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Alumni News

News from and about MPI Alumni

Seeing the Stars in the Darkness

Seeing the Stars in the Darkness

According to CIVICUS, a global society alliance that monitors the status of civic space worldwide, only three percent of the world’s population lives in countries where basic civic freedoms are respected: the freedom of association, and the freedom of peaceful assembly and expression.1 The rest struggle with increasing repression and intimidation from both state and non-state actors. The passage of laws that restrict and punish critical voices, the barrage of defamation leveled against journalists, the constant threats of bodily harm experienced by human rights activists, and the fear of getting labeled as terrorist and jailed are just some of the forms repression takes across many of these societies.

Indeed, there is growing consensus that the world is taking a totalitarian turn. We are seeing it unfold on our screen, over media reports, on Twitter and various social media feeds, if not on our very own doorstep. We have seen the harrowing images in Afghanistan of masses of people flocking to the airport in search of safety. At MPI, we have heard distressing accounts from our colleagues and friends, Afghan alumni, struggling to find refuge amidst this chaos and uncertainty and the looming fear of danger. This is just the latest in a string of societal and political repression and upheaval that we bear witness to even as we persist in our peacebuilding work in our own sphere of influence.

In the words of Martin Luther King, Jr. “the world is all messed up. The nation is sick. Trouble is in the land; confusion all around.” And yet, we know that in the midst of the most devastating conflict and violence, hope can be found and good seeds are still being planted. As King would later on add, “but I know, somehow, that only when it is dark enough can you see the stars.”2 While it is true that our capacity to pursue and work for justice and peace appears to be shrinking and getting increasingly dangerous, it is also true that many peacebuilders remain steadfast on the journey.

In the second issue for 2021 of MPI’s Alumni Newsletter, we offer you stories of the various ways our alumni navigate the contested territory of peacebuilding in their own lives and in the lives of those with whom they closely work. In this age of censorship, how can we remain true to our task as peacebuilders to speak truth to power and promote dialogue when the repercussions on our personal safety are immense? This is a dilemma that our alumna in Thailand explores. In another story, we hear the voices of two Indigenous young women from the Philippines expressing their belief in their agency to promote positive change in their generation. In Syria, we learned how peace activists are relearning bottom-up approaches to peace and bravely providing creative solutions to ongoing conflict and violence in their midst. And lastly, we have an insightful reflection from our alumnus in Cameroon of the ways the pandemic impacted peace work on the ground and how Cameroonian civil society is responding to these difficulties with persistence and unity.

We hope these four stories remind you that while there may be darkness, it is not absolute. In our own way, we can be torchbearers. We can be the stars in the night.

  1. Executive Summary, CIVICUS 2020 Report: SOCS2020_Executive_Summary_en.pdf (civicus.org)
  2. Quote taken from I’ve Been to the Mountaintop Speech by Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered on the eve of his assassination. Accessed here: The Last Speech of Martin Luther King: ‘I’ve Been to the Mountaintop’ – The Full Text (obrag.org)

 

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A creative path to peace: Creating solutions in the midst of conflict

A creative path to peace: Creating solutions in the midst of conflict

Photo: The Peace Education program using the five strategies of art, psychosocial support, research, critical thinking, and gamification as creative paths in designing and developing curricula and facilitating dialogue and activities.

One of my favorite memories of MPI’s 2019 Annual Peacebuilding Training was the late-night gatherings in the restaurant by the sea with participants from all over the world. We would try to explain the geographic location of Syria as a country and share the stories of the civilization and culture that were hidden behind the horrifying events captured by the media of the 10 years of conflict. It was then that I realized that we as activists should share more about the context in which we work, our practices, and the challenges we face in order to create a broader and more inclusive perspective of peace and conflict. I look at it as if we have a chance to play an authentic role in telling the stories that reflect what really happens when we roll up our sleeves and work for peace and justice.

Self-Censorship and Peacebuilding: A Personal Dilemma

Self-Censorship and Peacebuilding: A Personal Dilemma

I first discovered that I had very “uncensored thoughts” while wandering around a market in Casablanca, the city where I was born but never lived. When a procession of shops exposing dozens of glorifying portraits of Morocco’s king, Mohammed VI, appeared in front of me, I became enraged. I initiated an animated discussion about the reason behind selling the images of one who seemed to me to be a despot, who was not only impoverishing his people while enriching his court but was also imprisoning and torturing West Sahrawian people in the name of national security.

The family member who happened to be with me stopped me as soon as he understood what I was ranting about. Looking around for listening ears and scared to his bones, he ended the conversation with only two sentences: “He is a very good and democratic man.” and “If you don’t stop one of us will disappear.”

COVID-19 Challenges to Peacebuilding in Cameroon

COVID-19 Challenges to Peacebuilding in Cameroon

Overview of civic space

Since the 1990s, a plethora of Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) has registered in Cameroon. At first, it was to help in the fight against HIV/AIDS. Later, the focus was on women’s rights and the environment. In recent years, more and more CSOs, Associations, or Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) have been created to combat the degrading socio-political context. So, now we have many organizations for peace and human rights.

Despite this growth of CSOs, the civic space in Cameroon has largely remained constrained. CSOs can operate, but only under strict, at times self-imposed, limitations. They understand that if they step out of line and act in a manner that is perceived by the state as oppositional, they risk unwelcome attention and potential repression from state authorities, and in the last four years, from non-state armed groups as well. A common constraint on the civic space in Cameroon is the harassment, intimidation, and attacks on CSO activists and human rights defenders by actors from both the state and the non-state. Added to this is the suspicion and discord amongst CSOs themselves. There is constant division over funding, partners, and sometimes personal gain or recognition. This division is exploited by actors from all sides of our conflicts.

Youth opinion on the denunciation of the word LUMAD

Youth opinion on the denunciation of the word LUMAD

For several years, Indigenous Peoples (IPs) have experienced discrimination and marginalization due to the perception that they are inferior and incapable of defending their rights. As youth members of the Manobo tribe, we are very concerned about the resolution passed by the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) to no longer use the term Lumad because it is allegedly used by leftist groups.

Since childhood, this is what we are used to calling all tribes here in Mindanao, and it was suddenly removed by the NCIP simply because they said it was a word used by leftist groups. Even though there is not enough and clear evidence that this word (Lumad) is from the leftist groups, they insist that it should no longer be used.

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