Training peacebuilding leaders: challenges faced and lessons learned

Individual articles from the Summer 2020 issue of Intersections will be posted on this blog twice per week. The full issue can be found on MCC’s website. This article consist of five reflections which will be posted separately.

As peacebuilding has grown and flourished as an academic field and a practical discipline over the past several decades, MCC has collaborated with Mennonite and Mennonite Brethren colleges, universities and seminaries in the United States and Canada in equipping church and community leaders from around the world with peacebuilding skills and knowledge. Through Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary, Canadian Mennonite University, Conrad Grebel University College, Eastern Mennonite University and Fresno Pacific University, MCC has sponsored hundreds of students for short-term peacebuilding training as well as academic degrees in peacebuilding over the past three decades (with a significant majority of those trainees studying at Eastern Mennonite University’s Center for Justice and Peacebuilding and its predecessors). During the past quarter century, MCC has also worked closely with groups of committed peacebuilders who sought to organize contextualized peacebuilding training opportunities in their parts of the world. Over the following pages, peacebuilders in African and Asian contexts reflect on the challenges they have faced, the successes they have enjoyed and the lessons they have learned from organizing peacebuilding trainings in their regional contexts.—The editors.

Great Lakes Peacebuilding Institute (GLPI)

The Great Lakes Peacebuilding Institute (GLPI) is a regional, bilingual peacebuilding institute which has provided training opportunities for peace and development workers from Burundi, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DR Congo) since its founding in 2004. In recent years, GLPI has also received participants from other countries in East, Central and West Africa. Founded by three local organizations—the Ministry for Peace and Reconciliation under the Cross (MIPAREC) in Burundi, Friends Peace House (FPH) in Rwanda and Conseil pour la Paix et Reconciliation (COPARE) in DR Congo—GLPI, with support from MCC, has trained more than 400 participants over the past sixteen years.

GLPI’s mission is to develop transformative leadership and peacebuilding skills among civil society leaders serving in countries marred by violent conflict and insecurity. While many countries in Africa have achieved relative stability, for others their potential for growth and development has been disturbed by recurring cycles of violence and repression. GLPI was established to try to break these cycles through the formation of leaders equipped with peacebuilding skills. GLPI brings together individuals committed to acquiring knowledge, attitudes and skills for preventing and transforming conflicts, while gaining new insights into the importance of locally-led processes and the creation of just social structures that bring about more peaceful societies. GLPI’s theory of change is that the more individuals trained in the theories and practices of peace, the more processes and structures can be created and sustained which counter the protracted nature of violence in the region.

GLPI’s mission is to develop transformative leadership and peacebuilding skills among civil society leaders serving in countries marred by violent conflict and insecurity.

For sixteen years now, GLPI had achieved significant growth. It started out as a francophone seminar (formerly called the Great Lakes Peacebuilding Seminar) for MCC staff and partners in Rwanda, Burundi and DR Congo, modeling itself on the Summer Peacebuilding Institute (SPI) at Eastern Mennonite University in the United States  Its main training venue has been a month-long October Institute held in Burundi, which offers four one-week courses on conflict analysis, peacebuilding frameworks, trauma healing and peacebuilding and development. Over time, GLPS transformed into a bilingual institute, now called GLPI, offering courses both to Francophones and Anglophones in the wider Great Lakes region.

In 2013, GLPI started offering special modules, apart from the October Institute, which have been hosted in Rwanda as well as Burundi. These special modules offered participants the chance to reflect on the biblical foundations for peacebuilding, learn how to organize and lead youth peace clubs, build skills in leadership and good governance and become proficient in reflective peace practices. Around this time, GLPI began welcoming staff from other peacebuilding and development organizations beyond the circle of MCC and its partners. A regional GLPI alumni network started to develop, aimed at fostering learning exchanges among alumni and improving regional peacebuilding connections.

