Creating ecumenical ties through food sovereignty

[Individual articles from the Fall 2016 issue of Intersections will be posted on this blog each week. The full issue can be found on MCC’s website.]

In the rural village of Llano Alto in the Chiapas region of southern Mexico, a group of gardeners meets regularly to share experiences in cultivating organic kitchen gardens that produce various kinds of herbs and vegetables for domestic consumption. Supported by the Institute for Intercultural Studies and Research (INESIN, an MCC partner organization
for which I work), these gardeners come from families that have been working the land for centuries, with most dedicating themselves exclusively to growing beans and corn, the major staples of the local diet. The idea of growing an organic vegetable and herb garden in one’s backyard is a fairly novel idea. When families have extra cash on hand, they might buy these “extras” to supplement their staple diet—otherwise, they do without. The INESIN initiative aims to foster greater food sovereignty in Llano Alto, supporting farmers in this rural community to provide balanced diets for their families. The initiative has proven successful: the kitchen gardens have attracted the attention of other farmers, leading to an expansion of the group from nine to 19 gardeners. At INESIN we view this expansion positively, yet we also know that expansion could introduce delicate dynamics into the life of the group, as now the gardeners no longer share the same religious affiliation.

INESIN began facilitating the gardeners’ group through a contact at the Church of the Nazarene in Llano Alto. Although INESIN explained upfront to the gardeners that neither INESIN nor the gardeners’ group itself is a program of the church, for the last eight months the majority of the group’s meetings have been held at or around the church. INESIN has found that churches are often good starting places for gardeners’ groups because the church space creates a sense of trust; once a gardeners’ group is formed and operational, however, INESIN encourages it to move outward into the broader community. At a recent meeting with the Llano Alto group, my coworker Marielena delicately brings up the possibility of expanding beyond the church. “Now that the gardens are growing and
we have new members, it’s a good time to begin meeting at each other’s houses,” she suggests. A few faces of the newcomers look relieved. One man explains, “Since we are not part of this church, we feel uncomfortable meeting here, like we’re disrespecting the space by invading it.” Two women from the original group disagree. “This is where we’ve always met. We don’t have the space to host people in our houses anyway.”

The discussion goes on, with the group reaching an agreement that future meetings will be hosted at the homes of group members who volunteer. But as in the case of many conflicts, what makes this particular conflict interesting lies not so much in what is being said, but rather beneath the surface of this conversation about the spaces of gardens, houses and churches.

There have long been tensions over both politics and religion in Chiapas, but the effects of the 1994 Zapatista uprising have deeply intertwined the two. Although the uprising was not clearly a movement about religion, the Zapatista movement benefited from the energy of a socially active Catholic parish influenced by liberation theology. At the same time, a
paramilitary organization in the region drew upon the resentment of the evangelical church feeling like a persecuted underdog. Political and religious tensions at times erupted into violence, most glaringly in the massacre of 45 indigenous pacifist Zapatistas in the community of Acteal in 1997.

These political and religious tensions have persisted among people of different faiths in Chiapas. Several peace organizations have developed over the past 20 years, many through the support of the late Catholic bishop Samuel Ruiz, a significant actor in the peace process during and after the uprising. When Ruiz and others dreamed about what INESIN would look like, he commissioned a group of people to “get Catholics and Protestants together to do something. Anything. But don’t talk about religion or differences. Not at first. Just get them together and talking.”

The social landscape in Chiapas has witnessed many changes over the past two decades. In the case of the community in Llano Alto, social conflicts simmer among evangelical churches, rather than between Catholics and evangelicals (Catholics have their own internal struggles in other communities). Yet Ruiz’s original commission to INESIN applies here as well, with INESIN looking to foster ecumenical relationships at the community level through collaborative initiatives around common interests.

In the case of Llano Alto, INESIN’s collaborative initiative focuses on the common interest of food sovereignty. INESIN staff give workshops on organic fertilizers and seed saving (and sharing); gardeners in the project tend each other’s plots and make small talk. When political and religious tensions arise at the community or state level, the members of the group have lived experience with “the other” that is broader and more gracious than mass media portray.

A colleague in the region once told me about a mediation session she facilitated between Protestants and Catholics. At the end of the session the two groups began talking in their native language of Tsotsil, an indigenous language commonly spoken in the highlands of Chiapas. My colleague asked someone to translate for her, as she felt so good about the progress that had been made and wanted to know where the conversation was leading. As it turns out, the two groups were talking about beans, the one thing they felt they might be able to talk about together, perhaps one of the only things they felt they had in common. This story reflects INESIN’s broader experience, in Llano Alto and elsewhere, that engaging in something so simple and complex as growing our own food is intimately connected with the simple and complex task of living peacefully together.

Lindsey Frye serves with MCC in Mexico as ecumenism promoter for INESIN, an MCC partner.

Learn more:

For further reading in English:

Hayden, Tom. Ed. The Zapatista Reader. New York, NY: Thunder Mouth’s Press/Nation Books, 1997.

En Español:

Conservation agriculture and religious motivation

[Individual articles from the Fall 2016 issue of Intersections will be posted on this blog each week. The full issue can be found on MCC’s website.]

Farmers in every region of the world are adapting to a changing climate. In Africa in particular rainfall is becoming increasingly unreliable, forcing farmers to seek out new ways to conserve precious soil moisture for food production. A growing number of MCC partner organizations in sub-Saharan Africa are promoting a style of farming called conservation agriculture (CA). MCC works with a number of church-based organizations,
including the Mennonite church in Tanzania and the Brethren in Christ Church in Honduras, Zambia and Zimbabwe, to promote CA. This article examines the promotion of CA through “Farming God’s Way” and assesses how that framing impacts the adoption of new agricultural techniques.

CA has three main principles: minimal soil disturbance (no plowing), ground cover (mulch) and crop rotation. For many farmers, these principles have contributed to greatly improved yields, even during very dry growing seasons. The no plowing and mulch principles can have significant positive impacts on soil moisture levels, but they are also
countercultural for most farmers. Farmers in most communities where MCC’s partners work have for generations tilled and cleared land (with clearing often done by burning plant material) in preparation for seeding. These culturally entrenched practices go back generations and die hard. Asking a farmer not to till before seeding is something like telling city homeowners not to cut their lawn. “That’s not the way we do things around here. What would the neighbors think?”

