Broadened horizons: the gift of IVEP to the church in the United States and Canada


Individual articles from the Fall 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.

Since 2012, Madison Street Church of Riverside, California, has partnered with MCC’s International Volunteer Exchange Program (IVEP) to host young adults from around the world and to engage them in the life and mission of the church. The congregation’s mission statement reads: “Becoming a community of believers intent on experiencing and sharing the renewing life and love of Jesus.” Living and working alongside IVEP participants have furthered the church’s mission within the local community while expanding and strengthening connections with Christ’s work in the broader world.

About ten years ago, a small group of Madison Street friends began to consider partnering with IVEP. The church had always been supportive of MCC, but we had never considered hosting an IVEPer. Reviewing IVEP’s goals alongside our congregational mission, we warmed to IVEP’s objectives of promoting international peace, goodwill, understanding, friendship and reconciliation, of strengthening connections with global Jesus-followers and of broadening horizons/views and correcting stereotypes and misconceptions about the Other. We wanted to help young people gain vocational skills for service in their home communities. We familiarized ourselves with information about IVEP and requested a process of church-wide discernment. Within a few months, the church approved funding and gave the green light to invite an IVEPer. Our pastor was enthusiastic about supervising an IVEPer, a couple from our church family agreed to open their home as hosts and an IVEP support team formed.

In August 2012, we welcomed our first IVEPer, a young Bangladeshi man, into our church family. Since that first wonderful year, we have invited an IVEPer every year, hosting young persons from Laos, South Korea, Bangladesh and Brazil.

“Through IVEP, we participate in God’s amazing work of growing understanding, goodwill and friendship across global and cultural boundaries.”

As the church’s mission statement reads, we are “becoming a community of believers.” Our experience with IVEP has positively impacted our understanding and experience of community. Our IVEPers have helped us see ourselves as part of a global community of people who are different in many ways—in culture, language, ethnicity and worldview—and yet who are brothers and sisters who share our commitment to Jesus and from whom we have much to learn. As we have befriended, listened to and learned from them, IVEPers have expanded our understandings of what it means to believe in and follow Jesus. Sharing stories about their own churches, communities and cultures, they have led us to question our assumptions about church and to consider that there are other (and often better!) ways of participating in God’s kingdom than those with which we have become comfortable. When their term with us is up, we send them home with sadness that is comforted by a shared sense that they will always be a part of our church family and that we will continue to share in mission and love despite the miles that separate us. And, for all time now, whenever we hear a news report about Bangladesh, Laos, South Korea or Brazil, we listen with rapt attention, for now we have “family” there.

The church’s mission statement reflects our intention to “experience and share the renewing life and love of Jesus.” Our IVEPers remind us that Jesus is at the center of the life and love that we experience and share. In our community, where they have worked to serve low income families, Middle Eastern refugees and homeless individuals and families, IVEPers remind us that it is Jesus’ life and love that energize our participation in God’s kingdom work of hospitality, peace-building, reconciliation and compassion. In our current societal climate, in which persons from outside our nation’s borders are viewed with suspicion and even contempt, God has engendered in us missional attitudes of respect, curiosity and openness to engagement through our IVEP experience. By their very presence, our IVEPers remind us that Jesus breaks down barriers that divide humans. They have unique insights into the plight of the disenfranchised because they see situations from perspectives other than ours. (In particular, they have empathy for newcomers in our community who struggle, as they do, to gain proficiency with English.) Through our IVEPers, Jesus has opened us to share his life and love in bonds of friendship that have lasted well beyond the eventual end-of-term separation: several of us have visited our former IVEPers in their home countries after their IVEP term with us and one IVEPer named his firstborn son after his host “father.”

“Living and working alongside IVEP participants has furthered the church’s mission within the local community while expanding and strengthening connections with Christ’s work in the broader world.”

In Matthew 13:31-33, Jesus tells of a tiny seed that grows into a huge plant in which birds come to nest, symbolizing God’s kingdom home for people from every nation. He follows with a story of a little yeast leavening a lot of dough, symbolizing small kingdom efforts that shape the future of all. This kingdom pattern—of small things producing big results—has been replicated in our IVEP experience. We host one IVEPer at a time, one young person with limited English and little experience, status or influence. He or she stays with us for about a year and then heads back home. This seems like a small thing. But through IVEP, we participate in God’s amazing work of growing understanding, goodwill and friendship across global and cultural boundaries. The experience changes us. It broadens horizons and views and it challenges and corrects stereotypes and misconceptions about other people. We are changed interiorly and opened to love—to love of the Other, to love the stranger who in turn becomes our friend. We learn from one another, we build relationships and God uses the experience to transform lives. We come to a deeper sense of our involvement and responsibility in a world of interconnected people. We gain another sister or brother in our church family, we help them gain skills for their service back home and we develop a broader understanding of our connectedness across the miles and for all time as followers of Jesus. Small things lead to amazing results and, grateful for the opportunity, we look forward to welcoming our next IVEPer.

Julie Weatherford attends Madison Street Church in Riverside, California.

Sharing gifts within the global church: the Young Anabaptist Mennonite Exchange Network (YAMEN)

Since the 1950s, many young people from different countries have had the chance to spend one year in the United States and Canada through MCC’s International Volunteer Exchange Program (IVEP). Former participants highly value their IVEP experiences. Over the years many IVEP alumni have moved into leadership roles in their churches. As it administered IVEP, MCC received feedback affirming IVEP as an intercultural service experience while also calling for the creation of service opportunities similar to IVEP but in other continents, that is, for a program that could, for example, place young people from Latin America in intercultural service assignments in Africa.

MCC supported this idea but felt that a world-wide exchange program should not be organized by an organization from Canada and the U.S. MCC approached Mennonite World Conference (MWC) with the request to create such a program. MWC supported the vision but did not have the funds and staff to start the program. Through mutual conversations in the late 1990s and early 2000s, MWC and MCC agreed to develop the idea together, deciding that MCC would fund the program, while MWC would develop the exchange. This was the start of YAMEN.

“YAMEN promotes a theology of service, provides opportunities to learn intercultural skills, fosters spiritual growth, instills appreciation of Anabaptist values and promotes involvement in the local and global church.”

MWC, as a global network of churches, with connections to churches and organizations around the world, was an excellent starting point for the development of the program. MWC took time to visit churches and organizations in different countries, listening to their hopes and experiences. From the very beginning there was support from Anabaptist churches and agencies for the developing network. Anabaptist exchange programs in different parts of the world gave counsel, shared experiences and made suggestions on what this new program could look like.

One hope expressed repeatedly by churches was that this program would give young people the chance to develop skills that they would share with their churches and communities when they returned from the exchange. Another hope was to develop future leaders for the church and community.
This input formed the foundation for the development of the exchange program that came to be known as YAMEN.

In the beginning stage of this new exchange program, it became clear that starting “from scratch” is not easy. MWC’s gift to the program was its connection to churches and its understanding of the gifts and needs of churches around the world. What MWC did not have was the administrative structure to run the program that MCC had. After a three-year development period, MWC and MCC agreed to shift the administration of the program to MCC and its Global Service Learning department that also administered IVEP.

Today the Young Anabaptist Mennonite Exchange Network (YAMEN) is a one-year exchange program for young adults, operating as a joint program between Mennonite World Conference and Mennonite Central Committee. The program prioritizes connecting with Anabaptist churches in different parts of the world. Participants either come from an Anabaptist church or serve in an Anabaptist church or organization (and sometimes both!). YAMEN connects people and places that otherwise would not have an opportunity to come together and learn from each other, such as Indonesians serving in Colombia, Peruvians in Indonesia and Costa Ricans in Cambodia.

YAMEN promotes a theology of service, provides opportunities to learn intercultural skills, fosters spiritual growth, instills appreciation of Anabaptist values and promotes involvement in the local and global church. Since the first exchange in 2004, 204 participants from over 40 countries have served in 35 countries. Many gifts and stories have been shared since then.

“As we see former YAMEN participants take up leadership as pastors, program officers and administrators in the global church, we witness the impact of YAMEN.”

Did the YAMEN vision of intercultural sharing across the Anabaptist world become reality? Testimony from YAMEN alumni suggests yes. Yoweri Murungi from Uganda served in an assignment in Lusaka, Zambia. His many new experiences included leading praise and worship services, Bible study classes and youth ministries at the Chilenje Brethren in Christ church in Lusaka. “These experiences helped me gain leadership skills and grow in my faith in Christ,” says Murungi. “I learned to love my neighbours, to serve the Lord Jesus, to serve the community without thinking about a reward in monetary terms,” shares Felizarda Atanásia Filimone from Mozambique, who served as a youth worker with Creciendo Juntos at Monte Horeb Mennonite Church, Soacha, Colombia. Diana Martínez from Colombia, meanwhile, was impressed with the hospitality she experienced in Nicaragua as an educational assistant at Casa Hogar Belén, a children’s home in Managua. “When we are able to give as well as value what others can contribute, without worrying about cultural backgrounds, nationalities, race or language,” Martínez reflected, “then we are making real the notion of being one body with Christ as the head.”

Does YAMEN have room to grow? Indeed! As we see former YAMEN participants take up leadership as pastors, program officers and administrators in the global church, we witness the impact of YAMEN. MWC is excited to continue partnership with MCC is this venture.

Liesa Unger directed the YAMEN program from 2001 to 2004 and since 2012 has served as chief international events officer for Mennonite World Conference.

