27 March 2020. Today I changed my profile photo on Facebook. It was past time. In the months that we’ve been rehearsing and promoting Music & Magic! the world has changed. The magical-musical event, featuring some of the best in their respective fields, is now postponed. Until when? well, who knows? When Covid-19 exits stage right, we, all of us, will be changed…
In the meantime, peace-making’s behind-the-scenes work cannot be postponed. The collision of pandemic and climate change in areas of the world already struggling with the multiple violences of occupation, poverty, famine and internecine conflict calls out for urgent action.
This new profile photo was taken three years ago—before the border refugee camps hit a million residents—at the Atratraka School in Maracha District of the West Nile Region of Uganda. We had spent some days distributing to pubescent girls two years’ supply of reusable menstrual pads—and talking in magical circles about what they wanted to be when they grew up; what might stand in the way of those dreams; noticing the empty seats left behind with the departure of so many girls. Making do with rags, there are the inevitable leaks and taunts, stigma and shame—and, eventually, absences that grow longer, girls disappearing into early marriages, early motherhood, early death.
Irene Dawa, the Executive Director of a modest organisation—sort of like Partera—leads some amazing peace-&-development projects in the region, often focussed on women, keeping girls in school and women in the public square.
Training Enemies into Friends
Our project this year was to take us to the Bidi Bidi and Rhino refugee camps along the South Sudanese border. Many of the refugees are single women with children. Some are former child soldiers, retraumatised following the creation of their own independent nation in 2011 by a return to war, this time Southerners against Southerners. The goal of our work, originally scheduled to begin in April, was to train Nuer and Dinka, members of the two major and opposing tribes, in modelling new ways of being with one another—some day to return to South Sudan as peacemakers.
Despite the postponement of the training, Irene and her team continue the painstaking and all-important tasks of laying the groundwork for an effective training with enduring results. Back home in Canada, my work continues, consulting with and supporting from afar partners in projects in a half-dozen countries, including the Philippines and Ecuador.
These set-apart days are opening up space to work on two books, one, a curriculum for use with Christian communities, called Our Violent Scriptures: What’s a Christian Peacemaker to do? And another tentatively called simply, Midwifing Peace, which will weave together storytelling and learnings collected over 30 years in zones of conflict.
If you are one of those whose boat is doing OK, not leaking, nor in danger of capsizing, please consider a generous donation to Partera International at www.partera.ca/donate. Think about support for something out there in the world somewhere to be support for all of us right here, bridging barriers, building civility, kindness, goodness, and a mutuality of understanding.