So even as farmers actively look for new techniques to respond to drier conditions, convincing them to try CA with its counter-cultural elements has proven challenging. To overcome this cultural barrier, some organizations bring biblical and spiritual principles into their conversations about CA with farmers, integrating biblical ethics with scientifically sound agriculture practices in order to connect with and influence farmers more effectively. These organizations seek to persuade farmers that CA is akin to farming God’s way. In fact, a growing movement that started in Zimbabwe actually calls itself Farming God’s Way. For its proponents, Farming God’s Way is not a farming model per se, but rather a perspective from which to present, promote and understand CA.

Mulch, for example, in standard CA parlance is simply referred to as mulch. Mulch is plant material that covers the soil to conserve moisture, suppress weeds and foster plant growth. Farming God’s way, however, describes mulch as “God’s blanket”. Farming God’s Way promoters explain “God’s blanket” to farmers thus: If one observes the natural, God-created world, one rarely sees soil not covered with some sort of plant material. God’s intention is thus for soil to be covered with plant material, even in human cropping systems: applying “God’s blanket” participates in God’s creative and sustaining action while protecting the soil for future generations. Suddenly, with this explanation, once skeptical farmers are now more convinced that mulching and CA as a whole are worth a try. MCC partners who present CA as farming God’s way report that it smoothes the road for change in many communities. This approach apparently works equally well for Muslim and Christian farmers alike. In fact, even non-religious farmers do not seem to be turned off by the argument. Furthermore, framing CA using “farming God’s way” language provides better community entry, using existing community structures such as churches and church youth groups.

Organizations that promote CA as farming God’s way are not trying to pull the wool over farmers’ eyes with talk about God and the Bible: they are sincere in their belief that CA mimics the natural world more closely than conventional farming and is therefore closer to God’s intended way of farming. However, farming God’s way proponents also realize that talk about God only goes so far. To be sure, CA often leads to dramatic increases in yield. In fact, recent reports suggest average yield increases of over 100% for first-time CA farmers. Increased yield obviously offers extra motivation for farmers, regardless of their desire to be good stewards of God’s creation. But along with entrenched notions of how to farm properly, the extra work required by mulching presents a real barrier for many farmers. In some communities, farmer adoption levels have not been as strong as expected, mostly due to the perceived increase in labor requirements, particularly in the first year of using CA approaches. But farmers tend to be innovators. Some farmers have come up with alternatives to mulching that serve the same purpose, like growing beans
along with corn (intercropping). The beans cover most of the bare ground around the corn, acting as a sort of living mulch. The extra bean harvest makes the additional work worthwhile.

While farmers prove time and again to be innovators, organizations promoting farming God’s way have not always encouraged this innovation, holding to an overly dogmatic or narrow understanding of what it means to farm God’s way. Yet lived reality challenges such dogmatism, and proponents of farming God’s way have begun to learn that diversity is also a part of God’s created order. Most MCC partner organizations now encourage farmers to embrace the three CA principles in general and then adapt them to their own particular farming circumstances. MCC’s partners hope to convince more than 20,000 African farmers to try CA farming within the next few years. One of the challenges will be
to present CA not only as God’s way, but also as a way toward a more sustainable and food-secure future for farmers. One might argue that these two things are mutually inclusive, but farmers rightfully require evidence of CA’s effectiveness, given that their families’ livelihoods are at stake. A current initiative funded by the Canadian government in eastern Africa and implemented by MCC and its partners seeks to gather better information about crop yield and other food security metrics in order to provide a more complete picture of how CA methods improve the lives of farmers and their families.

Some MCC partner organizations that promote CA avoid framing arguments for CA in religious terms, choosing to rely solely on agronomic arguments. Most organizations, however, choose a balance between God and yield, making the case that CA practices mimic the created order while also demonstrating CA’s practical benefits. MCC does not mandate a specific approach to promoting CA, opting instead to listen and learn from its partner organizations about what works best. For now, however, the initial evidence seems to support the hypothesis that framing CA in religious terms fosters adoption of CA practices.

Vurayayi Pugeni and Dan Wiens are disaster response and food security coordinators, respectively, for MCC.

Learn more:

Investing in Communities: The Benefits and Costs of Building Resilience for Food
Security in Malawi. Teddington, UK: Tearfund, 2010. Available at

Local church partnerships in humanitarian assistance

[Individual articles from the Fall 2016 issue of Intersections will be posted on this blog each week. The full issue can be found on MCC’s website.]

One question I am asked by MCC supporters is: “When there is a disaster, how does MCC decide who receives relief and who doesn’t?” This article attempts to answer that question by exploring the opportunities and challenges of working with local church partners when responding to humanitarian crises and disasters. In particular, this short piece explores the challenges in targeting, meeting minimum humanitarian standards and the potential for peacebuilding through humanitarian assistance.

At this year’s World Humanitarian Summit international humanitarian actors committed to channel more resources into partnerships with local humanitarian actors. That commitment reflects MCC’s primary approach for the last few decades: executing humanitarian activities almost entirely through local partners in recognition of their unique access and capacity to respond appropriately to people affected in their communities. MCC partners with a variety of local civil society organizations such as churches, denominational entities, faith-based organizations and community-based

In particular, MCC is committed to supporting local Anabaptist churches in responding to disaster. For example, this year MCC is working with the Brethren in Christ Church in responding to drought and acute hunger in Zimbabwe and Honduras and to flooding in Nepal. In Colombia and Ecuador, MCC works with local Mennonite organizations and churches to meet the needs of people displaced by conflict. And in eastern Congo and
India, MCC works with Christian ecumenical organizations where local Anabaptist churches are members.

One of the challenges in working with local churches is how best to target limited resources. Church leaders in communities affected by disaster and conflict often feel they should respond first to those in the family of faith. MCC was born in response to the call to Mennonites in Canada and the U.S. from fellow Mennonites in the Soviet Union to provide urgent food assistance, agricultural equipment and ultimately refugee resettlement assistance in Canada. Likewise, MCC’s current church partners are moved to assist those affected in their faith communities because they have direct relationships to church members and know their specific needs.

At times, this desire stands in tension with humanitarian principles requiring humanitarian actors to be impartial—that is, the principle that assistance should be provided based on need and vulnerability, without discrimination based on gender, ethnicity, race, ability or religious identity or affiliation. So while church partners may have the easiest access to people in their own congregations, they should also seek to support crisis-affected people outside the family of faith. Many of MCC’s church partners boldly respond beyond their immediate church family, faithfully answering the Christian call to love one’s neighbour, provide hospitality to strangers and care for the poor and vulnerable as well as and those perceived as enemies or outsiders.