Responsibility “both to those within and those without”: MCC, mutual aid and humanitarianism

Throughout its century-long history, MCC has exercised a two-fold ministry: offering mutual aid within the church and reaching out to help all in need. In MCC’s early decades, MCC leaders often cited Paul’s call to the Galatians to “work for the good of all, and especially for those in the family of faith” (Gal. 6:10, NRSV), as the basis for special attention to the needs of fellow Mennonites, even as MCC’s relief interventions provided extensive assistance to non-Mennonites. This two-fold ministry has at times generated productive tension within MCC, tension between a commitment to extend mutual aid within the global church and the humanitarian principle of making decisions about who receives assistance solely on the basis of need.

The modern humanitarian movement traces its origins to the founding of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in Switzerland in 1863. The principles of non-discrimination and impartiality in the provision of assistance have been fundamental to modern humanitarianism since its inception. The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, for example, highlights as part of its core principles that humanitarian assistance will be “guided solely by the . . . needs” of suffering individuals, giving “priority to the most urgent cases of distress” and with “no discrimination as to nationality, race, religious beliefs, class or political opinions.” Other organizations engaged in humanitarian relief—whether secular, like Save the Children, or religious, like World Vision, Islamic Relief and MCC—similarly uphold these principles of non-discrimination and impartiality, enshrined in inter-NGO compacts such as the Sphere Standards and the Core Humanitarian Standard.

In its formative years, MCC reflected both a Mennonite desire to join in this progressive humanitarian movement as a proactive witness for peace and a commitment to offering mutual aid within the Mennonite family of faith. Alongside the death and destruction of the First World War emerged a renewed passion for and heightened prominence of humanitarian relief, with the ICRC receiving the Nobel Peace Prize in 1917. This humanitarian spirit of service to suffering humanity animated Mennonites in the United States. In his MCC service application, Clayton Kratz wrote about his desire to serve people in need “because this great world catastrophe [WWI] has not caused me any inconvenience.” In a 1929 book commemorating MCC’s relief efforts in the early 1920s in what had become the Soviet Union, P.C. Hiebert and Orie Miller noted that for Mennonites in the United States after World War I there “was little satisfaction in just maintaining a negative position toward war”—Mennonites were seeking “an opportunity to disprove the charges of cowardice and selfishness made against the conscientious objectors, and to express in a positive, concrete way the principles of peace and good-will in which they believed.” The call for help from southern Russia (present-day Ukraine) offered the chance to express Mennonite peace convictions in a positive way: “The need there was great, little was being done, and there was the added incentive of being able to help and to work with and through those of our own household of faith,” wrote Miller and Hiebert. While relief response to southern Russia was driven in large measure by this desire to assist those in the “household of faith,” the feeding stations MCC set up in what became the Soviet Union did not only feed Mennonites, but also other starving people.

MCC continued to hold commitment to humanitarian principles and to mutual aid within the church together over the coming decades. In the early 1940s, prior to the U.S. entry into the Second World War, MCC chairman Orie O. Miller wrote in a letter to MCC representative in Germany M.C. Lehman, that “Our work, as you know, is entirely nonpartisan—relief to be extended without preference as to race, nationality, or otherwise, with particular attention to relief needs among war suffering women and children.” Miller continued: “In case, of course, that there should be relief needs among the Mennonite folks of Europe, these should also receive prior consideration.” For Miller, being “entirely nonpartisan” and giving “prior consideration” to “the Mennonite folks of Europe” were perfectly congruent.

Writing in the 1940s, Mennonite sociologist and one-time professor at Bethel College J. Winfield Fretz described MCC “as a glorious demonstration” of “mutual aid in a new day,” a collaborative venture “that is much more complex than a barn raising or a husking but nevertheless a number of people working together to achieve a common goal,” with the goal being “to feed our brothers across the sea.” MCC had a dual responsibility, explained MCC board chairman and Brethren in Christ leader C.N. Hostetter at the MCC annual meeting in 1944, a responsibility “both to those within and those without.” “Within the world-wide fellowship of our Mennonite brotherhood, our duty seems clear to minister to the relief of human suffering,” noted Hostetter. Yet, he stressed, “Our responsibility does not stop with those within the Mennonite brotherhood. As disciples of Christ, we must concern ourselves about human suffering wherever it is within the range of our possibility to help. True disciples of Christ must always remain sensitive and stand ready to minister and serve.”

Robert Kreider, who helped direct MCC’s relief efforts in Europe following World War II, reflected during his service on this tension between mutual aid to the “household” or “family” of faith and humanitarian response based on need. “Our concern is that no cause of critical need among our people goes unmet,” Kreider wrote in 1947. At the same time, he continued, “Because a person has the label ‘Mennonite’ does not automatically entitle him to MCC relief aid. The Mennonite relief representatives work under the guiding principle that they must verify need before aid is given.” Kreider emphasized that “a program which is exclusively concerned with the household of faith does that household a disservice.” He explained: “If we pumped all our supplies into the pantries of [German] Mennonites they would love it. . . . But the Mennonites would come out of the war despised by their neighbors, selfish and a pretty dim Christian witness. Our strategy to get the German Mennonites to organize themselves to help their needy cases and also to help others in need—is a more ennobling experience for them.”

In 1963, MCC executive secretary William Snyder described MCC as having broadened its vision over the decades. “At times we were criticized for being too much concerned about our own people and not enough with the rest of the world,” he observed, with MCC witness “restricted primarily to the brotherhood.” While Snyder insisted that “there was always a concern for the welfare of the neighbor” in MCC’s prior relief efforts, he granted that this concern for doing good to all people had expanded over the past couple decades: “our people’s vision increased as the modes of communication improved, as they grew more prosperous, and as they become more aware of human need on the national and international level. Now we are ministering to the needs of people of almost every race and creed and we are known around the world for our ministry of compassion.”

Over the ensuing decades up to the present, MCC has remained committed to partnership with churches around the world, both Anabaptist and non-Anabaptist. Many of these partnerships represent a form of mutual aid, as MCC supports churches in meeting the basic needs of their most vulnerable members. Yet in all its partnerships with churches, MCC also encourages and accompanies churches to reach out beyond themselves to serve the broader community, with need driving the planning and implementation of MCC’s humanitarian response. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, for example, MCC partners with Congolese Mennonite and Mennonite Brethren churches as they respond to the emergency and livelihoods needs of both Congolese Anabaptists and other Congolese displaced by the fighting in DR Congo’s Kasai region. In Syria, meanwhile, MCC accompanies Syrian Orthodox, Catholic and Protestant churches as they distribute emergency assistance not only to Syrian Christians uprooted by the country’s nine-year civil war, but to Syrian Muslims as well. The dual commitment to mutual aid within the church and humanitarian response to all in need can generate tension, as MCC’s church partners sometimes press to keep MCC assistance within the “family of faith.” That said, MCC’s church partners typically embrace the vision that an essential element of witnessing to God’s love is to each out to all in their communities who are in need, viewing mutual aid and doing good to all people through humanitarian outreach not as opposing principles but as complementary, mutually reinforcing actions.

Alain Epp Weaver directs strategic planning for MCC and previously worked for MCC in Palestine and Israel.

Core Humanitarian Standard. Available at

Fretz, J. Winfield. Christian Mutual Aid: A Handbook of Brotherhood Economics. Akron, PA: MCC, 1947.

International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. “The Seven Fundamental Principles.” Available at

Sphere Standards.

Weaver, Alain Epp. Service and the Ministry of Reconciliation: A Missiological History of Mennonite Central Committee. North Newton, KS: Bethel College, forthcoming 2021.

In the Name of Christ (Fall 2020)


Individual articles from the Fall 2020 issue of Intersections will be posted on this blog once per week. The full issue can be found on MCC’s website.

In the seventeenth chapter of the Gospel of John, Jesus says that when we work together and act as one, we are a sign of God sending Jesus into the world and a sign that God loves the world. From the first impulse one hundred years ago by churches in the United States and Canada to help people in desperate need in southern Russia (present-day Ukraine) to MCC’s ministries today in over 50 countries around the world, including Canada and the U.S., MCC has brought Anabaptist churches together to be a part of God’s mission in the world.

“In the name of Christ,” one MCC worker told a group recently, is more than a slogan—it is why we do what we do. We could not agree more. While MCC works to assist all people in need around the world, regardless of faith tradition, our work in relief, development and peace proclaims our gratitude for our Savior. Jesus has shared the fullness of life with us and we want to share it with others.

As Beachy Amish, Brethren in Christ, Mennonites, Mennonite Brethren, Conservative Mennonites, Old Order Amish and Mennonites and more, when we work together through MCC to share a cup of water with our neighbors at home and throughout the world, we signal to these communities that God loves them. “In the Name of Christ” names what is foundational to MCC service: the why of MCC service is integral to and inseparable from the what of relief, development and peace.

In the Name of Christ” names what is foundational to MCC service: the why of MCC service is integral to and inseparable from the what of relief, development and peace.

This issue of Intersections focuses on our work “In the Name of Christ,” and completes the four centennial issues that have examined MCC’s century of working at relief, development and peace in Christ’s name. César García, president of Mennonite World Conference (MWC), reflects on the past, present and future of the partnership between MWC and MCC. Church leaders from the United States, Canada and churches around the world reflect on what service in the name of Christ looks like in their contexts and on their hopes for MCC’s partnership with the church as MCC enters its second century.

May God continue to use this ministry of the churches we call MCC in its next one hundred years as a testimony to God sending Jesus into the world and a sign of God’s love for all.

Ron Byler and Ann Graber Hershberger are MCC U.S. executive director and associate executive director, respectively.

Peacebuilding as presence: MCC assignments in “enemy” contexts


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.

