Peacebuilding and the Evolution of World Relief’s Village Peace Committees

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DRC: The Conflict in Context

“Conflict spares no one,” writes Cyprien Nkiriyumwami, World Relief Africa Director for Peacebuilding.

The context in which he writes is that of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). For twenty years the DRC has experienced continuous and brutal conflict, originally a result of the tribal animosities unleashed by the Rwandan genocide in 1994, then exacerbated by the military overthrow of its president, Mobutu Sese Seko, in 1997.

There are now as many as 70 armed militias operating in the DRC, fighting over control of the land and the rich mineral resources buried within it. As many as 6 million people have been killed in the fighting or by related impacts such as disease or malnutrition. Women and children are those most affected and victimized by this conflict—including recruitment into armed groups, sexual violence, and many forms of gross physical violence. Today, the United Nations estimates that there are 4.7 million people displaced from their homes in DRC and another 450,000 who have fled the violence as refugees living outside of their country.

On the UN Human Development Index, which measures for life expectancy, educational, and economic factors, DRC is ranked 176 out of 188 nations worldwide. And despite its people’s deep desire for peace, the conflict and resulting corruption too often benefits those in positions of power, creating little incentive to stop the violence that causes so much unbelievable suffering.

In the midst of this chaos and constant simmering of open-conflict, Cyprien has been facilitating World Relief’s efforts to transform communities of conflict into those characterized by peace through the formation of our Village Peace Committees (VPCs). VPCs are community structures composed of ten trained and respected community members who work together to solve disputes and conflicts within their localities before they reach violence. Today, the VPCs are incredibly successful vehicles for conflict prevention throughout the DRC. The road to their installation however, was not an easy one.

A Difficult Task

Over ten years ago, World Relief’s work in the Democratic Republic of Congo experienced disruption upon disruption due to constant violence. As staff came together to discuss solutions, two staff members who worked with local churches observed that the tribal divisions in churches typically mirrored the conflict they saw in the wider community. Pondering how they could act upon this insight, Cyprien and local pastor, Marcel Serubungo, called together church leaders from across the area to a 3-day pastoral retreat to address the conflict in the community.

This task was harder than it sounds given the history and context of this request. At the time, pastors and their churches were largely segregated by tribal identity. So too were the relationships among pastors. In fact, pastors would normally avoid meeting one another or even gathering in the same room with pastors of another tribe. Now tensely gathered together in one room, Pastors Cyprien and Marcel shared their vision of pastors leading the way in bringing peace to their community and providing care to victims of violence, without consideration of tribal affiliation. Discussion was difficult and quickly devolved into accusations from pastors of one tribe against pastors of another, even as Pastors Cyprien and Marcel tried to bring pastors together in unity around their shared purpose and design as image-bearers of God.

That night, by design, Pastors Cyprien and Marcel assigned each retreat room to two pastors, one from each combating tribe. Each room was furnished with one bed. The pastors were forced to decide if they were to sleep on the floor or on the bed. In customary African fashion and considered culturally appropriate, the pastor-pairs reluctantly agreed to share each bed. Yet lying back to back, the pastors could not sleep because of the level of bitterness and mistrust against one another.

The Birth of the VPCs

The next morning, the pastors wearily re-convened to continue conversation about their influential roles in conflict mediation. As the day went along, defenses began to fall and conversations moved into a recognition of the need to be involved in brokering peace. That night, back in their rooms, the pastors engaged in willing conversation and were finally able to sleep, this time side by side. The next morning, well rested, the pastors regathered. The conversation turned personal as one pastor stood and confessed publicly his hatred for pastors from the other tribe. One by one, pastors stood to confess their own sin against one another. Confessions turned to weeping and forgiving-embraces, which turned to corporate repentance and a final decision as a group to pursue reconciliation and peace in their communities. The Pastors shared a collective and unifying sentiment as they left the retreat, “How can we expect our people to live any differently, if we ourselves cannot gather together in peace and unity?”

That water-shed gathering shifted things significantly. Meaningful pastor-friendships formed across tribal differences. Regular pastor gatherings commenced to discuss peacebuilding in their congregations. These gatherings and relationships soon led to pulpit-exchanges, where pastors from opposite tribes would preach at the other’s church on a Sunday. At first, parishioners were shocked by these actions, but eventually began to realize that “If pastors could meet together, so too could they.” The example of these pastors cascaded into their churches and out into the community, as tangible hope began to form within their people.

VPCs Around the Globe

The lessons learned from the early peacebuilding efforts in the DRC have today formed the foundation from which World Relief’s peacebuilding efforts have expanded into other fragile countries, including South Sudan, Burundi, Pakistan, and elsewhere.

