pastors and elected and community leaders—most of whom are men—to promote change. Once they come to understand the scale of the problem and that a change is needed, these influential figures begin speaking out about gender-based violence, encouraging a whole culture to shift what it sees as normal.
FWA also works with women survivors. These women and girls participate in solidarity groups and FWA’s skilled staff help them understand their rights and what legal, psychological, and other supports are available to them. This work is so important because accurate and thorough information is often lacking, and both women and men falsely think that gender-based violence is acceptable or “just part of life”.