Partera Blog


Apr 24, 2019

Dateline: Juba, South Sudan, 2011 In 2010, Girifna was formed, inspired by the region’s Arab Spring. It was made up of mostly […]

Remembering Day 2015: A Reprise

Nov 11, 2015

First written in 2013. Today, once again, memories of my father, thanksgiving for the poetry of Wilfred Owen, thoughts of South Sudanese […]

More than the Sum of its Parts: Testimonies to Non-violence

Dec 9, 2012

In the morning rituals of greeting, Ferdinand responds with something other than the expected, ‘Tamaam! al humdillilah!’ I feel so tired. I forgot where I was – a training in non-violence – and what is the first thing I think of? A gun.
In the language appropriate to women-as-property, he explains: ‘My ten year-old cousin was “stolen” last night. About dinner time when all of the men in the family were in the market. Two men, both armed. They pistol-whipped my aunt and took my cousin. My aunt called us and we tried to find the traders in children but gave up some hours after midnight. And all I wanted was a gun.’ He drops his head.
‘What will happen to her?’ I ask. ‘She will be sold for cows to someone who has no wife. The thieves will then have cows.’

South Sudan: Changes

Nov 30, 2012

What has changed in a year? As I move about in the Tong Ping neighbourhoods of this town, the capital of this toddler country, three things stand out. The potholes are deeper. The gated, concertina wire-topped walls of the politicos’ compounds are higher and far more numerous. The smouldering heaps of street garbage more pervasive. And they impart a common message.

Changing the World, One Volunteer at a Time

Nov 26, 2011

YMCA Volunteers’ Recognition Conference Keynote Address
Saturday 26 November 2011
North York Civic Centre
Lee McKenna, 2010 Peace Medallist


Thank you so much for inviting me to be a part of this important event.  In preparation, I asked myself the following questions: Who were my influencers?   What were the ‘hinge’ or ‘crossroads’ moments that took me off in directions I had not imagined?  What are the characteristics in me, inherent to my make-up,  that made me more likely, rather than less likely, to take the road less travelled?  What are the characteristics I desired and cultivated that took me in the direction of the agent of change I wanted to be?  What were the obstacles I needed to shift or transform?

Here are some of the answers that emerged:

1. Colour outside the lines.

I think I always have.  I would also say that my parents likely would have called it something less benign, something like, ‘She breaks the rules.’

So before you think that I am counselling lawlessness, let me give you an example.  There’s a piece of training that I do in war zones called transformative initiatives.  It is one of the most provocative and effective things we do – it includes some stories and role plays in which the result is an overturning of the typical power dynamic, with the powerful and the powerless, the oppressed and the oppressor, in effect, changing places; the powerful is discombobulated and the powerless discovers a power they didn’t know they had, a force more powerful:  non-violence. 

Pillars of Power

Nov 20, 2011

The Mattress Game is serious situational analysis – though sometimes it looks like riotous fun.  It is an extended role play, so essential to experiential learning, in which the participants in the training identify those traditions, institutions and bodies, both governmental and civil society, that serve to support oppressive power. The answers are the same, wherever.   Corporate/economic, military/security, religious, cultural rules and norms, the media, judiciary, education.

But this is not Khartoum or Dongola or Al-Fashur.  This is Juba, capital of the new South Sudan.  So a prior question is begged:  does the government of this new country, shrunken by the loss of 2.5 million of its citizens in 21 years of civil war, held under the boot of one of the world most brutal régimes – in this new dispensation as the UN’s 193rd state member, make use of the instruments of oppressive power?  Yes; there is no hesitation. We don’t go into the when? at what point did the SPLM government led by Salva Kiir Mayardit turn to take up the tools of the oppressor: sometime in its 120 days of existence? or sometime in the six and a half years since the CPA granted the South limited autonomy and the right to form its own parliament?  Or is the government an organic outgrowth of a culture of tribalism, nepotism and repression and a history of violence?  That conversation doesn’t take place.  Perhaps it doesn’t matter.

Of the list of ‘pillars’ emerging from the brainstorming session, four are chosen for further probing:  education, judiciary, military and religion.   Representatives of each of those institutions are selected and they decamp to the sandy compound.  Tucked around the corner, out of sight of the remaining participants, is a mattress, reclining harmlessly against the wall of the kitchen, but soon to rise on the shoulders of the pillars as the symbol of oppressive power. 

Postcards from Sudan #1

Sep 21, 2010

The website of the Sudanese Embassy in Ottawa features some beautiful ‘postcards’, many of them from either the Meröe pyramid fields at the sixth cataract of the Nile or the marine life of the Red Sea, with enticements to consider scuba diving while in Sudan.


Muslim-Christian Trainings
Mindanao / Philippines Conflict Transformation
San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas, Mexico
Sudan third party non-violence intervention