Today, VPCs are able to operate independently and successfully because they are acknowledged by villagers as neutral, impartial and effective conflict resolution facilitators. Not only do they formalize the process by which tribal leaders and community members publicly address past and current tensions, but they also encourage and offer this process free of charge. These local committees have resolved thousands of conflicts which would have otherwise escalated into cycles of violence causing loss of land, property, and life on mass scale and tearing families and communities apart.

Peace building matters because it helps people and communities to refrain from using force to impose their views on others. It helps people to accept others as they are, to tolerate differences, respect the vulnerable, especially women and children, and eventually, to come voluntarily to solutions acceptable by all.

VPCs have resolved conflicts as small as land and livestock disputes, as well as cases referred to them by the local police, but they also accomplish something much bigger: They create hope, courage and faith. Hope that problems can be resolved and that a better future exists. Courage to address larger relational issues and conflicts despite historical failures and fatigue. And faith, as communities begin to see that the church is both relevant for their communities and that the teachings of scripture do make a difference.

Today, World Relief continues to pioneer our VPC work across fragile states. Though we face countless challenges and roadblocks to this work, we take heart, because of our confidence in men and women like Cyprien who lean into the discomfort and fear courageously, in faith. And we have great faith that this work will continue to be transformative in the lives of thousands across the world.


CONTRIBUTORS

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Gil Odendaal, Ph.D, D.Min, is the SVP of Integral Mission Division at World Relief. He previously served as the Global Director for PEACE Implementation with Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California as well as Global Director for the HIV/AIDS Initiative under Kay Warren. Gil has 30 years of ministry experience as a missionary, pastor, educator, leader and public speaker, including serving as Regional Coordinator for Africa, Russia and Easter Europe with Medical Ambassadors International. Gil serves on the Lausanne Movement Integral Mission leadership team as well as a board member of ACCORD Network. Gil and his wife, Elmarie, were born and raised in South Africa. They have three adult children and five grandchildren.

 

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Cyprien Nkiriyumwami is World Relief’s Africa Director for Integral Mission, Church Empowerment and Peace Building. Trained as community development facilitator and working in that capacity since 1984, Cyprien has designed and led programs that lean on local churches and grassroots structures of volunteers in reconciling people and communities in the war torn Democratic Republic of Congo and in Pakistan.

 

 

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Damon Schroeder is the Director for US Integral Mission at World Relief. Springing from his experience as a missionary kid from Cyprus, he has worked for 17 years, equipping churches in the US to holistically welcome and build community with newly arriving refugees and immigrants.

 

 

What is Your One Act of Love?

It's been a remarkable and difficult month for so many people around the world. If you're feeling overwhelmed right now, you are not alone.

A message from World Relief's President, Scott Arbeiter:

As you consider your one act of love in this current season, we invite you to learn more about the areas in which we're currently responding:

Hurricane Harvey Recovery
Hurricane Irma Response
South Asia Flooding
DACA / Dreamer Advocacy Response
Refugee Crisis
Africa Food Crisis

DACA and DREAM Act 101

Photo by EPA-EFE/ALBA VIGARAY

Photo by EPA-EFE/ALBA VIGARAY

On September 5, 2017, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the termination of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. Those whom this directly affects have an all-too-clear understanding of the realities this decision creates. For those who may not fully understand DACA, The DREAM Act and Dreamers—and the issues surrounding each—we hope this brief primer will help.


What is DACA?

The short story is that DACA has provided a pathway for children and young adults who came to the United States with their parents to legally obtain a Social Security Number, driver’s license, enroll in college and work. While their parents either came to the U.S. unlawfully or overstayed their visas, these kids usually had no choice but to come with their parents, and this  immigration policy helped provide opportunities for those youth who had already been in our country for years. DACA doesn’t offer a pathway towards permanent legal status or U.S. citizenship. It also doesn’t give individuals access to federal financial aid programs. It simply affords them the opportunity to further their own development, provide for themselves and their loved ones, and participate in their communities without fear of deportation.

Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), announced by President Obama on June 15th, 2012, has allowed immigrants who

  • were born on or after June 16, 1981,
  • arrived to the United States before age 16 and

  • have lived in the U.S. since June 15, 2007

to be eligible for work authorization in the United States and protection from deportation for two years. These individuals are generally called “Dreamers,” named so after the DREAM Act, a piece of legislation first introduced in Congress in 2001 that would afford these individuals permanent legal status.


How many people have DACA?

About 800,000.

According to the Department of Homeland Security, as of March 2017, 787,580, individuals have been granted DACA. Individuals from Mexico represent the largest number of DACA recipients, followed by El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Peru and South Korea.


What does the termination of DACA mean?

