A Peace builder’s Blog, March 2020

“Peace is a daily, a weekly, a monthly process, gradually changing opinions, slowly eroding old barriers, quietly building new structures.”
John F. Kennedy


It’s just been over a week since we co-hosted a diverse international group in Belfast as part of a new joint initiative with the Global Peace Foundation, an organisation we have been working in partnership with for eleven years.


As an organisation Co-operation Ireland are very keen to share our learning and experience of peace building and practical co-operation to others and indeed internationally and this conference gave us the opportunity to welcome and work with an international group including people from Uganda, the Philippines, Kenya, Nigeria, USA and Ireland.


The eclectic group of educators, parliamentarians, community leaders, government officials, and business people had come to Belfast to learn about our peace process and to take part in our recently developed Peace Learning Programme.


Even as someone who works for a peacebuilding charity and has observed the many ups and downs of our peace process here, I was, I have to admit, a bit nervous and unsure of how it would all go – what would be beneficial? What would they get from us? How would we come across? I would soon find out.


There is no doubt that the Good Friday Agreement has reduced sectarian tensions and brought stability to Northern Ireland since 1998, but Brexit negotiations and recent local political stalemate and paralysis have tested hard-won gains.


With this being said we decided not just to engage with the visiting international group but also to really challenge them about their own respective situations – whether that was the transition from conflict, post-conflict reconstructing, or the process of building relationships towards peace from their perspective.


My role during the weeklong series of activities was to help and enable people from different parts of the world to do their best in terms of thinking differently.


Apart from encouraging full participation amongst a very diverse group, promoting understanding and cultivating a sense of shared responsibility there was also the satisfaction of seeing and hearing ideas, differing views, suggestions and outcomes.


Bringing up a range of subjects for group discussion such as dealing with the past, encouraging the sharing of thoughts about the practicalities of peace building, and enabling those in the room to take responsibility was really brilliant.


We had a bit of shouting, lots of laughter, interesting drawings, complements, hugs and much more. It was very encouraging and also a great experience to be part of an interactive process from looking over my hometown city from Belfast Castle on a wet Monday morning to the ‘hands on’ and lively sessions at The Duncairn mid-week to then having tea and scones with the Lord Mayor on Friday morning in the City Hall with Frederick Douglass keeping an eye on everyone from a decorative wall.


These interactions or ‘workshops’ as we refer to them are always about the people in the room. Regardless of whether it is an international delegation, a women’s group, school children, students or a youth group it’s about supporting everyone. Our Peace Learning Programme last week I feel did just that.


On the programme we had, for example, Rev. John Joseph Hayab and Sheik Halliru Abdullahi Maraya as participants. One a Christian Pastor and the other a Muslim cleric from Kaduna State in Nigeria. Both of who are working to build bridges of tolerance, understanding and respect across religious divides in one of the most volatile conflict regions in the world.


I met these two men alongside a colleague back in 2017 at the Global Peace Convention in Manila. At the time we offered some practical advice to them, which later as it turned out proved to be helpful in their context. Another man who was in Belfast last week was Imam Talib Shareef.


Talib is the President and Imam of the historic Masjid Muhammad, The Nation's Mosque in Washington, DC. This week Imam Talib sent me a message thanking me for a ‘truly memorable and motivational experience’ and acknowledging my ‘dedication and commitment to peacebuilding.’ This was very touching and truly considerate from a man I admire quite a lot.


Over the last year I’ve had the opportunity through Co-operation Ireland and the Global Peace Foundation to learn and share ideas, approaches and practices in South Korea. Some of our own developed approaches and models of bringing groups together here have also been used and implemented successfully in Jersey City, New Jersey with young people and within Kaduna State.


For me this is a fantastic and inspiring testament to what we continue to do as peace builders. We all have our part to play in conflict transformation, healing and building a shared future – I very much look forward to more of this.