Local church partners, particularly at the denominational leadership level, also face significant pressure to spread assistance across the denominational structure and a wide geographic area. At times, church leaders, with social and political pressure from the many congregations they serve, find it difficult to focus assistance. MCC is committed to
abiding by humanitarian standards, including Sphere minimum standards for disaster response that describe the essential conditions for ensuring that disaster-affected people can survive and live with dignity. People have the right to enough and appropriate food, shelter, water and medical assistance. Adhering to humanitarian guidelines requires MCC and our local partners to make difficult decisions about prioritizing the quality of assistance to a more limited number of disaster-affected communities instead of spreading resources too thin.

Working with local faith-based partners also gives MCC unique opportunities to engage in peacebuilding and conflict prevention when responding to conflict and disaster. MCC seeks to enhance capacities for peace when responding to disasters by building connections among diverse groups. In working with local church partners, MCC encourages their relationships with other local faith-based actors. In Nigeria, for example,
MCC supports the church in facilitating trauma healing with people from various religious groups, while in Syria local churches (Orthodox and Protestant) work with local Islamic charities to provide emergency assistance to both Muslims and Christians uprooted from their homes. By supporting local churches to build ecumenical partnerships and reach out beyond their walls, MCC accompanies churches in nurturing peace, reducing conflict and meeting urgent needs.

Bruce N. Guenther is MCC disaster response director.

Learn more:

Core Humanitarian Standard. Resources available at

The Sphere Project: Humanitarian Charter and Minimum Standards in Humanitarian Response. Resources available at

Bennett, Christina, with M. Foley and S. Pantuliano. Time to Let Go: Remaking Humanitarian Action for the Modern Era. London: Overseas Development Institute, 2016.

Crooks, Bill and J. Mouradian. Disasters and the Local Church: Guidelines for Church Leaders in Disaster-Prone Areas. Teddington, UK: Tearfund, 2011

Related articles:

Humanitarian assistance and social cohesion in Syria

The difference faith makes (Fall 2016)

[Individual articles from the Fall 2016 issue of Intersections will be posted on this blog each week. The full issue can be found on MCC’s website.]

What difference does faith make in disaster relief, community development and peacebuilding? In this issue of Intersections authors answer this question from multiple perspectives and contexts. This framing question could also be stated thus: do faith-based organizations and local faith communities bring distinctive strengths to food security initiatives, conflict prevention efforts, maternal and child health and nutrition projects and more?

The term faith-based organization, or FBO, refers here to organizations with a predominant or exclusive focus on disaster relief, development and/or peacebuilding and with varying degrees of religious self-identification and rootedness in faith communities: some, like MCC, are international, while others, like the Comisión de Acción Social Menonita (CASM) in Honduras, are country-specific. In his article, Ray Vander Zaag sketches a typology of FBOs in the development sphere, introducing readers to the different types of actors grouped under the label. The term local faith communities, or LFCs, in contrast, points to groupings like congregations, synagogues and communities around mosques.

From its inception, MCC has been committed to partnerships with Anabaptist and other churches. Some actors in the international development sphere, however, raise a variety of skeptical concerns about FBOs and LFCs. A study commissioned in 2014 by Lutheran World Relief of senior development professionals working for USAID and international non-governmental organizations (NGOs) regarding their perceptions of FBOs found ambivalent attitudes. On the one hand, respondents generally affirmed FBOs as a positive force in international development efforts, thanks to their connectedness to local networks and their responsiveness to beneficiaries. At the same time, respondents voiced multiple concerns. Some of these worries revolved around the effectiveness of FBO efforts: respondents rated FBOs lower than non-faith-based NGOs and for-profit development contractors regarding responsiveness to governmental donors, ability to implement and scale-up quickly and relative levels of professionalism and technical expertise. A significant number of respondents also expressed concerns about FBOs tying their services to religious identification and to proselytizing efforts: in this issue, Bruce Guenther discusses humanitarian principles of independence and impartiality and examines how FBOs like MCC work with such principles.

Recognizing the negative perceptions some development actors hold of FBOs, several organizations (including Christian Aid, Islamic World Relief and Tearfund) have formed the Joint Learning Initiative on Faith and Local Communities (JLIFLC) to promote and share evidence-based assessments of the positive difference FBOs and LFCs make in disaster relief, development and peacebuilding. In its evidence briefs, the JLIFLC echoes points made by other development actors and scholars (e.g.,GiZ, 2015; Barnett and Stein, 2012) about the particular strengths and contributions FBOs and LFCs bring to humanitarian efforts. The points include the following:

  • FBOs have networks of connection and partnership with LFCs that give initiatives carried out by FBOs and their LFC partners greater geographical reach (offering access to remote areas) and longer-term sustainability.
  • LFCs are often a source of volunteers who are highly motivated to care for their
    neighbors and who can ensure the durable impact of particular initiatives. The care groups described by Beth Good in her article are composed of such church based
    volunteers, volunteers who promote vaccination, breastfeeding and other health behaviors among pregnant and new mothers in order to improve maternal and child health and nutrition outcomes.
  • In contexts in which government institutions are weak and lack popular legitimacy, religious leaders and institutions often retain authority and trust within targeted communities. Working with LFCs is thus often essential to the success of project interventions.
  • Churches, mosques and other LFCs are often best positioned to be first responders in times of disaster or other crises, investing their own resources in such responses, and can be mobilized as part of larger, longer-term disaster preparedness and risk reduction efforts.
  • LFCs foster hope and resilience in communities devastated by disaster and violent conflict (Ager, 2015).
  • Trusted religious leaders are often better placed than governmental or other actors to help shape and change community norms. So, for example, pastors, imams and other religious leaders can play essential roles in campaigns against gender-based violence by articulating religious arguments for why violence against women is wrong and why respecting the dignity of women is theologically mandated (Le Roux, 2011). Similarly, religiously-grounded arguments can often prove more persuasive in local communities than arguments made in supposedly universalist language. In this issue Vurayayi Pugeni and Dan Wiens offer an example of this dynamic in their article analyzing how presenting conservation agriculture practices as “farming God’s way” helps overcome farmer resistance to adopting non-traditional, labor intensive methods.
  • While religion is often deployed as a frame to justify various types of conflict, religious leaders can, as Wade Snowdon and Mark Tymm explore in their articles, prove essential to conflict prevention and peacebuilding efforts. At the same time, as Lindsey Frye shows in her article, practical efforts like kitchen garden promotion that bring members of different religious groups together around concrete projects can foster and strengthen bonds across religious divides, in turn contributing to longer-term conflict prevention.

