In my opinion long term conflict resolution and sustainable peace building is successful only if implemented on grassroots. Finding good practices and applying “lessons learned” are more than needed to restore trust between conflicting parties. As a guest post I have here an article written by Dee Mason. She describes one good and tested practice.
Re-Inscribing the Paradigm:
Conflict Resolution Through Children
by Dee Mason
In many wholesale conflicts, such as those of the Balkans or the Middle East, the seeds of the disagreements between the groups of people involved were planted generations ago. The violence and unrest continues, due to a series of real or imagined slights that act like matches applied to dry tinder. Traditionally, governments uninvolved in the conflicts have either attempted to step in, with varying results, or have simply stood by and watched the involved powers destroy each other, as if they are viewing a slow moving train wreck. Since the roots of the various conflicts often run quite deep, addressing the fundamental factors in the conflict can often feel like Sisyphus and the rock. However, there are some organizations that are attempting to make headway via alternative routes, and in one case in particular, they seem to be succeeding.
Seeds of Peace, a peace mediation organization founded by journalist John Wallach, decided to approach issues of conflict resolution in areas where the disagreements were thoroughly entrenched, by working with children and teens in the regions, rather than adults. The goal of the organization was to break the cycles of violence before they became cemented into the emotional identity of each program participant. To that end, Mr. Wallach created a summer camp in Otisfield, Maine, which welcomed 46 teenagers from Israel, Palestine, and Egypt during the summer of 1993. The teens, which were handpicked by their respective governments, were asked to dialogue, plan, and work together over the course of the summer. They were also invited to the signing of the Oslo Agreement that year.
Over the course of the next few years, more and more countries began to send delegations to the camp, and additional sessions were added to accommodate the number of participants. Delegations were sent from Morocco, Jordan, Tunisia, Qatar, and the Cypriot region, and by 1998, the program had more than quadrupled in size. The first Middle East Youth Summit was held in Switzerland, made up of Seeds of Peace alumni. The group generated the Charter of Villars, a peace treaty between Israeli and Palestinian delegates. In late 1999, the Center for Coexistence was opened in Jerusalem, and became a safe house of sorts for Seeds of Peace participants and their families. In 2000, the Balkans and Yemen were added to the ever-growing number of regions sending delegations, and a year later, delegates from the India-Pakistan conflict were also added. The Maine Seeds program was also created during this time, after the cities of Lewiston, Maine and Portland, Maine were selected as refugee relocation points for people fleeing unrest in the Sudan, Rwanda, Somalia, Uganda, Vietnam, and Cambodia. The International Youth Summit for Uprooting Hatred and Terror was held at the United Nations in direct response to September 11th, and was attended by politicians and leaders from multiple countries, as well as 120 Seeds of Peace participants. In 2002, Afghanistan was also added to the list of participating countries.
After the passing of founder, John Wallach in 2002, Seeds of Peace continued its mission. Since then, it has convened a number of historic youth summits, has created a successful exchange program between youth from various conflict countries, additional regional offices have been opened, and Graduate and Women’s Leadership programs were launched. Seeds of Peace has made an impact on their delegate regions, and more importantly, the delegates have made an impact on each other. Though there is clearly more work to be done, humanizing the “enemy”, re-inscribing the paradigms of hatred and distrust that have destroyed so many lives, is an incredibly vital pursuit. One can only hope that Seeds of Peace will be successful enough, that 25 years from now, they will no longer be necessary.
As a professional travel writer, Dee Mason has a vested interest in international affairs. On her downtime, you’ll find her taking advantage of luxury ski holidays when the season comes around and generally living the high-life the rest of the year.