Beginning with the decision by some MCC workers from the United States to remain in Vietnam after the withdrawal of U.S. troops from the country on March 29, 1973, one form MCC’s peace witness has taken has been a witness of presence within so-called “enemy” contexts. Such peace witness included placing graduate students behind the Iron Curtain during the Cold War tasked with connecting to and supporting churches in the Eastern bloc, assigning aid workers to live and work in Iraq before and after the U.S. invasion of the country in 2002, placing more graduate students at an Islamic studies center in Qom, Iran, seconding staff to work with health ministries in Afghanistan and sending agronomists to make extended program support visits to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK, or North Korea). Below are reflections from MCC workers who were involved in such peacebuilding-as-presence initiatives on the joys and challenges they faced.—The editors.

DPRK (North Korea)

MCC’s provision of humanitarian assistance during the 1994 famine in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK, or North Korea) initiated a quarter century relationship and over US$22 million in aid, assistance that has supported disaster responses, agricultural education and pediatric hospitals. While MCC has received wide recognition for this humanitarian work, we might also ask: Have these efforts furthered the “peace” element in MCC’s commitment to “relief, development, and peace in the name of Christ?” This question is critical in the context of MCC’s wider mission, as a lack of peace in the region has shaped life on the Korean peninsula for 70 years.

My work with MCC has introduced me to many North Koreans who are caring rather than threatening.

Prior to the outbreak of the Korean War in 1950, the Korean peninsula thrived for 1,300 years, united under a distinctive culture and language. In the 70 years since, however, ten million Koreans have lived permanently separated from their families. A formal peace agreement to end the war was never signed, leaving the peninsula split by a heavily militarized border and a bilaterally-enforced ban on cross-border travel and communication. Despite near complete isolation from one another, the longing for eventual reunification runs deep on both sides of the divide.

With this broader geopolitical context in mind, I propose to consider how MCC’s 25 years of humanitarian work in North Korea has provided a platform for a reconciliatory “peace witness” in three critical ways: people-to-people contact between North Korea, the U.S. and Canada, advocacy with the U.S. government and education work in South Korea.

First, as in any deep national division, political peace is critical. The absence of a peace treaty is an enormous barrier to a new future in Korea. Yet lasting peace also requires the overlooked work that scholar Cecelia Clegg calls “societal reconciliation” (Clegg 84). Speaking from her research into healing in Northern Ireland, Clegg argues that “there is no substitute for . . . a sustained level of new contact, the act of deliberately seeking out a meeting or encounter with the [threatening] ‘other’” (90). Sustained contact is precisely where MCC’s North Korea work has mattered in relation to what Clegg calls “the will to find out the truth about the ‘other’ [as] an essential dynamic in any reconciling process” (89).

Amid a hostile climate that has often condemned positive engagement toward North Korea, MCC’s presence has been catalytic as one of only a handful of agencies with work on both sides of the border.

Mutual isolation has created profound misunderstanding between people in North Korea and the U.S. In North Korea, dominant “enemy narratives” of the U.S. include the U.S. military’s indiscriminate bombing during the war and the complicity of U.S. missionaries in violence. But MCC’s relief work has provided a different face of both U.S. citizens and Christians. Over many years of face-to-face monitoring visits, MCC delegations have shared the story of where MCC’s canned meat comes from—not a factory, but from the hands of tens of thousands of volunteers and churches across Canada and the United States.

These encounters also defy the narratives held by many Canadian and U.S. Anabaptist constituencies accustomed only to threatening images of North Koreans. My work with MCC has introduced me to many North Koreans who are caring rather than threatening. I think, for example, of a dedicated tuberculosis sanitorium director who, while compassionately caring for his patients, eventually contracted and succumbed to the disease himself, as well as government officials who witnessed the impact of a U.S. couple’s work with cerebral palsy and approved the construction of provincial pediatric rehabilitation centers.

A second critical dimension of MCC’s peace witness in North Korea is political advocacy. Even today, 28,000 U.S. troops are stationed in South Korea. Economic and social collaboration on the peninsula is subject to the mercy of the United States. In 2017, the U.S. State Department banned travel by U.S. citizens to North Korea and the United Nations (under U.S. leadership) instituted sanctions severely limiting imports to North Korea. This threatened the sole avenues for aid to vulnerable North Korean people and endangered future diplomacy. Alongside other faith-based agencies, MCC engaged in direct advocacy to the U.S. government, pushing for humanitarian exemptions and to make signing a peace treaty a top priority in the ongoing U.S.-DPRK negotiations.

During a 1998 visit to Pyongyang, DPRK, MCC staff member Kevin King learns about medicinal plants from Mrs. Kim at the city’s Botanical Gardens. (Photo courtesy of Kevin King)

The third dimension of MCC’s peace witness on the Korean peninsula is its peace education in South Korea. Amid a hostile climate that has often condemned positive engagement toward North Korea, MCC’s presence has been catalytic as one of only a handful of agencies with work on both sides of the border. One South Korean pastor said his encounters with a Canadian agriculturalist who worked with MCC in DPRK “changed my concept about North Korea from missiles and ever-marching people of nationalistic madness to the same common people like us in South Korea.” Another young South Korean I know had grown up distant from the trauma of the Korean divide. Her indifference was challenged in college when she joined an InterVarsity Korea visit to the China-North Korea border. A boat ride to view the North offered her a sight many South Koreans never see: two North Koreans up close, two soldiers sitting on a beach. “One of them looked exactly like my brother,” she said. “Only then did I understand that we are one people.” This transformative experience led her to MCC’s IVEP program, an experience which shifted her career toward peacemaking. If, as described here, MCC humanitarian work in North Korea has become a platform for peace witness, we might ask: witness to what? Perhaps to what scholar Marc Gopin describes as a distinctly Anabaptist approach to peacebuilding where true transformation requires building new relationships over many years across divides. Such peace work bears witness to “the inherent moral value of building relationships” across divides and with adversaries where the “moment of relation becomes a moment of religious fulfillment, of imitatio dei, in [the case of Anabaptists] emulating Jesus. The person in relation becomes an end in herself” (Gopin, 242, 246). With U.S.-DPRK relations tense and fraught, such long-term relationship-building is more critical than ever.

Chris Rice is director of the MCC United Nations Office. Editorial assistance was provided by Abby Hershberger, communications and advocacy assistant at MCC’s UN Office in New York City.

Gopin, Marc. “The Religious Component of Mennonite Peacebuilding.” In From the Ground Up: Mennonite Contributions to International Peacebuilding. Ed. John Paul Lederach and Cynthia Sampson, 233-255. New York: Oxford University Press, 2000.

Rice, Chris. “Contested South Korean Identities of Reunification and Christian Paradigms of Reconciliation.” International Bulletin of Missionary Research 42/2 (2018): 133-142.

Reconcilers. Blog for Chris Rice.

Advocacy as translation: representing partner voices

[Individual articles from the Fall 2018 issue of Intersections will be posted on this blog each week. The full issue can be found on MCC’s website.]

MCC Canada’s Ottawa Office engages in advocacy to government on behalf of, and together with, MCC partners in Canada and around the world. We often describe our work as a two-sided coin. One side is political engagement. This is the work we do to speak directly to government and to the political system: through letters, face to face meetings, written or oral presentations to committees and more. The other side of the coin is public engagement: this is the work we do to help our constituents hear the stories, understand the issues and become advocates themselves.

We have found inspiration in the words of Samantha Baker Evens, a mission worker in Cambodia, who wrote: “We are not ‘a voice for the voiceless’—we lend our privilege as a megaphone.” In the Ottawa Office, we like to think of our advocacy work as amplifying the voices of our partners.

In representing the message of our partners to a wider audience, we often find that our work requires translation. We need to express the message in a way that both Canadian parliamentarians and constituents can understand and, we hope, act on. With parliamentarians, we translate concerns into the language of law and human rights; with constituents, we use the language of biblical theology and concepts such as justice, mercy and compassion.

We hope that in our translation we are bearing faithful witness to the advocacy message our partners urge us to speak. But sometimes we ask ourselves: Does it really do that Sometimes we wonder if our decisions about how to represent these voices is weakening or distorting their message. We wonder if, in our efforts to make the message work in the Canadian context, we are losing the essence of what our partners ask of us. A few examples illustrate this dilemma.

Some years ago, an MCC group travelled to Guatemala to learn about the activities of Canadian gold mining giant, Goldcorp, in the San Marcos region. While there, we heard about the mine’s contamination of water and soil, its tearing of the social fabric of the community and its failure to adequately consult with Indigenous people regarding the use of their land. We learned how the mine had devastated the community. At the end of the week, we sat together with local people who said clearly to us, “This mine is destroying our lives. Get rid of it.”

Our hearts sank. We knew there was no way we could get rid of the mine. We were only a small nongovernmental organization with a handful of advocacy staff. And, although we were part of a larger coalition back in Canada, we simply had no capacity or mandate to take on a mining corporation. What we could do was commit to pressing for changes in Canadian law that would make it much more difficult for companies like Goldcorp to act like it had in San Marcos.

Working with other advocacy groups back home, we had some success in pushing for corporate accountability. The Canadian government made it mandatory for companies to report all payments made to local authorities to gain mining contracts, with the aim of eliminating bribery. It also created the office of an independent ombudsperson to hear and adjudicate complaints by people harmed by Canadian corporate activity in their countries.

In that instance, we translated the messages we heard from MCC partners in Guatemala into requests for action that made sense and were achievable within the Canadian political system. We didn’t attempt to get rid of the mine. Should we have?

As indicated above, we also translate for our constituents. We do that, we say, to move people gently from their comfort zone and into their “learning zone,” rather than thrusting them into a “panic zone.” We translate our partners’ advocacy messages so that these messages can be heard by constituents who may feel deeply anxious or threatened when their worldview is turned upside down. An example from MCC’s work related to Palestine and Israel illustrates this dynamic.

