By Derek Oakley, Project Officer for Nonviolent Peaceforce in the Middle East
“Until now I was without hope. This training has given me hope.”
Simple but powerful words from *Omar. NP has organized intensive workshops in the Middle East to identify civilian efforts to help communities feel and be safer. Theirs are the stories that the world rarely sees or hears about, civilians that dedicate their time and energy for one another. They provide services such as basic health care and crèches (day centers) for children to escape from the stresses of the war. Others provide psycho-social support and legal advice to victims of domestic violence, which often increases in times of war.
However, even for the most dedicated, this vital work can take its toll, emotionally and physically. There are many, like Omar, who have been exposed to constant insecurity and violence for half a decade. After such a long period, one’s belief in the value, worth and efficacy of peace efforts may begin to falter. Nonviolent Peaceforce provides time and space for people like Omar so he can return to his community rejuvenated and energized to carry on his vital work in the midst of war.
A core NP value is the primacy of local actors. This means that we acknowledge and support the agency of civilians to make decisions about safety and security. Through the work of activists, most of whom are unpaid, NP provides support on the ground. At times, the picture can seem bleak. Nevertheless, individuals working to protect others and improve their communities need to be celebrated and supported. NP helps provide renewed motivation and inspiration along with practical tools for reducing local violence, and challenging cultures of violence.
NP strives to return hope by providing civilians working towards peace with time away from the everyday pressures of work and conflict. During recent trainings in the Middle East, we created the space for people like Omar to reflect and share experiences with others doing similar work. Groups also had the opportunity to learn about and discuss case studies from the Philippines, Sri Lanka and the streets of Chicago.
Not only do individuals leave better equipped and trained to address the complex situations in their home countries, their spirits and hope for the future are renewed. NP’s trainings have helped participants build on the best of their previous work and incorporate new tactics to address conflict in the communities they know and love. These special people are not waiting for the world to ‘solve’ war in the Middle East and return it to peace and prosperity. They are building the future today.
* (named changed for protection).