It means that 800,000 children or young adults would––at a minimum––lose their jobs which may mean lacking the income to make payments on a car loan, rent, mortgage or school tuition or to help support their families. It could also mean being sent back to their countries of birth, even though many cannot remember living in any country other than the U.S., where they have grown up.

The White House and Department of Justice announced the termination of DACA on September 5, 2017. This means the Department of Homeland Security is no longer accepting any new applications for DACA. Those with DACA due to expire between September 5, 2017, and March 5, 2018, can apply for a two-year renewal by October 5, 2017. For others, DACA could end as early as March 6, 2018. Work permits issued under DACA will be honored until they expire.


What is the DREAM Act?

A permanent solution.

The DREAM Act is a bipartisan bill that would offer a permanent solution for Dreamers by allowing them to eventually earn citizenship if they go to college, maintain a job, or serve in the U.S. military. The latest DREAM Act was introduced by Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) on July 20, 2017, and a companion bill with bipartisan support has also been introduced in the House of Representatives.


What happens if Congress doesn't act?

If Congress does not pass a measure protecting DACA recipients, nearly 300,000 people in 2018 alone would lose their permission to work and be at risk for deportation, with DACA protections for all 800,000 individuals to be phased out by March 2020.

Both the Senate and the House need to pass it, and the President needs to sign a bill by March 6, 2018, in order for DACA recipients to continue to be protected from deportation.


But aren’t Dreamers here illegally? Why should the U.S. allow them to stay?

While their parents made the choice to enter the U.S. illegally or overstay a visa, Dreamers, who were children when they arrived, did not make that choice for themselves. There’s no place in American law that penalizes children for the action of their parents. For many Dreamers, the U.S. is the only home they’ve ever known. Passing the DREAM Act is an opportunity to fix the law so that Dreamers correct their situation, earn citizenship and remain the country they call home.


Where can I find more information?

The website of the US Citizenship and Immigration Services has more information on DACA. Also, the Department of Homeland Security has posted answers to a list of questions about its plans to rescind the program.

Individuals who believe they may be eligible to renew DACA should immediately consult with an experienced immigration attorney or a non-profit organization (including many World Relief offices and local churches supported by World Relief) that is recognized by the U.S. Department of Justice to provide low-cost immigration legal services. Refer to this map for a site near you.


I support DACA and Dreamers, but am not sure how I—one person—can help. Do you have any ideas?

There are many ways you can help. Here are five simple ideas:

  1. For starters, consider following World Relief on social media (Facebook, Twitter and Instagram) to learn more and share posts you agree with.
  2. To take action, write your members of Congress urging them to support the DREAM Act.
  3. If you’re a church leader or pastor, consider signing onto this letter which we will send to your Representative and Senator.
  4. Write and submit an op-ed or a letter to the editor of the local paper about why you support Dreamers.
  5. If you have a story to tell about yourself or someone you know who has DACA, consider sharing how it’s helped your or their life on social media. This is a human issue and we need to keep it humanized.

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To support the work of World Relief, you can donate here.

When a Refugee Child’s Education Stops

While living in the south Asian country of Bhutan, Pabi’s family was forced to flee their home due to political and ethnic persecution. At a young age, Pabi became a refugee. And like many refugee children, Pabi’s education risked coming to a halt. When her family fled to nearby Nepal, Pabi received some education, but the conditions of the school proved too harsh for her to flourish.

Eventually, the UN selected Pabi’s family for resettlement in the United States—specifically in the western suburbs of Chicago, Illinois. As World Relief’s Dupage/Aurora office began to resettle Pabi’s family, staff and volunteers carefully considered how they could help provide Pabi with the tools she needed to thrive in her education.

Pabi was only in 5th grade when she began schooling in the U.S. She remembers not being able to speak English and feeling fearful. “It was really scary, and I was worried every day,” Pabi recalls. “For a month I cried every night because students were not nice. I used to cry under the blanket so my parents couldn’t find out that I was crying.”

Thankfully, Pabi was able to join World Relief’s after-school program at an area church where she quickly found friends and academic assistance. She also befriended Nepali students, who were in higher level classes in school and helped her quickly learn English.

With a strengthened foundation because of the support Pabi received in the after school program, Pabi was poised to flourish in her academic pursuits. She continued to excel throughout middle school and high school. In fact, her academic achievement has resulted in a college scholarship through philanthropist Bob Carr’s Give Something Back Foundation (GSBF); Pabi was selected as only one of seven scholarship winners out of over 40 applicants. The scholarship, along with government financial aid, will allow Pabi to attend college tuition-free.

Pabi’s education could have ended the day she and her family fled Bhutan. But by the grace of God, Pabi’s tireless efforts and the help of World Relief and partner churches, Pabi will become the first in her family to attend college and is now filled with hope for her bright future.


