February Highlights

Dear ACTION Friends and Supporters,

Welcome to the February edition of our newsletter! Among the highlights of February was the inspiration from our Syrian partners in Turkey, who are working to build peace against incredible odds; our ACTION Asia partners who managed to take a leadership challenge and turn it into an opportunity to breathe new life into the network; and the insights we uncovered by talking to local communities here on our doorstep about the violence directed at foreigners in the community. In all, members of our team travelled to Zanzibar, Kenya, Ethiopia, Thailand and Turkey, as well as being active in local developments and community-based peacebuilding in South Africa. If there’s one lesson that can be drawn from all the different initiatives this month, it’s that no matter where in the world we’ve been, value-based  relationship building, working together with common purpose, seeking to understand and accept multiple perspectives and communicating around a transformative agenda are all cornerstones of effective peacebuilding. To hear more about what’s been going on, we invite you to read this summary of our various activities here, or dip into our featured articles for the more in-depth stories.

Local Activities

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Some of you may have read our article about the violence and looting that took place in Soweto, Johannesburg, in the last issue, or know about it from the local news. We told you about a campaign that was planned to take a group of volunteers into the communities and go door-to-door asking the communities what they think the biggest local problems are, the causes and the solutions. Well that campaign is now fully underway, and we’ve discovered some very interesting insights from talking to people. Efforts to paint the attacks as xenophobic tend to oversimplify forms of violence that are in reality a lot more complicated – the people we talked to did not have an anti-foreigner outlook or a fear of foreigners, though they did have strong views on a range of other challenges facing communities.

Despite this widespread lack of xenophobic sentiment, in reality there are groups that are still abusing foreigners, including rogue elements within the police, who are demanding bribes in exchange for protection and business owners who feel threatened by low cost competition. Community members were more concerned about the lack of adequate education facilities for a youth that desperately want to learn, including basic needs like chairs. We’re continuing the campaign, using a community cultural event on the 22nd of March, to build unity and ownership between all of the different groups affected.  Please join if you are nearby, and we will definitely tell you about it in the next issue.

Part of our local work also means keeping in touch with partners, attending meetings and contributing to important discussions about the big trends and decisions in peace and development. This is often a platform from which we can connect the dots between local and international concerns, and understand how they are mutually constituted.

ASC team members went to a meeting on South African foreign policy that focussed on major foreign policy trends and issues for 2015. Much of the discussion was about ways for African states to collaborate, and how to work together to develop an African approach to building peace and improving the security not only of countries but also of people. Lerato is also staying checked in with the Making All Voices Count community of practice – another way in which we are able to learn and collaborate, taking lessons that have been learnt in different parts of the world to see how they can be applied in each partner’s local context. Finally, Richard connected with the Canadian embassy, offering a presentation to the newly established Canada Department for Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development. The presentation was a chance to share ideas with the new department on international development trends that could help inform their strategies.

Across Africa and the World

IMG_4002Our work this month has taken many of our members to join our fellow peacebuilders working elsewhere in the world. Steven and Charity joined our partner ZANZIC in Zanzibar for a few days, where some of the local groups, especially the youth, were getting together to talk about their role in addressing local tensions. One project that is being developed is by the Youth Interfaith Forum of Zanzibar, who were approached by ZANZIC to make a movie that could stimulate conversation with the public and between groups. The Drama Club, Soccer Club, and Youth Committee all attended the workshop, and we look forward to the creative solutions that will be implemented.

Halima, one of the ASC steering committee members, went to Ethiopia to take part in a retreat organized by the UNDP. The retreat came out of the realization by the UNDP that they were not having the desired impact that they had hoped for in some areas. Because of this they are developing a new approach, of which an essential part is relationship building, and evaluating what it means to have effective partnerships. To this end, they were deliberate in making sure that whatever input the partners gave would be considered and integrated into their planning. Halima shared that “I came away with the learning that it is not what we do that is the most important but the how (process) and especially the relationships. The realization of not being able to do much on your own and needing others to reach your goal was understood by most for a long time now. That by working together we can achieve more than the sum of our activities has also been realized. However the balancing of the relationship such that there is mutual respect and genuine give and take during the engagement is still not well understood and accepted by many. If we are able to balance our relationship then what we do and the outcome will be richer.”

This principle was borne out on the other side of the world in Thailand, following the strategic decision made by the secretariat of ACTION Asia to pull back from their role. This presented some serious challenges for ACTION Asia, but it also opened up the way for a new leadership strategy to take its place. Thanks to some creative thinking and willingness on all sides, it was decided that the leaders would share the responsibilities of the secretariat. This would also allow a greater level of contribution from members and leaders to the running of ACTION Asia. New life has been breathed into the network, and we look forward to what lies ahead for our friends in Asia!

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In the last of our international travels for the month, Richard and Fatima joined Syrian peacebuilders in Turkey for a 5 day workshop. They were up against hazardous weather conditions of snow storms and extreme cold, but despite the obstacles were able to take part in what proved to be a deeply meaningful process. The Syrians they worked with have been profoundly affected by a long history fraught with violence and complex challenges, including the rise of ISIS and the dynamics associated with this. Efforts to encourage peace in this context are complicated and taxing. Nonetheless, they have developed several plans for the coming months, including: an effort to revive customary dispute-resolution models; countering the sensationalist portrayal by the media which sometimes only fuels violence; addressing the material needs created by violent conflict and local organising to identify some of the root causes of conflict, especially those related to identity.

In addition to these main events of the last month, are our ongoing activities. These include the next issue of our Drums of Change publication, which Lerato and Jennifer are preparing for release in March, the African Solidarity Caravan and other solidarity initiatives that Philani is taking forward, and the ACT course planned for April that Charity is organising. It’s also a time for change and new opportunities for the ASC Steering Committee, which has begun the process of transitioning to include the new members selected last year.

Please feel free to drop us a line if you have any questions or comments, or if you want to know more about anything we’ve talked about here. Our website and blog have a wealth of information that you can check out, and you are welcome to join us on Twitter and Facebook.

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