Does faith make a difference? As an organization that has served for nearly a century “in the name of Christ,” MCC is convinced that the answer to the question is yes. The articles below reflect ongoing attempts by MCC and other FBOs to reflect on and articulate the what and the how of that difference.

Alain Epp Weaver directs strategic planning and learning for MCC.

Learn more:

Ager, Joey, et al. “Local Faith Communities and the Promotion of Resilience in Contexts of
Humanitarian Crisis.” Journal of Refugee Studies 28/2 (2015); 202-221.

Barnett, Michael and Janice Gross Stein. Sacred Aid: Faith and Humanitarianism. New York: Oxford University Press, 2012.

GiZ. More than Anything: The Contribution of Religious Communities to Sustainable
Development. Bonn: Deutsche Gesellschaft für internationale Zusammenarbeit, 2015. Available at

JLIFLC. Evidence for Religious Groups’ Contributions to Humanitarian Response. Evidence Briefs Submitted to the World Humanitarian Summit, May 2016, by the Joint Learning Initiative on Faith and Local Communities. Available at

Le Roux, Elisabet. Silent No More: The Untapped Potential of the Church in Addressing Sexual Violence. Teddington, UK: Tearfund, 2011. Available at

The awkward complexities of community-corporate partnerships

Disadvantaged communities are often forced into David-and-Goliath-style battles with large companies over resource rights and the impact of those companies’ actions on local resources. But increasingly that narrative takes an unexpected turn: David and Goliath are teaming up. Instead of trying to run over community resource management rights, some companies are winning local cooperation in ways that essentially subsume community management regimes within mega-development scenarios. As hydropower development in northern Manitoba attests, such cooperation is fraught with complexity.

Northern Manitoba is home to a legacy of bitter antipathy between ten Cree Indigenous communities and the government-owned electric utility, Manitoba Hydro. Over the past 60 years, Manitoba Hydro has constructed hydropower projects which have fundamentally altered the five largest rivers in the province and six of the twelve largest lakes. For many years, discussion of community-based resource management was overshadowed by the fact that Manitoba Hydro had imposed changes that significantly undermined traditional trapping, hunting, fishing and gathering activities, both for domestic and commercial uses. Beginning in the 1970s, the Interchurch Task Force on Northern Flooding, which included MCC, played an important role in advocating for fair treatment of affected Indigenous people and lands. With Indigenous communities nearly unanimous in their opposition to the dams, the task force’s narrative early on was one of standing with marginalized communities and giving voice to the voiceless.

Starting around 1999, Manitoba Hydro began approaching affected communities in the vicinity of three new hydropower dams the company had long wanted to build. The provincial government said it would not proceed with the three projects without the approval of five First Nations in the vicinity. What followed was a community engagement process that cost the utility millions. In time, some Indigenous leaders revised their community narratives away from the longstanding story of grievance with Manitoba Hydro. They said they could not remain stuck in the past and they needed to rely on the rivers in a new way. Of course, other Indigenous people said there could be no justification for further damage to lands and waters. To some extent it was a choice between maintaining traditional patterns of community-based natural resource management and replacing that resource base through alignment with the financial interests of an outside corporation. The interchurch advocacy group was caught between Indigenous people on either side of the issue, some of them aggressively pushing churches to stop raising concerns about hydropower projects. Eventually, five First Nations—representing roughly one-third of the affected population—signed partnership agreements with the utility.

While Manitoba Hydro got the community approvals it wanted, the price was high. Over 15 years the utility transferred $241 million to First Nations to cover costs of lawyers, consultants, travel, meeting participation and community engagement. While this served in some sense to level the playing field, it also created a largely unaccountable and arguably biased mini-industry. Numerous well-paying jobs in impoverished Indigenous communities were dependent on continuing along the path toward partnership with Manitoba Hydro. People responsible for “consulting” their fellow community members had a direct self-interest in a particular outcome. The lines between consultation and promoting a pro-development agenda were often blurred. And while total expenditure figures are available, Manitoba Hydro has denied all requests for breakdowns of its spending on the grounds of confidentiality agreements between the utility and the First Nations. Accounts of inappropriate expenditures abound, allegedly used to provide direct personal benefit to people supporting partnership with Manitoba Hydro. Reportedly, those in favour of dams got perks while those opposed did not. Families and communities were split, leaving long-term scars. This form of community engagement also created tensions between different communities, as Manitoba Hydro’s much touted “new era” of northern relations really only extended to communities near proposed new projects, not communities still suffering from the impact of existing projects.

First Nations were also saddled with the greatest risk. Partnership agreements centered around First Nations being offered the opportunity to invest in the dams. In the case of the first dam, Wuskwatim (completed in 2013), the nearby Nisichawayasihk Cree Nation invested over $100 million—most of that borrowed from Manitoba Hydro—to leverage a 33-percent share in the $1.8 billion dam. The dam was supposed to make between $5 and 25 million annually in its early years, but instead it has lost over $100 million to date. Partly for that reason, the four First Nation partners in the $6.5-billion Keeyask dam currently under construction are expected to obtain a much smaller share in the dam than what was touted at the time the communities voted on the partnership. The utility itself faces little risk as rate increases can cover losses.

On the plus side, hydropower construction has created significant and desperately needed employment. The catch, of course, is that the employment is temporary. At last report, only two members of the local First Nation were employed permanently at the Wuskwatim dam. Hydropower dams are by nature capital rather than labour intensive. Few people are required for ongoing operation. That makes them a poor match for communities that are capital poor with high levels of available labour.

Part of the problem with the hydropower engagement process is that communities were in essence forced to choose between poverty and ill-suited mega-projects. Arguably, a third option could have involved a diverse suite of possibilities, including maximum Indigenous employment at existing northern hydropower facilities and a range of smaller ventures based in part on emerging social enterprise models, with capital inputs from the utility. Such enterprises could have included small-scale logging, energy retrofits for homes, local food production, thrift stores or maximization of traditional harvesting. Generally these types of third options are ignored.

Several learnings about community-corporate partnership in natural resource management can be gleaned from the northern Manitoba example:

  • Society owes disadvantaged communities a creative range of economic options;
  • According to the emerging concept of free, prior and informed consent, communities should be brought into open-ended processes about natural resource management early on. In this Manitoba example, the utility and its parent government were clearly seeking their desired outcome right from the start;
  • Full accountability for all spending is essential;
  • An independent study should look at the real costs and benefits of such mega-projects for impacted communities over time.
  • Any benefit-sharing arrangements should minimize community risks; and
  • The higher the stakes, the greater the inherent potential for tension.

