Father Albert (right) in discussion with two other classmates

Peace and Reconciliation Initiatives from Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS)

We are living in a world filled with violence, inequality, economic disparity, and degradation of human values. People are carried away by materialistic and consumeristic values that are promoted by a market-driven society. Violence is increasing because of uncontrollable self-oriented activities. The disturbing and destroying COVID-19 pandemic teaches our human society lots of lessons.

We belong to one human family, one ethnic race, and one society with multi-culturalism. What one does causes reactions on the other side of the spectrum. If one plants the seeds for social harmony and peace, it reaches far and wide. On the other hand, if one spews venom and poison on the hearts and minds of others, people become vindictive, sinister, malicious, and quarreling.

MPI taught me how to reconcile with myself, with my fellow beings, with society. It implanted in me a seed to spread social harmony, peace, and concord. Empowered and enhanced by the training, methods, mechanisms in MPI, I am able to apply and give proper orientation and perspective to my team, which works with people who have experienced war, conflict, and internal displacement due to political ideology and ethnic and religious conflict. We work with refugees who have no future. Their present life and dreams have been short-circuited and peace processes have been hampered. Nevertheless, we continue to shape the minds of younger generations to build peace and harmony. We can experience perceptible changes in them.

For the urban refugees in Delhi

Fr. Louie explaining a diagramPeace education was initiated at the Chin Life Skill Training Centre during the International Day of Peace to help refugees understand different aspects of peacebuilding and reconciliation through peace training modules, enabling them to create self-awareness about the role an individual can play in building up peace or destroying peace.

Peace education workshops are being held at the Chin and Afghan center for children and women on a bi-monthly basis, engaging a total of 50 members. Through the peace workshops, the peace animator ensures that refugees understand that peace is a dynamic and fragile reality that can be threatened by different kinds of feelings, thoughts, actions, and events. The peace animator also helps them understand their role in protecting and promoting peace in their own lives and in the lives of the community. The group we engage with not only receives peace education, but they are also trained to become the future agents of peace and contribute to bringing about a culture of positive peace.

Individuals are given a platform to reflect on their journey and express feelings associated with the situations they had encountered during their lives as refugees. We were able to witness that not all their lives had progressed over the years. Some were quite unhappy and felt disappointed about how they were living their life here in Delhi and shared how they missed their home country, Myanmar. The group members together continue to share and provide their inputs about what peace meant to them and what were the factors that hinder the growth of peace. Students understood that peace was not a single entity alone but other factors, such as love, kindness, humanity, and equality, also contribute to it. The group also shared through their personal experiences what the enemies of peace were. A few examples were fights, poverty, violence, hatred, jealousy, and discrimination. The group is highly interactive and is actively involved in sharing their ideas and feelings and expressing themselves clearly to the group.

Father Louie AlbertThe peace animator also engages the children and women in taking an active part in activities through the concept of art therapy to help encourage the group to express more through art since language can be a barrier for the refugees to communicate and express their feelings. Role plays, skits and group activities are different ways in which Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) engages in peacebuilding education. These activities help the group gain perspective and encourage them to respect and value the feelings and lives of each other. Lessons through role-plays were found to be confidence-boosting and therapeutic by the children. It developed their ability to practice empathy and active listening. The workshop helped the group to explore suitable solutions to social issues to nurture an inclusive and harmonious society.

Before the peace program, there had been no opportunity for the group to sit and vent their feelings. They also lacked social support. The center was merely a safe space for them to stay away from the social evils and all sorts of discrimination happening in the community and against the refugees in particular.

In addition to the peace workshops that are being conducted, JRS celebrated the International Day of Peace with the Afghan and Chin refugee community living in Delhi. Feast for Peace was conducted to facilitate the interaction between the Chin and Afghan communities and give them a platform to share their stories. People from both the communities had come to cook together, share their traditional food recipes, eat together, and share their stories and their life journey with each other. The refugees do not get to interact with a different community; the event served its purpose to encourage the communities to forget their differences and come together in unity and love to spread peace.

One of the Chin refugees during the program said that it was the first time that he got an opportunity to mingle and spend time with another community despite him being in Delhi for 15 years. Another girl from Afghanistan said that she had made a lot of new friends from the Chin community. She said that she now understands the meaning of peace. To the children, peace meant no fighting, but to love one another.

JRS Workshop for Afghan and Tamil Youths: Counseling & Art for Peace & Reconciliation

An inter-cultural, inter-ethnic workshop was held at Ashirvad, Bangalore, for 15 Sri Lankan Tamil youths and 17 Afghan youths from 27 to 31 December 2019. The workshop for the Sri Lankan Tamil youths, six of whom were girls, had its focus on art for peace and reconciliation, although the workshop for the Afghan youths focused mostly on counseling. The participants were youth with lots of dreams and designs for the future. But their dreams remained dreams due to conflict within themselves exacerbated by violence, discrimination, and social stigma. Through artwork for peace and counseling sessions, they have been able to navigate the beauty of life gradually unfolding amidst existential struggles and predicaments. They have been able to appreciate the peacebuilding initiatives and have promised to continue such work in their locality. They have become yeast in bringing change to their locality after having undergone the peacebuilding workshops.

Father Louie Albert, SJ is the Regional Director for the Jesuit Refugee Service, South Asia. Fr. Louie attended MPI’s 2018 Annual Peacebuilding Training. Contact Father Louie here.