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peace as a vocation (part 2)

By Zhe Kong

· Human Rights,Community Assistance

Note: this is the second section of Change Magazine August cover article "Peace as a Vocation". Read the first section at http://www.changemag-diinsider.com/blog/peace-as-a-vocation

Grassroots-level peace-building

Before long, these actors realize that peace cannot be built only by international and national level, grassroots-level work is equally important. Community-level conflicts usually fail to draw attention from international and national actors, because the scale of impact is regarded as small. However, the conflict in communities can escalate to conflict between different groups or even war. For example, the conflict between the black and the white members in communities resulted in riots across many cities in America in 1960s.

To build a peaceful community, many grassroots organizations start peace programs from a community level, hoping to scale up to national reconciliation and achieving sustainable peace one day. Peace-building in community-level are flexible and respond to local context, but all of them aim at the root causes of conflicts. Some early peace-building organization focused on the demobilization of soldiers. For example, Morodok, a Cambodian NGO has been working on re-integrating former Khmer Rogue soldiers into communities by peace education and livelihood training.

The most popular peace program at grassroots level is peace education, especially for youth. Youth in many conflict-affected countries are particularly vulnerable, due to lack of education and employment opportunities. They could join gangs and engage in violence. As a response, many grassroots organizations work on peace education for youth.

Working Group for Peace in Cambodia is one of such organizations. It organize workshops, campaigns, and other activities to raise the peace awareness among youth. During the past few years, some organizations start to take the youth peace education into a international level by organizing peace camps and workshops across nations. For example, Thai Volunteer Service organizes Mekong Peace Journey to bring together youth from 6 Mekong River countries. The purpose of the program is for the young participants to improve knowledge, competencies and skills for peace building, and become a change agent for peace across borders in the Mekong Region.The program includes multiple components: lecture to teach peace theories and analysis tools (conflict tree, conflict mapping, etc), simulations to help participants understand the conflict dynamic and how to resolve conflict in a simulated situation, field visits to local peace NGOs to learn local conflict context, and cultural exchanges for participants to understand cultural difference. One interesting number may tell the effectiveness of the program in cultural understanding. For each cohort, two participants from different countries get married.

Mekong Peace Journey Participants on International Peace Day, 2013

Livelihood or development is probably second to peace education in terms of popularity. Poverty is considered as one of the leading factors to cause conflict. As a successful example, China has lifted over 600 million people above poverty line in the last four decades. Its model is referred by some scholars as peace through development.

More countries are placing development as the first priority to achieve peace, so are many grassroots organizations, but in a different approach. Least developed or developing countries possess no high technology or educated human resource, so their economy mostly rely on exploration of natural resources, and many conflicts revolve around limited but valuable natural resources (a phenomenon often referred as “resource curse”).

Grassroots organization combine environmental conservation and economic equity with development. They help community members to use natural resources in a sustainable fashion. For instance, they teach peasants to make organic fertilizers instead of chemical ones to increase yields. They also work with or fight against corporations for economic equity. Many corporations take peasants’ land without fair compensation and alternative livelihood, and thus there are many cases where communities and corporations are in conflict, sometimes violence breaks out.

Grassroots negotiate with these corporation on behalf of community members and help corporations to make responsible investment, such as providing vocational training for communities, building schools and hospitals, etc. In this way, corporation investment becomes an investment in peace rather than conflict, as it reduces poverty rather than deprives communities of natural resources.

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