In 2005, Palestinian civil society—including some of MCC’s Palestinian partners—initiated a call for boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel until it complies with international law and universal human rights principles. From this call has emerged a global grassroots movement for boycott, divestment and sanctions, popularly known as BDS. Palestinians and their Israeli allies have urged the international community to engage in academic and cultural boycotts and to undertake economic measures such as divestment and sanctions in order to bring about an end to the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land, to achieve equal rights for Palestinian citizens within Israel and to respect, promote and protect the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties. Over the years, some of MCC’s partners urged MCC to participate in and promote the BDS campaign. The Kairos Palestine document from 2009, written by Palestinian Christian leaders, also urges churches around the world to explore divestment and economic and commercial boycotts of goods related to Israel’s military occupation. Over more than a decade, MCC has organized learning tours for church leaders to Palestine to hear directly from Palestinian Christians and from Palestinians and Israelis working for peace, including from people who have pressed Mennonites to join the BDS movement. Some MCC boards, meanwhile, have taken steps to divest from companies connected to oppression of people, including the Israeli military occupation. Yet MCC has also determined that it will not take a position on the BDS movement, but will instead use other language and strategies to call for a just peace in Palestine and Israel.Cry for Home - english

A current campaign led by MCC in Canada is called “A Cry for Home.” The campaign calls for safe and secure homes—and a safe and secure homeland—for both Palestinians and Israelis. It invites Canadian constituents to consider the situation of Palestinian children in military detention and urges them to act by raising this issue with their Member of Parliament. Our hope is that the plight of Palestinian children will open the hearts and minds of both constituents and politicians, while also providing an entry point into the larger and deeper reality of occupation and oppression. How should MCC balance diverse, sometimes conflicting, partner perspectives on potentially contentious advocacy issues like this? How should MCC balance these various calls from partners with the diverse perspectives of its supporters?

As indicated at the outset, in “translating” for our constituents, we try to represent the messages of partners so that they can be heard, understood and acted upon by our constituents and to maintain strong support for MCC. Like many Christian nongovernmental organizations, MCC works hard to maintain a strong support to carry out its work of relief, development and peacebuilding in the name of Christ. Traditionally, MCC could count on strong and steady financial and other support from Anabaptist churches and households. Today, that support cannot simply be taken for granted. MCC must work hard to seek out and sustain its support. Thus it might feel easier to emphasize MCC’s relief and humanitarian assistance work over more potentially controversial initiatives, including advocacy work.

As Anabaptists in Canada and the U.S., we do not want to hear that we are implicated in other people’s suffering, whether through lifestyle choices, racial privilege, distorted theology, colonial history or support for unjust government policies. Advocacy messages that imply complicity—or that simply point to the realities of systemic injustice—not surprisingly sometimes encounter resistance. Yet it is often these very realities that partners call us to address. It takes courage for organizations like MCC to act out of solidarity and call for justice when doing so may harm the bottom line. I am grateful for the times MCC has acted courageously.

In summary, advocacy together with and on behalf of our partners requires that we translate their concerns so that politicians and constituents in Canada can comprehend and act on them. Doubts and questions about how we represent their stories will—and no doubt, should—always remain with us. Nevertheless, we hope and pray that our translation bears faithful witness to our partners and helps to amplify their voices and ultimately leads to greater justice and greater peace.

Esther Epp-Tiessen worked for MCC for over 28 years, most recently as public engagement coordinator for MCC Canada’s Ottawa Office.

Learn More

For information on MCC’s A Cry for Home campaign, visit MCC’s website:


Does fundraising need pity?: representation and donor response

[Individual articles from the Fall 2018 issue of Intersections will be posted on this blog each week. The full issue can be found on MCC’s website.]

In the 1980s, millions in the Global North were exposed to shocking images of famine in East Africa. It was certainly not the first time that such stark, desperate portrayals of hunger and poverty had been widely published, but it marked a new level in the proliferation of a certain type of imagery adopted in the service of fundraising appeals. The images showed widespread death and devastation. Subjects were usually visibly
malnourished, sick and depicted as passive and alone. In the years that followed, these fundraising tactics received deep criticism: for their oversimplification and decontextualization; for their attempt to appeal to charity rather than rights and justice; for the unequal relationship they suggested between the receiving victim and the heroic Western giver.

Afar, Ethiopia - intersections

But these efforts had worked, countered the defenders of these images, arguing that many thousands of lives had been saved through the ensuing humanitarian response.

In the years that followed the famine of the mid-1980s, many relief and development organizations moved away from this sort of negative, one-dimensional portrayal of those who participate in and benefit from their humanitarian efforts, often adopting codes of conduct to guide their communications efforts. Most organizations have begun to employ more positive imagery, attempting to portray dignity and agency in those pictured. Yet the question persists: by avoiding images that show devastation and provoke pity, have organizations raised less money for their work?  If a fundraiser’s primary concern is maximizing an organization’s ability to respond to crisis, is the loss of humanitarian capacity worth the less tangible virtue of using more positive imagery?

Responding to this line of questioning requires taking a step back and asking whether such a trade-off has in fact occurred. Do donors respond more to a particular type of appeal? Thanks to a young and rapidly developing field of social science research, we can explore these questions with more precision, studying why people choose to give and what factors accelerate or mitigate the impulse. By better understanding donor behaviour, we may find a model for effective fundraising communication that prioritizes positive and dignified representations—and we can also turn our attention to what happens after a decision to donate is made.

Fundraising appeals attempt to trigger particular cognitive or emotional responses in their audience. In recent years, the study of “helping behaviour” has led to some agreement among researchers that empathy— which is predictive of charitable giving—is composed of both affective (emotional) and cognitive dimensions. Giving decisions tend to be driven by either one or the other, but affective giving decisions comprise the bulk of responses to a typical charity appeal.

It might be tempting to pretend that these emotional processes do not matter, and to suppose that donors should simply give based on a reasoned determination of doing what’s right. It may also be tempting to suppose that a particular organization’s audience is special and somehow immune to these affective processes. But this would not accurately reflect the social and cognitive landscapes in which organizations like MCC work, contexts in which affective processes influence the majority of donations.

Deborah Small has cited several studies that demonstrate how people respond more generously to those with whom they feel affinity. One factor that contributes to “felt closeness”—similarity—is dependent upon social and cultural conditioning through “in-grouping.” Studies grouping people into an “in” group and an “out” group found more generous feelings among subjects toward in-group members. Surprisingly, this tendency held even when these groupings were completely arbitrary. The “categorization of others as belonging to the same social group as oneself”—no matter how spurious the in-grouping—“arouses feelings of greater closeness and responsibility, and augments emotional response to their distress.”

This social science research finds that individuals engage in different levels of processing and decision-making depending on the perceived similarity of a “victim.” Out-group members are likely to be processed more abstractly, with less emotional response (see Kogut and Ritov). These “cold cognitions” are less likely to motivate people to give than emotions, which create a “mental spotlight,” initiating an internal process that calls for immediate action.

Feelings of similarity or dissimilarity contribute to other cascading effects on a potential giving decision. When an individual perceives those affected by a disaster as dissimilar rather than similar, the impulse to help is interrupted in at least three distinct ways. First, feelings of dissimilarity can affect perceptions of how severe a situation is. Second, those feelings influence perception of the adequacy of whatever response is already in place. And finally, feelings of dissimilarity increase the likelihood of viewing those affected by a negative situation as responsible for their own suffering.

When an audience believes the subjects described in a fundraising appeal are at least partly responsible for their own situation, not only are the effects of empathy reduced, but a different set of emotions is also triggered: victims perceived to share responsibility for their situation tend to generate negative affective reactions, which further dampen altruistic impulses.

Individuals’ giving behaviour is also sharply influenced by their perceptions of others’ behaviour. Social norms have great power to sway individual behaviour and that social information can either encourage action or promote inaction. One study found that “downward” social information—the awareness that others are not giving or are giving little— can have twice as much impact as positive social information. In other words, if individuals perceive that others are not responding to an appeal, that information has double the influence on their impulse to give than if they perceive that others around them are responding.

While humanitarian organizations may launch crisis appeals as isolated events, concerning themselves with maximizing revenue on each individual appeal, their messages have always been received within particular social and psychological contexts. Before a viewer has the chance to react to the specific visual choices made by an organization in its fundraising appeals, these contextual and emotional factors are already at play, biasing the viewer either toward or away from a donation decision.

These social forces present interesting prospects for the creative communicator. Through their communications efforts both during and prior to an appeal, organizations have opportunities to encourage feelings of similarity, reduce social distance, use social information to encourage positive behaviour and counteract prejudice—positive outcomes on their own which also increase the likelihood of donor response.

The various determinants of giving behaviour, such as the dimensions of social distance identified by Deborah Small, are closer to spectrums than they are dichotomies. There is room to nudge an audience in a desirable direction. For example, studies have found that proactive in-grouping through an appeal can positively impact giving behaviour. In other words, fundraising that frames recipients as similar and proximate rather than as helpless, distant and “other” may in fact prove more effective.

It would be misleading to deny the effectiveness of pity-based appeals. They are proven to work. They are not the only fundraising strategies that work, but they may be the easiest fundraising strategies that work. David Hudson and Jennifer vanHeerde-Hudson measured the impacts of various emotional pathways triggered by fundraising appeals and found pity-based appeals to be effective at increasing giving decisions by provoking both anger and guilt. The emotion of “hope” was a similarly strong predictor of giving behaviour but was much more difficult to trigger than pity. However, when they extended their analysis to look at the impact on their audience after an appeal, a different picture emerged. After measuring the links between different emotional responses and their impact on decisions to give, Hudson and vanHeerde-Hudson also measured potential long-term effects on givers. They found a clear pattern where those who felt pity were likely to make an immediate giving decision, but also expressed reduced confidence in their gifts making a difference and a reduced sense of hope for the future. In other words, they gave to ameliorate an uncomfortable, temporary feeling, but in the process, they became less likely to give in the future. Humanitarian organizations interested in cultivating a strong, sustainable donor base should be concerned not just with immediate results, but with the long-term effects of their fundraising efforts.

