Field report from South Sudan

March 26, 2012 – Juba, South Sudan

This training was for South Sudanese women leaders, as part of Karuna Center’s ongoing work with a network of influential Sudanese women in both North and South.

We are starting our third day of workshops this morning. Farah Council of Institute for Inclusive Security and I are co-teaching days on Coalition Building and Strategic Planning. Additionally, I am teaching Managing Conflicts Successfully and Reconciliation/Forgiveness. So it’s a full agenda. Attendance has ranged from 30 to 18 daily thus far. Some of the women are known to us from previous work and others are new; they are varied in age, tribal/ethnic identity, and occupation, although most are with NGOs. They are not varied in heartbreak; each has had a life that no human being should be asked to endure. It is a wonder to me that they carry themselves with such dignity, dress up and show up for workshops, and care for their families as best as possible.

South Sudanese have been massively dislocated by war for decades. Juba was an army garrison town during the war, and its residents moved around within and beyond the southern region. Many women come from Khartoum, the capital of Sudan, and have never lived in Juba, while  others have arrived here from rural areas having undergone endless hardships and profound loss. Everyone is either internally displaced or else a refugee returning from Kenya, Uganda, Europe, North America. A large group, perhaps thousands, arrived this week in Juba after walking for weeks from Nuba Mountains, far away from here. The tribes raid cattle, which is a traditional method for settling disputes and buying brides, now made lethal by the availability of guns. The border regions between Sudan and South Sudan are fiercely contested, with the Sudanese army responsible for massive death, displacement, starvation. The humanitarian community is unable to enter the region with aid and shelter. Juba has no armed conflict right now, but it remains a shambles of shacks and dust, and does not much resemble a capital city. Continue reading

Dialogue creates relief and a new path forward after Sri Lankan war

Hindu (Tamil) participants discuss their experiences in the war before sharing their concerns with the whole group during a "fishbowl" exercise. Buddhist, Muslim, and Christian participants in the background do the same.

In late February, I returned to Sri Lanka for our third set of inter-faith workshops with our group of 80 Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim, and Christian religious leaders. As previously described, this work is taking place in the Northeast of the country, an area deeply affected by 30 years of civil war. Working with religious leaders provides a politically acceptable way of addressing deep residues of inter-ethnic tension left in the wake of the of the 2009 military victory over the Tamil Tigers (LTTE). While the government proclaims that economic development will solve all problems, the citizens of this area know that much more will be needed to rebuild trust after a war that killed and displaced thousands and left communal relations in tatters. Continue reading

Ripples of peace in an island nation: training the trainers in Grenada

The island nation of Grenada is blessed with great natural beauty, people as lovely as their landscape, and no armed conflict. Inter-personal violence, however, is endemic on this tropical island, including domestic violence, corporal punishment in the schools, street violence, and occasional police violence. Everyone knows of the problems, but the patterns continue largely unabated, resulting in a great deal of suffering, family cycles of harm, and generations of single mothers struggling to maintain families in a challenging economy. More women than men attend our conflict resolution workshops, more women than men achieve educationally and vocationally, and more women than men are willing to talk about what is wrong. Some men, however, are fully responsible and engaged, including men in the police department and throughout the bureaucracies and institutions. Continue reading

Connecting across religious divides: program update from Sri Lanka

I recently returned from two weeks in the Sri Lankan city of Trincomalee, where we had earlier launched our year-long reconciliation program with a series of workshops within Buddhist, Christian, Muslim and Hindu religious communities. This time, for our second workshop series, I facilitated groups of religious leaders from the four different faiths combined.

Religion is important in Sri Lanka as an identity marker, a community, a spiritual focus, and a cultural way of life.  In the rural areas, religious groups tend to live, work, educate their children, and enjoy their public spaces in distinct villages with very little connection to those of other traditions. In urban areas these barriers are looser, but still fraternization is largely along religious/ethnic lines. The long civil war has only reified these divisions and added an element of distrust to the already complex issue of identity. Continue reading

After Sri Lanka’s civil war and tsunami, raising Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, and Christian voices for peace

Christian religious leaders open their intra-faith workshop with Karuna Center.

The beautiful island of Sri Lanka, lying just off the coast of southern India, has endured one of the more brutal wars of the last century, lasting 26 years and claiming 80-100,000 lives. The Sri Lankan government’s military victory in May 2009 brought an end to the violence but left many challenges in its wake, as reports of civilians deaths and human rights abuses abound and the grievances of Tamil and Muslim minorities remain unmet.

In October I travelled to the eastern coastal city of Trincomalee to launch a year-long reconciliation program with 80 Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim, and Christian religious leaders from surrounding areas. It was deeply affected by the war as well as the 2004 tsunami. Repeated flooding has further damaged homes and infrastructure, compounding endemic poverty. Continue reading

Join Us to Celebrate Women Peacebuilders Across the World!


This year’s Nobel Peace Prize is being awarded to three women peacebuilders for their non-violent efforts to achieve the safety of women and realize women’s rights to full participation in peacebuilding work. It is also a recognition of women’s contribution to peacebuilding efforts across the world—to bring an end to the suppression of women that still exists in many countries, and to realize the greater potential for democracy and peace that women can represent.

For 17 years since its founding, Karuna Center for Peacebuilding has been fortunate to partner with many women peacebuilders who have taken brave and effective steps toward peace across divides. In celebration of the three women winning the Nobel Peace Prize, we would like to feature four women peacebuilders with whom we have worked, and celebrate all ongoing peacebuilding efforts across the world. Continue reading

Using conflict resolution to help stop global warming

Karuna Center Associate Eileen Babbitt and I recently co-facilitated the “Green Summit on Carbon Pricing,” a meeting of some 50 environmental leaders and advocates in the U.S. We were asked to apply our experience in conflict resolution to a new area: climate change solutions.

The absence of any means of pricing and/or limiting and taxing carbon emissions means that there is no economic incentive in the U.S. to reduce carbon emissions, the major cause of global warming, which is arguably the greatest threat we face as a global community. There is an ongoing division among environmental advocates over which form of carbon-emissions pricing should be adopted by U.S. legislation and policy. Wide public support will be required to get Congress to act, and little will happen if leading environmentalists are not all pulling in the same direction. Karuna Center was brought in tobegin a process of consensus building among environmental leaders so that they can move forward with greater clarity, unity, and impact. Continue reading