Wednesday, December 14, 2005

SEARCH FOR COMMON GROUND - III : More Than I Can Write About

Okay, I promise that this will be my last article about Search For Common Ground for a while. And this article will not be about their web site (although there is a lot more I could say about it).

SFCG has thirteen country and regional programs as well as three global projects. It also conducts a number of forums and other programs as well. Seven of its country and regional programs involve African nations - Angola, Burundi, Côte d'Ivoire, DR of Congo, Liberia, Morocco and Sierra Leone.

Its first office in Africa opened in 1995 in Bujumbura, Burundi in response to the instability in the Great Lakes Region. Today, in Burundi, SFCG has satellite offices in Ngozi, Makamba, and Ruyigi as well and operates a national programme that uses a variety of mutually enhancing methods targeting multiple sectors of society.

SFCG sas that "Through community peace-building and media work SFCG-Burundi informs and educates the public around pertinent issues, builds the capacity of journalists and civic leaders, and strengthens the capacity for inclusive participation in local communities."

Some of SFCG-Burundi's current projects include: Studio Ijambo, the Women's Peace Centre, the Youth Project, and the Victims of Torture Project.

The civil war that lasted throughout the 1990s in Burundi was mainly fought along ethnic lines as a cost of almost 300,000 lives lost. The Arusha Peace Agreement was signed in August of 2000 and in June 2004 the United Nations Operation in Burundi (ONUB) was established to help secure a lasting peace. It is "within this context that SFCG-Burundi works to facilitate dialogue and reconciliation among Burundians."

And, as I stated earlir SFCG has several active projects in Burundi, I will only mention a few in this article.

Believing that "Dialogue is the future" and using that as a slogan Studio Ijambo uses radio programming to help promote dialogue to work towards peace and reconciliation. Studio Ijambo examines all sides of the conflict, and then points out those aspects that can unite, rather than divide Burundians. One of its more popular programs, a radio soap opera titled "Umubanyi niwe Muryango" is based on the daily challenges facing two families who are neighbours. One family is Hutu and the other is Tutsi. This program inspires its listeners to identify with the problems faced by the characters in the drama and subsequently with those faced by others in real life. This program helps Burundians to understand and seek positive, non-violent ways of resolving conflicts. Studio Ijambo was able to get Ziggy Marley to produce 12 public service announcements for broadcast in Burundi. There is a lot more that Studio Ijambo is doing, and you can read about it here.

The Women's Peace Centre was established by SFCG in January 1996, because of the understanding that that it is essential that Burundian women be included as key players in the process of ethnic reconciliation. And because of their key role, they must have access to the tools necessary to carry out that role. I could probably write an article just about the Women's Peace Centre, but to be brief I will just state that in furtherance of trying to provide the women with the necessary tools the Centre fosters roundtable discussions that provide a much-needed forum for Hutu and Tutsi women to access information and collaborate with other women's groups. They have also provided training in conflict resolution. The train women on how to create and manage transparent associations. And they provide mediation service for associations that request assistance in resolving internal differences.

The Centre provides assistance to Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs), it works in conjunction with the Friends Peace Teams to address both social and personal problems associated with post-conflict trauma. It organizes one-day seminars on Positive Solidarity between women of different ethnic backgrounds; it helps to generate dialogue and understanding around the recently introduced family law; and it utilizes Studio Ijambo to ensures that they have some impact outside of Bujumbura, the capital city. There is more (actually much more) that the The Women's Peace Centre does, but you will have to go to SFCG's site to read about it.

The Youth Project brings together youth from different ethnic and geographical backgrounds for recreational and solidarity-building activities. These youth are among the at-risk populations that often have taken part in violent conflicts because they were politically manipulated. Training, retreats, sports events and tournaments, concerts and exchanges are provided for diverse groups of youth in an effort to communicate a message of peace and reconciliation.

The Youth Project uses a cartoon book that it procduces called Le Meilleur Choix ("The Best Choice") to encourage youth to avoid being manipulated by political interests that would pitch them against one another. There is also currently a program that holds a football tournament/weekend camp once every four months. The sports events are supplemented with an evening dialogue/roundtable that focuses on a video or event of interest on a monthly basis. The program also sponsors a Peace Camp for youth between the ages of 7 and 14. Each week you youth from "three neighbourhoods of different ethnic composition" and brought to the camp, where they were taught peace-oriented songs, drawing and theatre. Additionally, women form the Women's Peace Centre worked with the children on issues of conflict resolution. I'm running out of time, so more about the Youth Project can be found at their site.

Time is running short, but I do want to take a moment to talk about SFCG-Burundi's Integrated Victims of Torture Project.

The main objectives of this project are: Psychological Healing, Legal Assistance, Social Reintegration and Preventative Advocacy.

Because victims of torture cannot integrate back into their lives unless the psychological wounds of the torture are addressed in a healing process. In order to foster this healing process the Integrated Victims of Torture Project offers "counseling services, community dialogues, arts and sports because they believe that "these all have significant roles to play in healing the psychological wounds of torture on the victim, his family and community."

The Integrated Victims of Torture Project believes also that "supporting victims of torture in their quest for legal remedy not only puts pressure on the state institutions to counter impunity, but this struggle for justice also helps restore the dignity of the victims and contributes to their psychological healing." Because of this, they lend their assistance by providing judicial advice and assistance. Provide or assist with the transportation of witnesses and victims to the trials. They identify victims of torture and on occasion provide financial assistance for legal expenses.

The Integrated Victims of Torture Project also advocates against torture by documenting abuses and raising awareness about torture among population-at-large among other things. They do this both on a national and international level.

Social rejection is a big problem for victims of torture and reintegration is not always easy. The Integrated Victims of Torture Project tries to assist victims of torture along these lines in a number of ways, including community dialogues and joint activities which are often carried out in cooperation with local institutions of reconciliation.

Okay, so I've done it again. I have run out of space and time for my article and I have only gone through little more than 10% of my notes. There were six other countries where SFCG has projects that I wanted to talk about. But all I can do at this point is to give you the link to each so that you can go and read about it for yourself. These Guys Are Doing Really Great Work!

Their projects in Africa besides Burundi include:

Côte d'Ivoire
DR of Congo
Sierra Leone

And the other six Country and Regional Programs are:
Middle East

And in case you don't wanat to scroll down to a previous article to get the URL for its Home Page you can click here to get to Search For Common Ground .

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