People in conversation

Dangerous Dialogues and Courageous Conversations: Dave Reflects on International Peacebuilding Conference

I just returned from Romania a week ago, where I had the good fortune to engage with more than 200 mediators from 40 different countries, as part of Mediators Beyond Borders' 7th annual Congress. MBB, a leader in international peacebuilding, has been a Public Conversations Project partner in both Liberia and Nigeria, going back to 2008. For me, the most exciting part of the Congress was having been chosen to be one of the trainers for MBB’s International Training Institute.

Participants included 13 women and 1 man from Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand, Nepal, Cambodia, Singapore, Norway and the US. The participants were all dealing with a broad range of issues in their role as local peace builders. Several peacebuilders hailed from countries with active or recent insurgencies. Cambodian participants spoke of dealing with the legacy of the Khmer Rouge and a population with a resulting high rate of communal trauma. Our Nepali participant is an active campaigner for the rights of the dalit, or "untouchables,” people cast out of the social stratum of society; even touching a glass of water handled by an “untouchable” would be considered intolerable for other Nepalis. Violence against women and human rights violations are troublingly frequent in many of their countries.

These peacebuilders are committed to grassroots change efforts, working in different ways in some form of community development, community organization, or other forms of peacebuilding;. One of them has already started six schools, which have graduated more than 900 women. My fellow trainers were women from Northern Ireland, India, Kenya and Indonesia, all committed to building the capacity of these remarkable peacebuilders. We offered three days of intensive training in conflict analysis, conflict transformation, mediation and dialogue. One participant noted, "I want to be a sponge and soak up everything, so that I can take it back with me." They participated actively, asked questions and applied new skills as they discussed how to adapt the tools to their own cultures.

Several participants spoke about how Reflective Structured Dialogue could powerfully and deeply contribute to the kind of community building and coexistence they are seeking. The general sentiment was that speaking from the heart and listening deeply could allow people to see each other again as human beings, and that this lesson was desperately needed in their countries. Out of this experience came several invitations to bring our work to Southeast Asia. I was also invited to write a journal article about our work, as well as to come to Indonesia and train people to facilitate dialogues.

While the need for further dialogue and additional training remains, one participant summed up her takeaways from the Institute with this statement: "I'm hoping to use my learning from this training to have the salient points cascade into our communities for more women to learn from it and be of help, God willing.” Insha Allah.