As for NGOs like MCC seeking to support disadvantaged communities, they must accept the complexity of such situations and discard simplified narratives. Given the very high stakes in such situations, NGOs, which have far less vested interest than other parties, can create space for candid, non-polarized discussion. To the extent possible they should maintain rapport with all parties while maintaining their own independent voice. They must also be willing to absorb criticism from community leaders. NGOs can serve as a needed counterweight to corporate interests which bring an innate bias to these situations. The bottom line for communities and NGOs is to embrace the complexity; to candidly consider pros, cons and trade-offs of different options; and to find healthy ways to navigate the tensions that arise when community-based values collide with the dependence we all have on the sorts of mega-projects that threaten Indigenous communities and their traditional resources.

Will Braun lives in Morden, Manitoba and works for the Interchurch Council on Hydropower. He has previously worked on issues related to hydropower for MCC and Pimicikamak Cree Nation.

Learn more:

Thibault, M., and Hoffman, S.M. Eds. Power Struggles: Hydroelectric Development and First Nations in Manitoba and Quebec. Winnipeg: University of Manitoba Press, 2009.

Waldram, James B. As Long as the Rivers Run: Hydroelectric Development and Native Communities. Winnipeg: University of Manitoba Press, 1993.

Braun, Will. “Keeyask Dam on Shaky Political Foundation: Split Lake Residents Have Good Reason to Wonder What Became of Promised Millions.” Winnipeg Free Press (July 3 2012). Available at

Braun, Will. “Dam Deal Loses Shine: First Nations Gambled on Bold Talk of Prosperity.” Winnipeg Free Press (April 24 2014). Available at

Spinning a safety net: community-based natural resource management in Laos

In the heart of southeast Asia lies Communist Laos, a landlocked country of seven million people, a country of 49 ethnic groups and as many native tongues, with an ever-changing geography unified by the mighty Mekong River flowing down from China and Thailand and out into Cambodia. Most Laotians are paddy rice farmers, relying heavily on the pulse of the river and the timing of the monsoon season. When conditions are favourable, villagers grow paddy and upland rice, the country’s all-important crops, and raise chickens, ducks, pigs, buffaloes and frogs. Women also make an income from weaving done in the shade of stilted houses. During seasonal food shortages villagers turn to communally-managed pieces of forest and hillside to fill food gaps. This article will explore how these community-managed resources have been negatively impacted by the presence of developers and argue that increased knowledge of legal land rights and community conflict resolution are necessary in order to strengthen the ability of communities to protect and once again manage their own resources.

In the average Lao meal, reliance on forest products is abundantly evident: fat, crispy fried insects, fermented river fish paste, steamed and boiled greens and bamboo shoots, wild mushrooms and small game. These dishes are all eaten with scoops of one of the 15,000 varieties of fragrant sticky rice grown throughout Laos. In homes, bamboo is used for traps and building materials, rattan creates baskets and brooms, and barks, leaves and roots are dried to make medicine.

Use of forest areas are traditionally negotiated among different villages and are generally managed through light harvesting and the delineation of forest territory into land for production, conservation and protection. In some forests food may be gathered, but trees may not be cut, hillsides may not be cleared and fires may not be lit. In this way, village authorities control the extent of harvesting and ensure the forest environment is not degraded.

On the banks of the Nam Xan River, the small village of Ban Thitnoon recently had the visit that changes the lives of so many villages: the arrival of developers in shiny black SUVs. Before their eyes, village leaders saw their seasonal food shortages disappear in a haze of promises for a luxury tourist resort that would lead to education, a market for villagers’ goods and a financial safety net for hard years. The contract between the developers and village authorities was signed and work began. Villagers awakened too late to the painful realization that the developers had misrepresented their intentions and had instead dug an open-pit mine in a fast grab for mineral resources that resulted in flooding and chemical runoff into the surrounding water.

During a visit from representatives from Laos’ National Assembly, the village mediation unit of Ban Thitnoon reached out for help. A government representative was dispatched to investigate, and the sham developer took the profits and left. With that victory under their belts, the small village of Ban Thitnoon was left to survey the damage: 70% of their paddy lands were permanently flooded and unusable, the water was polluted and degraded and the forest cover eroded away in a number of places. A village that had been seasonally food insecure was now in crisis. Ban Thitnoon’s story is all-too-common in Laos.

MCC has worked to address the threat posed by developers to traditional Laotian community-based natural resource management by raising awareness of villagers’ legal land rights. So, for example, since 2009 MCC has worked on a food security project with the Xaysomboun Provincial Department of Agriculture. MCC staff have explained to village authorities in the area their right to refuse contracts with developers, their rights to negotiate contracts and their options for legal recourse in the case of disputes over contracts. In Tha Thom district, MCC works with elected Village Mediation Units (VMUs) to strengthen their capacity to defend villagers’ legal rights and their ability to take recourse when developers fail to obtain permission or go beyond the bounds of negotiated contracts. MCC also works with local government officials to obtain land certificates for individual families, helping them prove their right to use specific land and thus increase their legal ability to retain their land. As the Landesa Rural Development Institute observes, “secure rights to land are a critical, but often overlooked, factor in achieving household food security and improved nutritional status” (Landesa Rural Development Institute, 1). Secure long-term land tenure is essential before farmers can invest time in agricultural development training on matters such as soil improvement, animal forage, techniques for better rice yields, fruit tree cultivation and animal raising.

In a period of unprecedented development in Laos, villagers are relocating throughout the country to make way for hydroelectric development, plantations, mines and other economic development projects. Such mass internal migration can result in serious disputes, especially as different ethnic groups come into contact for the first time, knowing little about each other’s customs. MCC assists in training VMUs to help solve conflicts that arise in both of these situations. As a result, VMUs deal with a variety of concerns, ranging from serious land boundary conflicts to disputes of the “your-cow-ate-my-vegetable-patch” variety. If these disputes can be solved locally, and in culturally-appropriate ways, it relieves the overburdened justice system and contributes to social cohesion. Laos has been described as having “the resource curse,” the seeming blessing of abundant natural resources undermined by weak regulation and powerful neighbours. With perseverance and the increasing interest of government and civilians, legal education about villagers’ land rights can protect this vital set of resources and keep the shelves of these natural food cupboards stocked for generations to come.

Emily Nigh is agricultural advisor for MCC Laos, based in Vientiane.