No serious humanitarian organization should allow itself to define its communications objectives solely in terms of a dollar amount. A fundraiser’s first concern may be the bottom line, but the real impacts of their public communications extend beyond an organization’s revenue sheet. An organization’s decisions about how to portray its work carry real-world implications not only for itself, but for both potential donors and the beneficiaries of its work. The ethical weight of these decisions should never be forgotten.

Raising funds by telling other people’s stories is a complex endeavor, but for the organization willing to question its habits and learn from research, there should be a clear conclusion: successful fundraising and dignified portrayals of beneficiaries do not need to be mutually exclusive—and they may go better hand-in-hand.

David Turner, MCC Manitoba communications coordinator, lives and works on Treaty One territory.


Learn More 

Einolf, Christopher J. “Is Cognitive Empathy More Important than Affective Empathy?” Analyses of Social Issues and Public Policy (2012): 268–271.

Banfield, Jillian C. and John F. Dovidio. “The Role of Empathy in Responding to Natural
Disasters.” Analyses of Social Issues and Public Policy (2012):276–279.

Hudson, David, Jennifer VanHeerde-Hudson, Niheer Dasandi and N. Susan Gaines. Emotional Pathways to Engagement with Global Poverty: An Experimental Analysis.” University College London, 2016.

McManus, Jessica L. and Donald A Saucier. “Helping Natural Disaster Victims Depends on Characteristics and Perceptions of Victims.” Analyses of Social Issues and Public Policy (2012): 272–275.

Oppenheimer, Daniel M. and Christopher Y. Olivola. The Science of Giving: Experimental
Approaches to the Study of Charity. Psychology Press, 2011.

Partner and participant responses to photographs in Haiti

[Individual articles from the Fall 2018 issue of Intersections will be posted on this blog each week. The full issue can be found on MCC’s website.]

The community of Wopisa is high in the mountains in Haiti’s Artibonite department and is only accessible by a walking path that requires several ascents and descents, including scaling a waterfall. This challenging environment necessarily limits access to the community by government and aid agencies. Wopisa is extremely vulnerable to damage from natural disasters, erosion and waterborne diseases such as typhoid and cholera. MCC significantly increased our working presence in this community in 2016 following Hurricane Matthew through agricultural livelihoods and latrine projects. Photographs from Wopisa have been used in MCC materials promoting reforestation and latrine projects, most notably in last year’s Christmas giving catalogue. For this article, I made the trek up to Wopisa to get some feedback from project participants on how their images have been used to generate support for MCC. I also spoke with MCC’s Haitian staff to get their feedback about how these images have been used and about how
MCC uses photographs of project participants in general.

MCC’s work in Wopisa is managed out of our office in the town of Desarmes, where MCC has been working since the 1980s. The current work is Wopisa is part of a three-year disaster response project started after Hurricane Matthew. Most of MCC’s other work in Haiti’s Artibonite department is part of a five-year project funded by Canadian Foodgrains Bank (CFGB). All these projects, many of which are in communities as remote as Wopisa, receive weekly visits from MCC staff members, mostly Haitian nationals. MCC agroforestry technician Michelet Elisamar says that in the community of Kabay, which is part of the CFGB project, the trust built over the course of MCC’s long relationship with the community means project participants feel comfortable having MCC staff take their photos for promotional purposes.

Previl Pierre - intersections

In Wopisa, community leader Previl Pierre echoed that his gratitude for MCC’s work in his community means he has no problem having his photo used to generate support for MCC, but also said he would be happy to collaborate with anyone making an investment in the community. He sees MCC’s photographs as providing a way for donors and supporters elsewhere to understand the reality of life in his community. To that end, Pierre advocated for balance in representation: he wants outsiders to see both the difficult and the beautiful aspects of life in Wopisa. He also expressed a feeling of abandonment by the state and international organizations, a sentiment MCC staff hear frequently when visiting remote communities: “they don’t even know we exist.” Pierre hopes that by sharing photographs of his community, MCC can help raise awareness of the struggles they face on a day-to-day basis. When asked how he felt about photos of his community being used to support latrine projects in other countries, he said he had no problem with this because “Haiti is not the only country that has problems,” and would also be supportive of photos from other countries being used to support projects in Haiti.

Haiti hpoto - intersections

Melise Michaline and Louis Vivra, two of the subjects of the second photo, echoed many of Pierre’s sentiments. When I asked them what kind of photos they wanted to see of themselves, both mentioned work. Louis said he likes to see photos of himself working hard, “like a peyizan.” [The Creole word peyizan (French paysan/ne) is generally translated “peasant,” but has roughly the same cluster of meanings that the Spanish campesino/a has elsewhere in Latin America: both in the pride taken by self-identifying peyizan, and in the way it has been mobilized in the service of discrimination and resistance.] Melise, similarly, said she doesn’t like to see photos where people aren’t working. Both said they liked simple, dignified portraits as well.
christmas giving - intersections

However, not all MCC photos are taken in communities where we have pre-existing long-term relationships, including some of MCC Haiti’s most widely circulated disaster pictures. After a disaster like an earthquake or hurricane, MCC Haiti staff work to communicate the context and reality of people affected by the situation and to share this information as quickly as possible with the wider MCC audience. These early stories and pictures are more about contextualizing and personalizing the crisis and are less project-connected. Our goal is to produce these stories in the first 72 hours after the disaster, before projects are developed or approved. Jean-Remy Azor, program coordinator in the MCC Desarmes office, acknowledges that this requires MCC staff to be very clear with community members about why we are taking photos and especially about what we can and cannot promise. For example, after Hurricane Irma caused flooding and landslides in the Artibonite department in the fall of 2017, MCC worked with local authorities to visit some of the people affected within 48 hours. MCC staff made sure to explain that the purpose of our photos was to show our constituents the damage that had been caused, but that we did not yet know whether we would be able do a project in that area. This kind of clear, transparent communication is necessary to avoid misunderstandings which have the potential to cause considerable conflict in situations where people are already extremely vulnerable. Transparency and clear communication with project participants are essential to ensure that we maintain the positive relationships MCC has worked so hard to build in the communities in which we work.

I cannot claim that the responses I received to MCC photographs on my visit to Wopiya represent a thorough or objective assessment of how Haitians view MCC’s photography and communications efforts. I may have received very different feedback had I visited people who were photographed shortly after a disaster, or longer-term MCC partners who have welcomed MCC photographers and writers multiple times. In addition, I conducted these interviews both as a foreigner and as a representative of a funder of community projects. So, while the feedback I received was generally positive, it is important to keep in mind that all individuals have their own preferences as to how they would like to be photographed or whether they would like to be photographed at all. Every context is different. My hope is that if we approach photography and communications in terms of collaboration and relationship-building and are continually engaged in honest self-reflection, we can ensure that the stories we tell are meaningful, honest and respectful of those with whom we work.

Annalee Giesebrecht is MCC’s advocacy and communications coordinator in Haiti.

Learn More

Giesebrecht, Annalee. “Where There is No Road.” MCC website. December 19, 2017. Available at stories/where-there-no-road.

Oswald, Ted. “Lifesaving Latrines.” MCC Haiti blog. December 14, 2016. Available at the-fight-againstcholera?rq=wopisa.

Giesebrecht, Annalee. “Faces of the Storm.” MCC Haiti blog. September 16, 2017. Available at bb5j9366b?rq=hurricane%20irma.

La fotografía como realidad construida

[Articulos Individuales de la edicion de Intersecciones de Otoño del 2018 se publican en este blog cada semana. La edicion completa puede ser encontrada en MCC’s website.]

La fotografía, a menudo, se ve como un medio que retrata una realidad objetiva, que muestra la verdad de una situación. Sin embargo, el sujeto, el encuadre y la composición de una fotografía están todos formados por las elecciones subjetivas del fotógrafo(a). En otras palabras, cada fotografía cuenta una historia sobre la versión de la realidad que está retratando. Lo que está incluido en el encuadre (y lo que queda fuera), lo que es el enfoque central de la fotografía e incluso el ángulo utilizado para representar el sujeto influyen en el mensaje que transmite una fotografía.

El trabajo de asesorar al personal del programa, a los voluntarios y al personal de las organizaciones asociadas para que tomen fotos que sean útiles para el trabajo de comunicación y recaudación de fondos del CCM requiere enseñar cultura, valores y composición. Las personas que toman fotos para el CCM deben aprender qué tipo de fotos los constituyentes del CCM en Canadá y Estados Unidos encontrarán atractivas e inspiradoras, y cuáles son los valores internos del CCM en torno a cómo se representa a las personas y los proyectos en imágenes. Esto significa mostrar a las personas participantes del proyecto como agentes activos de cambio en sus familias y comunidades, incluso en tiempos de adversidad. Las tomas de acción, con expresiones sonrientes o representaciones de interacciones sociales positivas, representan las fotografías utilizadas con mayor frecuencia en los materiales de comunicación del CCM. Además, las fotografías efectivas del CCM deben basarse en una composición técnica sólida, como el uso de la luz y el encuadre.