In 2019, another breakthrough was achieved when GLPI offered a two-track October Institute for the first time in its history: a peacebuilding track and a new organizational and community development track. The peacebuilding track remained the same except for shifting the focus of the fourth course to examine conflict sensitivity and principles of “do no harm.” The development track offers four new courses on organizational and community leadership; fundraising and resource mobilization; project design and management; and monitoring and evaluation. The introduction of a development track allowed GLPI to attract peacebuilding and development practitioners from across Africa—not only from Burundi, Rwanda and DR Congo, but also Kenya, Uganda, South Sudan, Burkina Faso, Chad, Ivory Coast and Angola. The successful 2019 October Institute opened up new partnerships with local and international organizations and increased the number of participants three-fold. This strong desire for development courses at GLPI highlighted an intense desire among African civil society organizations to integrate development and peacebuilding more effectively.

This strong desire for development courses at GLPI highlighted an intense desire among African civil society organizations to integrate development and peacebuilding more effectively.

GLPI sees its impact through participants who return to their respective organizations and communities with more positive energy and useful learnings they can incorporate into their daily work. Some participants have created their own organizations that promote peacebuilding and development programs. Some have organized local peace committees, youth peace clubs and savings groups. Others are engaged in leading trauma healing workshops and supporting women in acquiring livelihood opportunities. Still others have become part of local, regional and national structures that promote mediation and reconciliation processes such as the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) or the mediation commission of the East African Community (EAC).

The stories and testimonies shared by GLPI alumni are telling. A women’s rights advocate from Burundi who attended GLPI in 2016 shared: “After GLPI training, I have been organizing trauma healing workshops with women who have been made victims of sexual harassment and have involved them in different livelihood and savings opportunities. GLPI inspired me to understand that we need to find another approach to empower women economically as this is the root cause of their suffering.” A peace journalist from DR Congo who participated in 2017 reflected: “Peace must be an everyday commitment by accepting other people regardless of backgrounds, and this is my daily commitment as a peacebuilder, and I owe much of my inspiration to GLPI.” A development worker from Kenya who attended GLPI in 2019 observed: “I am better in providing advice or support to my organization to produce better actions and exercise more positive attitudes in implementing our food security projects and in achieving more useful impacts.”

MCC service worker Melody Musser talks with Aloys Ningabira, a monitoring and evaluation officer with MiPAREC in Gitaga, Burundi. He oversees the local peace committees for MiPAREC and is a graduate of the Great Lakes Peacebuilding Institute. (MCC Photo/Matthew Lester)

The ongoing work of its alumni inspires GLPI to advance its programs in order to reach more peacebuilding and development practitioners. The growth of GLPI has been sustained by the growing dedication of its founding partners, the active leadership of its board and general assembly and the continued support of MCC, both financially and through its placement of MCC staff who assist in GLPI’s organizational development. GLPI is now registering as an independent entity after being hosted by MIPAREC since its founding, bolstering its online and social media presence and actively seeking expanded collaboration with regional and national partners. For example, GLPI is now engaging other MCC-supported peace institutes like the Africa Peacebuilding Institute (API) in South Africa and the Peace and Training Center (PTC) in Jos, Nigeria, to identify synergies in the common task of advancing peace education in Africa.

What started as an month-long institute built along the SPI model, GLPI—thanks to local vision and leadership and MCC support—is now expanding into a year-round training institute serving a wider region with participants coming from organizations beyond MCC and its partners, fostering a network of change agents committed to sustainable peace and development in Africa.

Christine Sumog-oy is MCC Burundi peacebuilding coordinator. She has coordinated GLPI since 2017.

Canadian School of Peacebuilding at Canadian Mennonite University.

Center for Justice and Peacebuilding at Eastern Mennonite University.

Center for Peacemaking at Fresno Pacific University.

Great Lakes Initiative.

Mindanao Peacebuilding Institute.

Northeast Asia Peacebuilding Institute.

Peace and Conflict Studies at Conrad Grebel University College.

Theology and Peace Studies at Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary.

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