 Learn more:

 Landesa Rural Development Institute. “Landesa Issue Brief: Land Rights and Food Security.” 13 (March 2012). Available at

Baird, Ian G. and Bruce Shoemaker. “Unsettling Experiences: Internal Resettlement and International Aid Agencies in Laos.” Development and Change 38/5 (September 2007): 865–888.

Ministry of Justice Law Research and International Cooperation Institute. “Customary Law and Practise in Lao PDR.” (July 2011). Available at

Community-based land management in the Israeli-occupied state of Palestine

Palestinians have a long history of community-based natural resource management. Since 1967, Israel’s military occupation of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem (the State of Palestine recognized by 193 countries and the United Nations General Assembly), has threatened these traditional management approaches and endangered Palestine’s natural resources. This article argues that the Israeli occupation has denied Palestinians the sovereignty to manage their own land and other natural resources, resulting in negative consequences for their livelihoods and well-being, along with harmful impacts to the land itself. The Applied Research Institute-Jerusalem (ARIJ) has therefore focused on investing in CNBRM initiatives in Palestine aimed at increasing the sustainability of Palestinian agriculture in the face of an Israeli occupation regime that denies Palestinians sovereign control over their natural resources.

Historically land management in Palestine was practiced by local communities according to customary traditions. In 1918 communal land represented 70% of historical Palestine (what is now the state of Israel and the occupied territories of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem). Most land thus belonged to local communities, meaning that land was managed in the common interest by a group of people, usually the whole population in a given village. Rights for grazing, access to water resources and wood harvesting were shared. Village elders had the right to divide land into portions and distribute it among farmers.

Following the onset of the Israeli occupation in 1967, however, land ownership patterns, particularly of communal land, witnessed a total transformation. The Israeli occupation authorities ordered a halt to land registration and started confiscating Palestinian land and resources. In the West Bank, for example, Israel confiscated 43,100 hectares of land under the pretext of absentee land ownership (i.e. owned by Palestinians not present in the West Bank). Additional land was confiscated for security reasons and public use. This land confiscation paved the way for the construction of 196 settlements and 232 outposts in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem.

The Oslo accords between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization divided land in the West Bank according to a division of territory into areas A, B and C. The Palestinian National Authority (PNA), created by the Oslo accords, was to have civil and security control over area A, while in area B the PNA assumed full control in civil matters, with Israel remaining in charge of security. In the areas classified as area C, Israel retained full control over land, security, civil affairs and natural resources. In Gaza, meanwhile, 24% of land is declared a prohibited border zone from which Palestinians are blocked from access to land and other natural resources.

While the United Nations envisions the State of Palestine encompassing the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip, this territory has been carved up by the Israeli occupation into discontiguous islands. The jagged distribution of areas A, B and C, coupled with the 771 km long wall constructed by Israel in the West Bank, turn West Bank lands into isolated cantons, physically separated from each other and from the Gaza Strip. Prolonged years of Israeli occupation have disconnected Palestinians from the majority of natural resources in Palestine. Area C in the West Bank, to which Palestinians have extremely limited access, contains 87% of the West Bank’s nature reserves, 90% of its forests, 48% of its water wells and 37% of its water springs. Lack of sovereignty over land and natural resources has denied Palestinians the right to manage those resources.

The lack of Palestinian land sovereignty has also resulted in ecological decline and prevented effective natural resource management. For example, indicators of desertification appear clearly in the eastern slopes of the West Bank, an area characterized by steep hills where agricultural activity is limited to animal grazing. The closure of 85% of this zone by the Israeli occupation authorities for military purposes has led to severe overgrazing of the remaining areas accessible to Palestinian herders. This overgrazing has resulted in the loss of the vegetation cover, along with soil erosion and desertification.

Within this context Palestinians continue to practice agriculture, mostly on small land holdings, 90% of which range between 0.5 and 5 hectares. Palestinian farmers face numerous constraints and challenges in their attempts to manage natural resources effectively in the context of occupation. Lack of access to water means that rain-fed farming is the dominant type of agriculture in the West Bank. Farmers are subsequently vulnerable to fluctuations in rainfall and to changing climate patterns. To protect their lands from confiscation by Israeli military authorities under the pretext that land is not cultivated, Palestinians began planting olive trees in the 1970s to replace field crops. In response, however, Israel engaged in a massive campaign of uprooting trees. ARIJ estimates that since 1967 more than 1.8 million trees have been uprooted in the West Bank and Gaza.

Together with local communities, ARIJ is working to promote sustainable development in Palestine through community-based natural resource management. ARIJ partners with local communities to prioritize small and smart interventions, ranging from rain harvesting systems, land reclamation, field crops improvement, climate change adaptation and the promotion of urban agriculture. Additionally, ARIJ works to help small-size farmers protect themselves by organizing into cooperatives. One successful example of a social business intervention is Al-Jalemeh Women’s Cooperative, where ARIJ worked with the cooperative to improve its production, management and good governance capacities. Some women planted home gardens with luffa (commonly referred to as loofah), sweet pumpkin and safflower, while others worked to produce jam, dried safflower and loofah scrubbing sponges. Consequently, each woman managed to generate additional income of $560 per year. ARIJ has also worked with local communities to introduce plant-water production systems such as hydroponics and wicking systems, new agro-technologies suitable for both rural and urban areas. These systems take up limited room (10 square meters) and use less water, making them appropriate for small household farmers. Farmers who have adopted such systems can produce four or even five seasons of vegetables per year, fertilizing and managing their crops with natural solutions and fertilizers. These new plant-water production systems utilize half the water resources used by traditional irrigated systems and increase crop produce three times more than conventional agro-systems, with less effort. Such systems help improve food self-sufficiency, give opportunities to poor families to generate more income and help communities manage what limited resources are available to them. While the Israeli occupation places severe constraints on Palestinian access to and management of natural resources, ARIJ is committed to supporting rural and urban Palestinian communities in sustainably conserving and managing the resources to which they still have access.

Jad Isaac is director general of the Applied Research Institute-Jerusalem (ARIJ), an MCC partner organization.

Learn more:

Hrimat, Nader and Munif Doudin. “Adopting Hydroponic and Wicking Agro Food Production Models in Palestine.” Applied Research Institute-Jerusalem, 2014. Available at

Bassous, Roubina. “Biodiversity and Human Rights from a Palestinian Persepctive.” Applied Research Institute-Jerusalem, 2014. Available at

“Agriculture in Palestine: A Post-Oslo Analysis.” The Council for European Palestinian Relations, 2012. Available at

Reynolds, Kyra. “Palestinian Agriculture and the Israeli Separation Barrier: The Mismatch of Biopolitics and Chronopolitics with the Environment and Human Survival.” International Journal of Environmental Studies 72/2 (2015): 237-255.