Spanish - 3a

En mi trabajo tomando fotografías de los proyectos del CCM en Nepal y en la capacitación del personal del CCM y de las organizaciones asociadas en la toma de fotografías para uso del CCM, enfaticé dos puntos principales. Primero: cada fotocuenta una historia. Contamos historias sobre personas que están triunfando sobre la adversidad, que tienen esperanzas y sueños para su futuro y que están tomando medidas en sus hogares y comunidades para lograr un cambio positivo. Las fotos que hacemos cuentan la historia de las personas nepalíes que enfrentan circunstancias difíciles, pero que son resistentes y capaces, que trabajan activamente por un futuro mejor para ellas y su país. Segundo: el CCM es una organización asociada en este trabajo, no es el propietario. Mostramos esto a través de fotografías que retratan a las personas participantes del proyecto como activas y comprometidas en lugar de como sujetos pasivos. Los subtítulos también son una parte importante de esto, nombrando a todas las personas fotografiadas en una fotografía y explicando el papel de la organización asociada. Muchas organizaciones asociadas dependen de los canales de comunicación del CCM para ayudarles a compartir su misión y trabajo con el resto del mundo. Al aceptar ser fotografiadas, o al proporcionar fotografías para su uso, tanto las personas participantes del proyecto como las organizaciones asociadas confían en que el CCM cuente sus historias de manera respetuosa.

Sin embargo, también hay tensiones que abordar. El estilo preferido de fotografía del CCM puede, a veces, chocar con las prácticas fotográficas en otras culturas organizacionales. En las organizaciones de desarrollo en Nepal, las fotografías se utilizan, a menudo, como evidencia de que las actividades del proyecto se completaron. No es raro que las fotografías acompañan un informe financiero como documentación de respaldo para respaldar los gastos realizados.

spanish 3bPor lo tanto, en la cultura organizativa local, el propósito de una fotografía es mostrar que los participantes asistieron a una capacitación o que se entregaron suministros de ayuda a las personas sobrevivientes de un desastre. Evocar una emoción inspiradora en el espectador es menos importante que proporcionar una prueba visual de que los recursos llegaron a los beneficiarios previstos.

Otro uso común de las fotografías en la cultura de las organizaciones de desarrollo de Nepal es mostrar la “necesidad” de una situación para justificar las actividades de financiación. Cuando nuevos miembros del personal se unieron al equipo del CCM Nepal, requirieron entrenamiento y capacitación en la cultura de fotografía del CCM. En lugar de centrarse en documentar las actividades del proyecto, el CCM se centra en contar historias de impacto de los cambios positivos que suceden en la vida de las personas debido a su nuevo acceso a los recursos. En lugar de retratar a las personas como víctimas necesitadas, retratamos a las personas que están experimentando situaciones difíciles, pero que son resilientes y capaces de trabajar hacia un futuro mejor.

spanish -3c

Mostramos a personas que, con el apoyo del CCM y las organizaciones asociadas, actúan para lograr un cambio positivo. Mi principal herramienta de entrenamiento para capacitar a nuevos miembros del personal para tomar fotografías del CCM fue mirar fotografías en calendarios del CCM u otras publicaciones y hacer la pregunta “¿Qué historia cuenta esto?” Luego hicimos el mismo ejercicio juntos mirando fotografías tomadas por el personal de los proyectos locales.

Los choques culturales en la fotografía también pueden ocurrir por razones sociales. Por ejemplo, en el caso de Nepal, la preferencia general por la fotografía es posada y formal, con los sujetos vestidos con sus mejores ropas y, a menudo, con expresiones serias. Muchas casas tienen retratos familiares como este en sus paredes. Cuando un(a) fotógrafo(a) del CCM quiere tomar fotos espontáneas de personas que trabajan en sus campos o que realizan otras tareas manuales, puede ser incómodo para las personas que están siendo fotografiadas, ya que está en desacuerdo con sus preferencias sobre cómo desean presentarse en una foto. Para abordar esto, es importante que el/la fotógrafo(a) entienda y respete el derecho de una persona a negarse a ser fotografiada. Esto también podría significar tener que esperar a que alguien se cambie la ropa de trabajo para poder ser fotografiado con sus mejores ropas en lugar de con sus ropas viejas, incluso si las fotos que serán tomadas son de la persona trabajando en su campo o cuidando de sus animales.

En una excursión de un día en el valle de Katmandú, una vez saqué una fotografía de algunas mujeres que llevaban montones de estiércol de una pila al lado de la carreter para esparcirlas en un campo cercano. Estaban hablando y riendo juntas mientras trabajaban, aquello era una hermosa imagen con sus coloridas ropas contra el estiércol marrón oscuro. Cuando las mujeres se dieron cuenta de que había tomado su fotografía sin pedirles su consentimiento, se enojaron mucho conmigo. Era una extranjera desconocida la que les había tomado una fotografía de un trabajo del que no estaban orgullosas y con el que se sentían menospreciadas. Borré la foto para respetar sus deseos.

En contraste, cuando visité proyectos agrícolas con organizaciones asociadas del CCM, las personas con las que interactué fueron receptivas y estuvieron dispuestas a fotografiarse trabajando en sus campos. Ellas conocían y confiaban en los miembros del equipo de la organización asociada local que habían organizado mi visita. Sabían quién era yo y por qué estaba allí. A menudo, en estas visitas nos encontrábamos con personas en sus casas y escuchábamos sus historias de cómo se habían involucrado en proyectos locales, y luego nos daban un recorrido por su granja, siempre dispuestas a dar una demostración de trabajar en su campo o de cuidar a sus animales. La comunicación abierta y la relación de confianza ayudaron a derribar las barreras culturales para que las personas pudieran ser fotografiadas al estilo del CCM, positivo y orientado a la acción. Si la persona tomando las fotografías puede explicar con éxito el propósito de las mismas y cómo se utilizarán, y si puede explicar el motivo por el cual una toma de acción es más útil para el CCM que una toma posada, la persona o grupo fotografiado generalmente está dispuesto a infringir sus normas culturales para ayudar al fotógrafo(a) a lograr la foto deseada.

Incluso después de todo el intercambio de valores, interpretación cultural y trabajo de construcción de relaciones, una foto solo será útil si también está clara, enfocada y bien enmarcada. Esto requiere que la persona que toma fotografías tenga un conocimiento básico de las técnicas fotográficas, como asegurarse de que el sujeto no esté a contraluz y encontrar maneras de compensar el deslumbrante sol del mediodía en las fotos al aire libre. Al final, una foto efectiva puede parecer una foto sincera, pero es el resultado de muchas elecciones conscientes e inconscientes por parte del fotógrafo(a) para contar una istoria en particular.

Leah Reesor-Keller fue asesora de seguridad alimentaria para el CCM en Nepal desde 2012 a 2014 y luego representante del CCM Nepal de 2014 a 2017.

CCM e identidad visual

[Articulos Individuales de la edicion de Intersecciones de Otoño del 2018 se publican en este blog cada semana. La edicion completa puede ser encontrada en MCC’s website.]

Las marcas suelen ser reconocidas por sus logotipos, pero para la mayoría de las organizaciones, una marca tiene más que ver con la expresión de un carácter distintivo y sistema de valores compartidos. Cuando está funcionando bien, el lenguaje visual de una marca debe apoyar y reflejar las características intangibles que lo definen. La marca del CCM no es una excepción. Comenzando con fotografías de la hambruna en la Unión Soviética posterior a la Primera Guerra Mundial, el CCM ha dependido del contenido visual para compartir historias de necesidad, asistencia e intercambio intercultural. Este énfasis en la narración visual continuó guiando el desarrollo de la identidad de la marca del CCM en las décadas de 1970 y 1980 cuando el CCM buscó estandarizar un sistema de marca que fuera lo suficientemente versátil como para acomodar una lista creciente de programación. Este artículo proporciona una breve descripción de la marca visual del CCM, explorando algunas de las razones detrás de las decisiones de diseño que continúan influyendo en el trabajo de Comunicaciones y Recaudación de Fondos del CCM en el presente.

CCM Logo

Símbolos y tipografía

Junto con las imágenes que acompañan a las historias, la identidad visual del CCM se define por los tipos de letra, colores y símbolos que enmarcan su contenido. En sus casi cien años, el CCM ha estado representado por solo dos logotipos diferentes. El primero, diseñado por Arthur Sprunger en la década de 1940, combinaba símbolos reconocibles hechos a mano en un emblema. Aquí, cada componente permanece estático y distinto, con una clara jerarquía en la disposición de los símbolos (ver fig.1). Los elementos continúan en la segunda marca, desarrollada por Kenneth Hiebert, pero han sufrido una transformación radical (ver fig. 2). Basándose en el diseño suizo —un estilo basado en la simplicidad, funcionalidad y objetividad— Hiebert creó un logotipo de marca abstracto que se ha mantenido relativamente sin cambios desde que se usó por primera vez en 1970, el año del quincuagésimo aniversario del CCM.

Tras la adopción del logotipo de marca de Hiebert, el manual de estilo del CCM explicó algunas de las ideas que guiaron su desarrollo: “Se ha hecho un intento de crear un símbolo que utiliza el lenguaje universal de lo visual. Fue diseñado intencionalmente para requerir un momento de participación muy activa por parte del espectador para comprender su contenido”. El logotipo se combinó más tarde con las tipografías sans serif (primero Univers y luego Helvetica) para una marca, ahora conocida como el “logotipo del CCM” (Figura 2). Si bien la extrema legibilidad de Helvetica hace que parezca más neutral y común, la fusión única de los símbolos de la marca del CCM (cruz y paloma) invita al escrutinio. Estéticamente, los dos están bien emparejados. Pertenecen a la misma variedad de diseño moderno, como resultado de los intentos de reducir conjuntos complejos de símbolos a formas reconocibles que a la vez son unificadas, concisas y evocadoras.