Pabi’s story is one of many. Around the world, World Relief has made it a priority to partner with local churches and organizations to provide safe spaces for refugee children to continue learning, especially when formal education is not a viable option. In the U.S., we help newly arriving refugee families enroll in schools, provide school supplies to children and conduct after-school tutoring—ensuring that refugee children like Pabi can not only restart their education but thrive at every level. You can play a critical role in supporting refugees like Pabi through the work of World Relief.

Join us as we invest in the future of refugees around the world.

 

When Refugees Go Back to School (Q&A)

Children across the U.S. are returning to school. Recently resettled refugees will be among those children. Tabitha McDuffee, Communications Coordinator for World Relief Dupage/Aurora (WRDA) sat down with both Malita Gardner, Children & Youth Program Manager at WRDA, and Deborah, a former refugee from Southeast Asia and staff member at WRDA, to discuss what the back-to-school season means for refugees.

Their conversation addresses the challenges refugee children face in their education and the ways World Relief and our partners come alongside them, working to ensure a bright educational future for each child.


Tabitha: What happens to a child’s education when his or her family is forced to flee their home and country?

Deborah: When a family is forced to flee their home and country, a child’s education is interrupted. In some cases families may have to flee on such short notice that they do not have time to gather school documents or transcripts before leaving their home. This can make it difficult for children to enroll in school in the country they flee to.


What are some of the challenges refugee children face when they arrive in their temporary host country, before they are permanently resettled? Do they even have the option of going to school in these other countries?

Deborah: Oftentimes, the classes are very large, and the teachers are not well trained. The quality of education is very poor. Parents often do not encourage their children to attend school in the host country or refugee camp because they view their situation as temporary. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees [UNHCR 2016 Global Trends Report], refugees remain in a host country for an average of 17 years before returning home or being resettled. This means that refugee children may miss out on large portions of their education while in a refugee camp. If a child escapes their home when they are 12, and then they spends ten years in a refugee camp before coming to the U.S., when they get here they are too old to attend school.


When a refugee child’s family is resettled in the U.S., is public education immediately available to them?

Malita: Yes. U.S. resettlement agencies like World Relief assist refugee families to enroll their children in school, usually within 30 days of arrival.


And what are the greatest challenges refugee children face as they restart their education in the U.S.?

Language. 
Malita: Refugee children’s biggest hurdle is learning English. They must progress in their language ability in order to thrive and succeed in school. However, children tend to learn a new language very quickly, so they may become fluent in as little as 18-24 months after arriving in the U.S.

Culture.
Deborah explains that schools are operated very differently in different parts of the world, so refugee children must adjust to this as well. Co-ed schools may be a new experience for some children. For her own children, the differences in grading systems were confusing.

Deborah: “I wish that teachers were more direct when telling me about my children’s progress. One of my kids was struggling in a class, but his teacher did not sound very serious or urgent when she told me, so I didn’t realize how important it was.”

Integration.
Refugee children can become isolated when they begin school in the U.S.

Malita: Refugee children are enrolled in an ESL (English as a Second Language) track so that they can improve their English while they attend school. While they benefit from spending much of the day with their assigned ESL teacher and other refugee children, it may isolate them from the rest of their classmates.


In the Middle East, World Relief works alongside local partners to host Kids Clubs, safe spaces for children to learn, play and grow. How does World Relief help refugee children arriving to the U.S.? What ongoing help and support does World Relief and its partner churches provide as children continue their education?

Malita: World Relief assists refugee children by enrolling them in school. Some local offices and partner churches  organize after-school clubs or one-on-one tutoring for students.  In some cases, ongoing help and support may include regular follow-up visits during the first year of resettlement to make sure that refugee children are adjusting well. Refugee families may also be connected with an individual or group of volunteers from the local community who visit them weekly to help the kids with homework, practice conversational English with the parents and answer questions they might have about American culture and practices.  


What is the outcome when a refugee child begins to thrive educationally here in the U.S.?

Malita: Refugee children have a lot of potential. For instance, I think of a high school girl who was nominated as the school district’s “Student of the Month,” just four years after arriving in the U.S. She gave  a speech to the school board and did an amazing job. It was so encouraging to see her success. When refugee children learn English, become involved in extracurricular activities and have access to academic support and resources, they begin to thrive. Through our youth programs, World Relief is privileged to play an important role in many success stories like this one.


World Relief’s work with refugee children and youth plays a vital role in their adjustment to new schools and their success in their new communities.

If you would like to donate to the work of World Relief during this back-to-school season text LEARN to 50555 and donate $10 World Relief’s work with refugees around the world.

Want to donate more than $10? Visit our Refugee Crisis page.