Food security strategies in Kenya

In the semi-arid region of Machakos County, Kenya, poor soil quality, population growth and shifting climate patterns make managing natural resources for food security a continual challenge. Kenyan organizations such as Utooni Development Organization (UDO), an MCC partner, are dedicated to promoting strategies for sustainable livelihoods under these conditions. UDO is known for promoting sand dams as a method of water harvesting, but also implements a range of programs designed to improve food security. MCC and Canadian Foodgrains Bank (CFGB) recently partnered with UDO on an extensive review of its programming to assess program impact and to identify factors associated with the successful adoption of strategies promoted by UDO. Building on the findings of that review, this article will argue that farmer ownership (or lack thereof) was the key factor in the success or failure of specific food security strategies promoted by UDO.

The UDO evaluation analyzed six food security strategies promoted by UDO: water harvesting through sand dams and terraces, drought-tolerant grain crops, agroforestry, livestock production and irrigation. The review affirmed the overall impact that UDO’s community-based approach has had on local communities and identified clear successes. For instance, villagers on average reported an increase in food security by 2.7 months due to UDO activities. Joyce Musyoka of the Kulunga Self Help Group tells a typical story illustrating the impact of sand dams on food security and gender roles: “before [the sand dam] I had to travel four hours every day to fetch water, and the amount I was able to fetch was not enough to cover our family needs.” Of course, the review also found that some UDO strategies, such as terracing and drought-tolerant crops, did not result in wide-spread adoption.

The review identified interesting variations in how a sense of ownership plays a key role in the successful adoption and impact of these different food security strategies. For example, the review found that in some cases projects that did not include the free distribution of external inputs (e.g. seeds) experienced greater success than projects that did distribute such inputs. This lesson was exemplified by the difference between the clearer successes of agroforestry strategies and the more ambiguous results of drought-tolerant crops and terracing. Communities spontaneously adopted a strategy of planting fruit trees and reforestation, despite very limited inputs. Indeed, the review found encouraging evidence of a high level of seed collection, seedling production, tree grafting and the establishment of orchards thanks to UDO activities. Planting of drought-tolerant crops, on the other hand, relied on a greater input strategy. Most farmers depended on free seed from UDO, rather than planting saved seed or purchasing new seed, and were not passionate about continuing to grow these crops. Likewise, with improved terracing practices, farmers readily improved terraces as part of food-for-work programs, but farmer enthusiasm did not continue once these food-for-work efforts ceased, and terraces often later fell into disrepair. Interestingly, farmers readily acknowledged that terraces improved yields and yet were not invested in continuing the practice in the absence of external inputs. Clearly the success of particular technologies was related to how motivated farmers were to personally invest in the practice. While I argue here that farmer investment can sometimes be adversely affected by input-intensive strategies, further study is required to explore other possible factors including farmer seed preferences, extension practices, household labour, market availability of seed and purchasing power.

Sand dam projects present a different strategy for encouraging a sense of ownership. Although UDO provides materials for sand dam construction, along with technical guidance on siting and design, communities must organize the construction event, provide the labor for dam construction, and together establish the guidelines for the sand dam’s use. Communities thus feel ownership of the dams and are motivated to use the dams to improve their livelihoods. For instance, farmers experiment on ways to take advantage of increased groundwater for cropping along the banks. Thus, sand dams are “adopted” in the sense that they are heavily utilized, a result which derives from the particular way they are implemented through a process of group investment. The review therefore noted a crucial difference among UDO projects with regards to inputs, but a common strategy with regard to promoting a sense of ownership. Whereas a practice like agro-forestry can be self-sustaining without external inputs, this is unlikely to happen with sand dams, which have high upfront costs.

Encouraging a sense of ownership can heighten certain challenges associated with communal resource management. For instance, because sand dams are communal endeavors, they are susceptible to conflicts or mismanagement of a limited resource (water from the dams will run out if overused). Communities must manage water resources in such a way as to avoid a “tragedy of the commons,” wherein individuals maximizing use of resources for themselves might compromise the long-term sustainability of the resource itself. For instance, a farmer’s livestock also benefits from water availability at sand dams, but the presence of livestock (and in particular their waste) can easily contaminate water supplies that impact the entire community.

A further challenge is that resource management conflicts can be heightened by the fact that available water benefits both users who invested time and labor in sand dam construction and users who did not help. As a result, users sometimes feel that the benefits are not equitably distributed according to the effort invested in the project. Conflict over ownership of the resource also occurs external to the community, most notably as the region is the primary source for sand needed to make concrete for the booming construction industry of nearby Nairobi. Sand dams are easy sources for trucks to harvest sand, with unscrupulous actors either taking the sand without consulting the community or negotiating with some (but usually not all) members of the community to extract this resource. In all these situations, an increased sense of ownership has the potential to heighten tensions over natural resources.

Climate change is already a reality in Machakos, as farmers are quick to explain how long-term rainfall patterns have changed, disrupting their farming practices. Evaluations such as the review of UDO’s efforts become all the more important as a means to pause and take stock of what strategies will effectively increase the resilience of communities to changing circumstances.

Doug Graber Neufeld is a water and livelihoods advisor with MCC in Nairobi, Kenya.

Learn more:

Canadian Foodgrains Bank. Video: “Dancing on Water: Sand Dams in Kenya.” (2011). Available at:

Cruickshank, Abby. “These Are Our Water Pipes, Sand Dams, Women and Donkeys—Dealing with Water Scarcity in Kenya’s Arid and Semi-Arid Lands.” (2010) Available at:

Ertsen, M., and Hut, R. “Two Waterfalls Do Not Hear Each Other: Sand-Storage Dams, Science and Sustainable Development in Kenya.” Physics and Chemistry of the Earth 34 (2009): 14–22.

Teel, Wayne. “The Impact of Sand Dams on Community Development in Semi-Arid Agricultural Areas in Kenya.” Utooni Development Organization (2011). Available at:

Community-based natural resource management (Spring 2016 issue)

The equitable and sustainable management of natural resources is essential in MCC’s work to improve food security and livelihoods. However, there are inherent complexities associated with how these resources should be managed and by whom. Community-based natural resource management (CBNRM) emphasizes the role of communities in making decisions about how natural resources are controlled. In contrast to top-down management approaches, CBNRM recognizes that communities are best positioned to make management decisions due to their intimate knowledge of local ecological conditions, traditional management practices and local interests and preferences.