La Introducción a Estándares Gráficos del CCM de 1987 hace eco de este intento de
equilibrar la accesibilidad con el compromiso, particularmente cuando se trata de crear imágenes promocionales. “El símbolo y los estándares gráficos establecen el tono de nuestra publicidad como simple, honesta y directa por un lado e imaginativa y participativa por el otro. Los gráficos que informan claramente y estimulan una nueva
comprensión y acción son los objetivos del programa de publicidad”.

Fotografía como colaboración

Junto con los estándares gráficos (incluyendo la marca, la tipografía y un fuerte énfasis
en el diseño de cuadrícula), la fotografía es una parte crucial de la marca del CCM y ha
jugado un papel importante en ayudar al CCM a encontrar un término medio entre
accesibilidad y compromiso significativo para su audiencia. Feeding the Hungry, el
popular libro de dos de los fundadores del CCM, P.C. Hiebert y Orie O. Miller,
combinaron más de cien imágenes inquietantes con informes de trabajadores(as) del
CCM en Rusia. Tal y como Robert S. Kreider y Rachel Waltner Goossen señalaron en
su libro, Hungry, Thirsty, a Stranger, estos informes (originalmente comunicados de
prensa enviados desde la primera sede del CCM en Scottdale, Pennsylvania, a los
editores de periódicos eclesiásticos), fueron la primera versión de “Servicios de
información” del CCM, ahora conocidos como Comunicaciones.

A lo largo de los años, la recolección de fotos para el CCM ha tomado muchas formas.
A medida que las cámaras se hicieron más ubicuas en la década de 1970, también lo
hizo la dependencia del CCM en su personal y ex personal para el contenido visual,
oral y escrito que podría circular entre los constituyentes. Durante los años ochenta y
noventa, Howard Zehr ayudó a desarrollar pautas fotográficas para los(as)
trabajadores(as) del CCM y contribuyó regularmente con una columna a Intercom, el
boletín informativo del CCM para el personal y ex personal del CCM. Estas directrices
destacaron la naturaleza colaborativa de la fotografía: alentaron a las personas que
toman fotografías a trabajar con sus sujetos e incluso sugirieron que invitaran a las
personas que están siendo representadas a hacerse cargo del proceso.

Mientras tanto, las columnas de Zehr alertaron al personal del CCM en Canadá y EE.
UU. sobre las formas en que la fotografía puede ayudar a construir puentes, o
simplemente establecer jerarquías culturales y cosificar los estereotipos dañinos. Con
sus imágenes, escribió Zehr, los(as) fotógrafos(as) del CCM deberían “buscar
transmitir respeto, no despertar lástima, humanizar en lugar de despersonalizar”, para
inculcar un sentido de asociación e inspirar a su audiencia a la acción.

De las imágenes a la aplicación

Las fotos han servido tradicionalmente como ganchos para la recaudación de fondos y
las iniciativas de incidencia o como anclas para la presentación de informes. Como
dice un informe de campo de 1994, “las fotografías son una buena manera de dejar que
la gente vea por sí misma lo que está sucediendo”. Aunque la objetividad directa de
esta afirmación parece ingenua, la transparencia visual sigue siendo el objetivo de la fotografía del CCM. Las pautas de fotografía actuales del CCM lo describen como un enfoque “documental”, donde “la persona que toma fotografía no obstruye y el sujeto está representado de la manera más natural posible”, de modo que las fotografías “comuniquen a nivel emocional, acercando al espectador(a) a lo que se describe”.

Pero el significado de una fotografía, incluyendo la intención de un(a) fotógrafo(a)
cambia tan pronto como se utiliza en una aplicación de diseño. Cada pieza promocional
que el CCM produce descontextualiza y recontextualiza su tema de alguna manera. Por
este motivo, las directrices fotográficas del CCM enfatizan la importancia de los
subtítulos y permisos (incluyendo la ubicación y los nombres de las personas fotografiadas, así como la conexión con el trabajo del CCM y el nombre de quien tomó la foto), indicando que “el uso de fotografías del CCM debe reflejar adecuadamente el contexto en el que fueron tomadas” y que “las fotografías del CCM deben aparecer en un contexto conectado al CCM”. Estas son salvaguardas importantes, pero son de alcance limitado.

Logo - spanish 1

El CCM produce cada vez más material promocional (para entidades como tiendas de segunda mano, comités de venta para ayuda humanitaria y más) donde los subtítulos se consideran inapropiados y torpes y, por lo tanto, simplemente se dejan de lado. (Vea la figura 3, diseñada por Barefoot Creative, y la fig. 4). Este tipo de piezas enfocan participantes reales en el trabajo del CCM, pero en estos ejemplos, sus imágenes no se presentan para completar una historia. Más bien están destinados a ser representativos de las personas que se benefician del CCM. Para tratar de contrarrestar esto, las tiendas de segunda mano del CCM crearon recientemente tarjetas de estanterías (fig. 5) para complementar los diseños de los carteles (fig. 3) presentando los mismos individuos, con los fondos de las fotos originales y proporcionando la información contextual. Sin embargo, es difícil medir el éxito de iniciativas como esta, especialmente porque las tiendas tienen la opción de mostrar o no este tipo de materiales.


Mirando hacia el futuro

En el pasado el CCM pudo dar por sentado que su audiencia principal serían los individuos y las congregaciones de las iglesias constituyentes. En ese contexto, el CCM fue responsable del diseño de materiales que, a veces, usaban imágenes sin los subtítulos correspondientes, por lo que omitían la información biográfica y contextual de las personas representadas. En muchos casos, esto se hizo para desafiar ideas preconcebidas sobre la pobreza, conflicto y desigualdad (ver figuras 6 y 7). En la actualidad, a medida que crece el alcance de la marca del CCM, es probable que el uso de imágenes continúe siendo la base de la identidad de marca del CCM, pero esa identidad seguirá evolucionando con la audiencia.

Spanish - Fig. 6&7

El CCM continúa promoviendo altos estándares en fotografía, como es evidente en el enfoque narrativo de publicaciones tales como A Common Place, artículos de noticias en el sitio web del CCM e incluso en artículos promocionales emblemáticos como el calendario anual del CCM. La publicidad e iniciativas de mercadeo de gran alcance requieren imágenes atractivas para ampliar la audiencia del CCM y encontrar nuevos donantes. Pero las tensiones abordadas en este artículo continuarán generando preguntas para el personal del CCM. ¿De qué manera el enfoque crítico de representación y fotografía del CCM informará las futuras comunicaciones y los esfuerzos de recaudación de fondos? ¿Y cómo, a su vez, las prioridades cambiantes del CCM influirán en los estándares de su identidad visual?

Jonathan Dyck, diseñador gráfico del CCM Canadá, diseñó e ilustró Unsettling the Word: Biblical Experiments in Decolonization (Winnipeg: CommonWord, 2018).

Aprende Más

Hiebert, Kenneth. Graphic Design Processes: Universal to Unique. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1992.

Hiebert, P.C. and Orie Miller. Feeding the Hungry: Russia Famine, 1919–1925 (Scottdale, PA: 1929).

Kreider, Robert S. and Rachel Waltner Goossen. “Reporting the MCC Experience: Images and Posters.” Hungry, Thirsty, a Stranger: The MCC Experience. 193–209. Scottdale: Herald Press, 1988.

Pater, Ruben. The Politics of Design: A (Not So) Global Manual for Visual Communication. Amsterdam:BIS Publishers, 2016.

Zehr, Howard. “The Photographic Metaphor.” Intercom (March 1991): 5.

—. “Photographing People of Color.” Intercom (May 1991): 6.

Representando el alivio, desarrollo y construcción de paz

[Articulos Individuales de la edicion de Intersecciones de Otoño del 2018 se publican en este blog cada semana. La edicion completa puede ser encontrada en MCC’s website.]

MCC logo spanish

Gran parte del mundo que encontramos viene a nosotros mediado por representaciones. Desde arreglos complejos de imágenes e historias hasta las sutilezas de la tipografía, color y forma, las representaciones informan nuestra comprensión de personas y lugares a los que no podemos acceder directamente.

El tema de la representación inevitablemente plantea cuestiones de percepción, intención y poder. Esto es especialmente cierto cuando la representación se guía por una estrategia de comunicación que, por definición, está construida para transmitir mensajes particulares a audiencias específicas. Este número de Intersections explora el enfoque de representación del CCM y algunas de las cuestiones éticas que enfrentan las organizaciones tales como el CCM en sus esfuerzos de comunicación y recaudación de fondos.

Las representaciones de individuos y comunidades —particularmente en forma de imágenes y narraciones— a veces divergen de cómo los sujetos de estas representaciones se entienden a sí mismos. Al informar sobre su trabajo con organizaciones asociadas, el CCM se posiciona como fuente de información confiable sobre partes del mundo menos representadas —comunidades que se recuperan de desastres, que viven en condiciones difíciles o enfrentan injusticias. Por lo tanto, el CCM tiene la clara responsabilidad de brindar cuentas precisas y confiables a su audiencia.

Todo lo que produce el CCM contribuye a las narraciones sobre el CCM, sus organizaciones asociadas en el programa, las personas que se benefician de este trabajo colaborativo y las personas que apoyan al CCM de múltiples maneras. Las diferentes iniciativas de comunicación tienen diferentes énfasis —el impacto de un proyecto, los logros de las personas participantes del proyecto, los valores y compromisos de la base de apoyo del CCM, los factores sistémicos y las formas en que las audiencias del CCM pueden estar comprometidas con un problema (y cómo podrían ser parte de una solución).

