Reflection of my time at MPI and how it contributed to setting up the Centre for Peace Studies and Dialogue at Union Christian College, Aluva, India
|Jenee Peter (2nd from left) with classmates in the Interreligious Dialogue course at MPI|
Who could imagine that a peacebuilding training would mean being by the seaside listening to waves and meeting people from across the globe? This was exactly my experience when I attended the Mindanao Peacebuilding Institute Foundation, Inc. 2015 Annual Peacebuilding Training at the Mergrande Ocean Resort, Mindanao, Philippines.
The faculty and participants shared many experiences about their nations, communities, cultures and lives. This time for sharing was the most important learning aspect for me at MPI. As a teacher of archaeology and ancient history in a liberal arts college in India, I wondered, How would I be able to use the skills that I learned from Mindanao?
I had high expectations about MPI. The classrooms were ideal for meditation, cultural evenings, farewell parties, informal discussions, formal lectures and deep reflections. This was totally different from the classrooms in India. As I let myself embrace this novel experience, I realized that the entire program at MPI is learner-centered. That is why MPI leaves a lasting impression on us alumni.
I began my three weeks with Fundamentals of Peacebuilding. In the second week, I moved on to Conflict Resolution Skills. By then I had started feeling a burning desire to share whatever I learned at MPI with my students and colleagues at Union Christian College, Kerala, India (UCC). I interacted with the few teacher participants at MPI and wondered if it is possible to set up a course in Peace Studies. These doubts were addressed when I took the Interreligious Dialogue and Peacebuilding course in the third week.
I researched about Peace Studies in various universities in the USA, at MPI, and the KAICIID Dialogue Centre at Vienna. My friends observed that peace studies are ‘normally’ taught in violence-prone areas. In India, peace studies programs are common in the northeastern states and Jammu and Kashmir. We could not find a single institution in south India offering courses in peace studies. While Gandhian studies are taught here, it is not the same as peace studies.
Though I have been learning and teaching about interreligious understanding in Kerala for many years now, the course at MPI broadened my horizons. A peace-based approach to understanding the past is necessary to settle current troubles. I changed the way I was teaching history and students discovered new ways of learning history. In the classroom, I tried to emulate how we had discussed rather sensitive religious issues at MPI. At UCC, 30% of the faculty and 60 % of the students are non-Christians, and this helped settle differences with people practicing other faiths.
India, the world’s largest democracy, has been going through a communal – secular corridor, and the ‘divide’ is more pronounced now. Kerala is a model of cultural symbiosis in the past when many faiths coexisted peacefully. Despite this legacy, this region has been exhibiting signs of latent formation of violence. The issues affecting peace have to be analyzed systematically and addressed regionally. The Centre for Peace Studies and Dialogue (CPSD) is expected to address contemporary India.
Thus, before leaving MPI, I had a blueprint for CPSD ready. The task of setting up the Centre was easier said than done. It took several meetings and a whole lot of communication for two years to be set up. The Centre already has funding from the United Board to start a Peace Studies Program. The United Board had previously funded my study at MPI and seven peacebuilding projects by faculty of Union Christian College. This synergy will propel CPSD into the future. But the spark was from the flame of MPI.