The articles included in this issue of Intersections explore what effective and successful CBNRM looks like in a variety of contexts and identify common themes that arise when working at CBNRM. The first theme emerging from these articles is the complexity in the relationships among actors in CBNRM processes, including communities, local governments, national governments, NGOs and the private sector. These actors have different goals and motivations for engaging in natural resource management, as well as differing approaches to community participation. While multiple actors can work collaboratively to strengthen resource management, more often this dynamic generates complications and tensions stemming from competing interests.

Secondly, these articles raise important questions regarding the role of NGOs like MCC in CBNRM specifically and community development more generally. How can NGOs most effectively support communities as they take the lead in managing their natural resources, particularly when complex relationships exist among actors? Several articles in this issue address this question from numerous angles and contexts.

As these articles demonstrate, community-based natural resource management is not a straight-forward process. Many challenges exist within community engagement processes, especially when other actors (government institutions, private sector actors, NGOs) are involved. Despite complications within CBNRM, community ownership and active participation in managing natural resources can be successful. In instances where the CBNRM process has fallen short, opportunities exist for improvement.

Amy Martens is a research associate in the Planning, Learning and Disaster Response department. Allison Enns is an MCC food security and livelihoods coordinator.

Peace through education in Kigali

Like other countries in the African Great Lakes region, Rwanda has a dual identity when it comes to conflict. On the one hand, the country has known many forms of conflict and violence. On the other hand, however, Rwandans are deeply invested in the search for solutions to the violent conflicts that have torn apart their country.

Violent post-colonial ethnic conflicts in Rwanda began in 1959, followed by other outbursts in 1965 and 1973. This violence culminated in the 1994 genocide, in which the vast majority of victims were Tutsi. After the 1994 genocide, the new Rwandan government began efforts to rebuild a peaceful society. Government leaders started practical initiatives to strengthen national unity, such as: initiatives for restorative justice (whose practitioners were called Abunzi, or “the restorers”); the repatriation of Rwandan refugees from different countries; the institution of national commissions for peace, unity, reconciliation and the fight against genocide; and peacebuilding lessons in public schools.

Amidst these initiatives promoting peace in Rwanda, the Evangelical Friends Church of Rwanda, with the help of MCC and Change Agents for Peace International (CAPI), established the Friends Peace House (FPH) in 2000. With a strong history of leading peace trainings and uniting people across dividing lines, Friends Peace House, like the country of Rwanda as a whole, now finds itself shifting more towards development projects. Peace and development are not unrelated. The French proverb “pas de pain, pas de paix” (“without bread there is no peace”) illustrates the link between poverty and peace; likewise, without peace there can be no sustainable development.

As part of our peace and development programming, Friends Peace House runs a vocational training center called Mwana Nshuti (“child, my friend”). Commenting on the context of the village where he teaches, one of the Mwana Nshuti instructors remarks that “In my service I have seen that youth lack peace because of joblessness, not war only.” In the past in Rwanda a large amount of violence was committed by unemployed and
uneducated youth in gangs and militias who were easily manipulated to see other ethnic groups as targets for expressing their economic frustration and anger at the discrimination they had endured. Through Mwana Nshuti, Friends Peace House seeks to give value and practical skills to disadvantaged youth, encouraging them to think for themselves so that they are not vulnerable to this kind of manipulation.

The Mwana Nshuti program first began as a response by the Evangelical Friends Church to the large number of orphans (many of whose parents had been killed in the 1994 Rwanda genocide) living around a garbage dump in the Kicukiro neighborhood of Kigali. These children were often called mayibobo (a derogatory term for street children) and were marginalized from society. The name Mwana Nshuti is a deliberate act of honoring the youth, telling street children that “you are not mayibobo, you are mwana nshuti—a child who is my friend”.

Today’s Rwanda is being shaped by a new generation: none of today’s youth saw the genocide firsthand, yet they and other Rwandans live with the genocide’s aftereffects. In 2014 the Rwandan government ran another campaign called Ndi Umunyarwanda (“I am Rwandan”) to reinforce the message that we are all citizens and we choose not to discriminate along ethnic lines. In a recent Mwana Nshuti social studies class, teachers asked students to discuss in groups whether they would marry someone from a different ethnic group. Most students answered yes, because love is more important and we don’t value those distinctions, but some acknowledged it could be difficult for their parents’ generation to accept.

Throughout our lives we are educated by many different people, such as our parents, teachers, pastors and friends. In Mwana Nshuti the teachers seek to be good role models who create an atmosphere of inclusion and trust. As part of these efforts, Mwana Nshuti offered the Healing and Rebuilding Our Communities (HROC) trauma healing training, a program developed by a Rwandan and a Burundian, for its students. This three day training explored the causes and consequences of trauma, loss, grief and mourning, examining what kind of society Rwandans want to see and how they can help create it.

Feedback from an anonymous evaluation survey of students suggests the impact of the initiative. One student shared that “this training helped me discover the grief which was in me.” Another reported that “I appreciated the lessons because they helped me to move from where I was (in grief) and now I am feeling OK.” Still another participant shared that the training “helped rebuild me and also to live peacefully with others wherever I am.” After students complete their practical training at Mwana Nshuti in hairdressing, mechanics or tailoring, FPH tries to place them in co-operatives and train them to work together and do their own projects for development and peace. Mwana Nshuti includes training in entrepreneurship, peaceful conflict resolution and trauma healing and encourages the transfer of this knowledge to the households of origin. The teachers also visit the students at home to get to know them, their situation and their extended families better. On one visit we were looking at an English reader with one student’s five-year-old neighbor who was also visiting. The book contained a picture of one person chasing someone else with a stick. The girl looked up and said, “I saw a movie where people were beating each other with machetes.” We asked her, “Is that good or bad? What do you do when you have a problem?” Her attention had already wriggled away to another picture on the page, but there will be one day when she will learn more of her country’s history and have to grapple with these kinds of questions. The country is moving on and deliberately teaching its youth to be peacemakers on a national and local level. If peace is built by youth, the country can hope for a sustainable peace.

Mwana Nshuti is an MCC Global Family education project. 

Antoine Samvura is the Program Coordinator at Friends Peace House, an organization of the Evangelical Friends Church in Kigali, Rwanda, that works with at-risk youth. Teresa Edge was a participant in MCC’s Serving and Learning Together (SALT) program. For the last two years, she has served as Program Assistant at Friends Peace House.

For more, check out the Summer issue of Intersections on Conflict, Reconciliation and Partnership in Africa’s Great Lakes Region.