Una tarea importante del personal de Comunicaciones y Relaciones con los Donantes del CCM siempre ha sido determinar qué tipo de historias contar. Las fotografías pueden transmitir rápidamente un significado complejo y pueden reforzar los valores de confianza y transparencia. Por estas razones, la fotografía ha sido un elemento clave de la estrategia de narración de historias del CCM desde los primeros días de la organización.

Pero la comunicación nunca es simplemente un acto de transmisión y la fotografía nunca ha sido neutral. La cámara no solo ha sido una herramienta valiosa en la creación de propaganda estatal, sino que también jugó un papel clave en la expansión colonial europea. Al representar a las tierras no europeas como pizarras en blanco y al catalogar a los pueblos no europeos según jerarquías raciales, los colonizadores se convencieron de su propia superioridad etno-cultural y de su derecho a la tierra y recursos. La fotografía colonial representaba a los pueblos indígenas como menos desarrollados, exóticos o depravados. La quietud de la fotografía también confirió una calidad fija a las construcciones de pueblos no occidentales, permitiendo a los europeos posicionar tales poblaciones en contraste con una narrativa de desarrollo (con los pueblos colonizados presentados como estáticos, homogéneos e infantiles en contraste con el supuestamente dinámico, diverso y avanzado oeste).

Para las organizaciones no gubernamentales internacionales (ONGI) con sede en Europa y América del Norte, la década de 1980 fue un momento crucial de educación y conciencia sobre el poder y la representación en las comunicaciones y la recaudación de fondos. La historia problemática de la fotografía fue una parte esencial de la conversación. Los propios debates internos del CCM sobre las prácticas de comunicación, con un fuerte énfasis en la fotografía, se remontan al menos a 1983. Desde el comienzo de estos debates, el CCM parece reconocer que la fotografía “en el campo” trae consigo cuestiones de poder, dilemas de diferencia cultural y oportunidades para la colaboración pacífica. Fotógrafos como Howard Zehr citaron regularmente el potencial de su trabajo para intercambios y colaboraciones culturales significativos, al tiempo que reconocieron que la recolección de imágenes es una fuente potencial de explotación y conflicto.

Sin embargo, las conversaciones sobre cómo retratar el trabajo de una organización generalmente nos detiene de plantear una pregunta más fundamental sobre el poder: ¿a quiénes deben rendir cuentas las comunicaciones y recaudación de fondos?Históricamente, las personas retratadas por las ONG internacionales, a menudo, han tenido una participación limitada en las decisiones sobre su representación, y las organizaciones no suelen ser responsables ante estas personas por el uso de sus historias e imágenes. Las preferencias de comunicación de las ONG internacionales y sus creencias implícitas sobre la eficacia de la recaudación de fondos han sido, durante mucho tiempo, los principales factores determinantes de las decisiones sobre la representación.

Hasta cierto punto, el CCM se ha distinguido entre las ONG internacionales a través de una larga historia de reflexión crítica sobre la fotografía y representación. Pero las preguntas sobre la ética de la representación se mantienen activas a medida que el CCM se adapta a las nuevas formas de comunicación y a nuevos contextos y desafíos para las comunicaciones y la recaudación de fondos. A medida que el CCM se aproxima a su centenario, este número de Intersections busca enraizarse en un legado continuo de autorreflexión y continuar esta conversación preguntando cómo las consideraciones éticas sobre la representación interactúan prácticamente con diversos aspectos de nuestro trabajo.

Jonathan Dyck es diseñador gráfico del CCM Canadá. David Turner es coordinador de Comunicaciones del CCM en Manitoba

Aprende Más

Azoulay, Ariella. Civil Imagination: A Political Ontology of Photography. New York: Verso, 2009.

Barthes, Roland. Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography. New York: Hill and Wang, 1979.

Cole, Teju. “The White Savior Industrial Complex.” The Atlantic. March 21, 2012.

Kennedy, Denis. “Selling the Distant Other: Humanitarianism and Imagery—Ethical Dilemmas of Humanitarian Action.” The Journal of Humanitarian Assistance. February 28, 2009. Available at

Sontag, Susan. On Photography. London: Picador, 2001.

Wehbi, Samantha and Deane Taylor. “Photographs Speak Louder than Words: The Language of International Development Images.” Community Development Journal 48/4 (October 2013): 525–539.

Piloting peace clubs in prisons in Zambia

[Individual articles from the Summer 2018 issue of Intersections will be posted on this blog each week. The full issue can be found on MCC’s website.]

The peace clubs model, first developed by Issa Ebombolo, founder of Peace Clubs Zambia and now MCC Zambia peace coordinator, has been widely adopted in schools across Zambia and has been adapted in over a dozen countries across Africa and even beyond. Through peace clubs, participants learn nonviolent conflict transformation techniques and develop leadership skills. Three years ago, another MCC Zambia peace coordinator, Mturi Kajungu, had the idea to utilize the peace clubs model in a different context within Zambia, founding a peace club within the Choma Correctional Facility in Zambia’s Southern Province. Kajungu had a passion for victim-offender reconciliation work and was inspired by the peace club curriculum module, Journey Toward Reconciliation. The adoption of peace clubs in Choma Correctional Facility has increased the potential for rehabilitation and reintegration.

Much of my work in the Choma Correctional Facility is a continuation of what Kajungu started. In these efforts, I have enjoyed a lot of support from the facility’s top leadership and the inmates. As I give leadership to the facility’s peace club, I work alongside the prison chaplain inspector, Fred Musiwa, a committed Christian who is loved and respected not only by the inmates, but also by his colleagues.

The need for peacebuilding work in Zambia’s prisons is great. Inmates experience violence in Zambian correctional facilities through corporal punishment and bullying. Zambian correctional facilities are also overcrowded. For example, Choma Correctional Facility was meant to accommodate about one hundred inmates, but most of the time it houses over three hundred people. Prison officers in Zambia too often have negative stereotypes and prejudices towards inmates. For example, many officers believe that all prisoners are criminals and dangerous to society and in turn relate to prisoners in a punitive and fear-driven manner. These negative beliefs about and attitudes towards prisoners in turn serve as justification for corporal punishment, the imposition of longer sentences with hard labor and the denial of food, all in the misguided belief that such punitive measures will promote rehabilitation.

Given these prison conditions, many inmates experience traumatic stress, expressing feelings of shock, fear, grief, anger and difficulty in feeling love. This traumatic stress manifests itself through varied behaviors, such as low energy, eating too much or too little, poor hygiene and poor impulse control. Some inmates experience suicidal thoughts. Upon their release, returning citizens regularly experience feelings of distrust, irritability, rejection and abandonment and may withdraw from or get into increased conflicts with others.

The peace club at the Choma facility is designed to transform the attitudes of correctional officers and to equip inmates with skills to cope with the challenges of imprisonment and to prepare for reintegration into society. Training prison officers is critical for transforming their attitudes about prisoners and for equipping them to promote and support rehabilitative outcomes for prisoners. While I provide overarching training for inmates and officers, inmates themselves give leadership to the peace club on a day-to-day and week-to-week basis. All peace club members meet at least every Friday. Together, they work through the peace club curriculum to learn about alternative ways to address conflict, the problem of gender-based violence and how to walk along a journey toward reconciliation in their lives. This past January we trained a total of 50 people (45 inmates and five prison officers) in peace and conflict resolution. Several months later, 36 of the 45 prisoners trained continued to participate in the peace club, while the remaining nine had been released.

In my role supporting the peace club in Choma, I visit the correctional facility at least twice a month, and more often as the need arises. My primary role with this peace club project is to provide counseling to inmates in the Choma facility. I try to provide a welcoming space for prisoners, listening to their feelings, accepting them in genuine care and remaining respectful of their experience. I assist them in remembering past experiences of getting through difficult times, inviting them to tell stories of themselves, their families and their communities and encouraging them to both to express gratefulness for victories and to mourn and share feelings of loss. In our conversations, inmates imagine life after prison and we discuss opportunities and challenges they will face after release. I also advocate for them to the higher authorities and help connect them with their families and friends for moral and material support.

The Choma peace club has had a positive impact during its short lifespan. The facility has the highest percentage of early releases in Zambia, due to inmates’ good behavior, which prison officers attribute to the positive impact of peace clubs at the institution. Outside the prison, five former Choma peace club participants founded a government-registered organization called the Popota Peace and Environment Club. Former inmate Zebulon Mwale explains the reason for founding Popota thus: “We have chosen to live for the sake of others.” Through Popota, the five former Choma inmates share the conflict transformation techniques they learned in prison, training civic, traditional and religious leaders as well as teachers and farmers. Using the peace club curriculum, the group meets twice a week to discuss issues affecting the community and to brainstorm alternatives to violent conflict.

In addition to strengthening interpersonal relationships and reducing violent conflict between people, Popota promotes better relationships between people and the environment. Group members plant trees and sensitize the community to the importance of environmental protection. Popota’s members are all volunteers, meeting after normal work hours. Since Popota’s founding, the community has witnessed a reduction in crime. Popota also hopes in the future to introduce the peace clubs model to Zambian correctional facilities beyond Choma.

Issa Ebombolo and Mturi Kajungu are currently in the process of adapting the school peace club curriculum to the prison context with the hope that the Choma model could extend to other prisons throughout Zambia. As MCC continues to support work for peace in Zambia’s prisons, capacity building for prison officers will be especially critical, helping them understand their correctional services role as rehabilitative. MCC must also focus on how best to reintegrate returning citizens into their communities and to find ways to assist returning citizens in supporting their families after serving their sentences. The peace clubs pilot at Choma has shown promise: now MCC must work to build on that promise.

Keith Mwaanga is peace and justice coordinator for MCC Zambia.

Learn more

Peace club curricula from Zambia, South Africa, Kenya, Burundi and Mozambique can be found here: