Khamsa Homsombath left with another participant at MPI's Annual Peacebuilding Training

Peacebuilding as Building Social Harmony and Solidarity

I am currently working as an Education Officer with the Pestalozzi Children Foundation (PCF), an organization that helps disadvantaged children and youth exercise their right to a good education, thereby providing them with better opportunities for the future. My role is to provide coordination support to education working groups of the Lao People’s Democratic Republic by managing the PCF education funds. We work in partnership with government agencies, NGOs, and community-based organizations in the development of primary education in Laos.

The work that we do is important in building peace among different ethnic groups of Laos as the project promotes the culture and identity of children from different ethnic and religious backgrounds. With the support of the project, teachers are trained in participatory approaches that promote the culture and identity of the different ethnic groups in settings where the children come from different ethnic and religious backgrounds.

Over the past decade, I have also worked with young peacebuilders. I have helped train, nurture and provide mentorship to university students and young people who are committed to their individual development. The project of which I am most proud is the “Mittaphab” (Friendship) project that has trained 20 to 30 young peacebuilder volunteers annually. Currently, 150 youth volunteers trained in the project are actively engaged in peacebuilding work and community development.

In Laos, peacebuilding is viewed as work responding to open conflict. With such a perspective, it is felt that peacebuilding work is neither necessary nor desirable since the country is no longer at war. In this context where discussions on “peace and conflict” are regarded as irrelevant and misleading, my colleagues and I adapted our communication to accommodate the project in a politically sensitive environment.

Consulting young people on how to translate the meaning of peacebuilding was one of the main reasons for the success of the project and why we were able to achieve wide outreach with political acceptance. The focus has been on personal development training. This does not only transform the behavior and attitudes of young people, but also equips them with skills to solve conflict in non-violent ways.

This has led to local authorities and communities receiving the project as a contribution to the work of building social harmony and solidarity, something which has been part of government policy. We are confident regarding the success of the project because of the participants’ positive feedback. We are comfortable with the training and discussions. The young people feel safe and even express that the trainings are like a “family environment.” This is the success of the project. I believe what we are doing is on the right track. Our work helps young people develop a positive attitude and respect for others.

I participated in MPI’s 2014 Annual Peacebuilding Training, where I took the courses From Understanding to Action: Theories and Tools for Designing Effective Peace and Development Interventions in Fragile and Unpredictable Situations (FUA); Conflict Sensitive Economic Governance: Peace-Enabling Approaches in Complex and Fragile Contexts (CSEG); and Religion: Dialogue, Theories and Practice for Peacebuilding (REL). These courses were useful for my work. FUA gave me the knowledge on how to map out the big picture and narrow it down into practice. The Religion course with Jon Rudy helped us develop our curriculum on interfaith harmony for Laos. Later, he supported us as a consultant expert, guiding the curriculum development process. He worked with us in drafting the curriculum and observed the practical workshop in Laos, providing feedback so that the Lao facilitation team could improve their skills and the curriculum.