This work involves many elements of peacebuilding, but has focused especially on personal transformation encounters. This is compassion-based work, to change hearts, promote healing, and rebuild 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 over 9 million, located in the western DRC. Project Muinda has grown from the light of hope in each of its members, who are 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, they have 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. By a series of chances, Ottawa Friends discovered Project Muinda in 1996, and recommended that CFSC support Muinda’s work in training community volunteers to lead in local conflict transformation.
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 in 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).
Healing and Rebuilding Our Communities
In the late ’90s, in an extremely tense political environment, Friends in Burundi and Rwanda asked their leaders to work with Friends worldwide to find ways to break the cycle of violence. Connections began to develop around the concept of trauma healing.
One of the directions taken, supported by African Great Lakes Initiative of Friends Peace Teams (AGLI), was to bring people together for trust building and healing exercises. At their best, these workshops can develop a sense of shared humanity and change hearts. Modeled after Alternatives to Violence (AVP), the focus is on acknowledging and healing trauma. The workshops, called Healing and Rebuilding Our Communities (HROC), have been supported by CFSC for years and have run in many countries.
CFSC and AGLI have also jointly sponsored education of Canadians about such peacebuilding work. For example, Florence Ntakarutimana, a Burundian Friend working for AGLI, toured Canada speaking about HROC. Julie Berry, a Canadian Friend who heard Florence on her speaking tour, summed it up this way:
We heard about the healing work she does with people who were either victims or perpetrators of brutal killings during the Rwandan genocide. It was hard to comprehend the horror her friends, family, and neighbours had gone through, but it was even more difficult to accept that the two sides could come together in true forgiveness and reconciliation. Truly, the work that Florence does, and the vision and dedication of all the people who make up HROC, are reasons to rejoice. What an inspiration!
Confronting gender-based violence
FWA delivers training and raises awareness about gender-based violence, with a focus on getting church leaders and other influential figures—most of whom are men—to promote new norms and to call for an end to the culture of impunity for gender-based violence. FWA also works with women survivors and helps women to understand their rights and what legal, emotional, psychological, and other support opportunities are available to them.