The Public Lecture is a regular feature of Ireland Yearly Meeting and is usually presented as an evening session in the course of the meeting. The lecture in 2010 was given by ANNE BENNETT
LIVING THE VISION – BUILDING PEACE – A PERSONAL JOURNEY
I should like to thank Ireland Yearly Meeting for giving me this opportunity to give the Public Lecture for 2010. I was asked to talk about building peace through my work at Quaker House Belfast and elsewhere. This is not an academic exploration of the issues. It’s about my experiences and stories of some of the people I have met during my work who have taught me so much. Towards the end of my talk I will explore some of the issues facing us today and in the future – the challenges for Quakers.
WHO AM I – WHAT MOTIVATES ME?
I am always interested in what motivates people. Probably an effect of being a social worker. Perhaps you are wondering what motivates me. How did I get from being a social worker to the Representative at Quaker House Belfast ? What started me on this journey? We all have moments in our lives that have a significant effect on how we view the world and how we live our lives. What was it that had this impact on me ?
PARABLE OF THE TALENTS
When I was about 9 I learned about the Parable of the Talents for the first time at Sunday school. In the Gospel of Matthew Chapter 24, Jesus told the story of a master who was going away and distributed his assets among his servants. To one he gave 5 talents, to another he gave 2 talents and to the third he gave 1 talent. When the master returned he rewarded the first and second servants for doubling their money and punished the third servant who had buried the money to keep it safe.
I was really upset by this story as it seemed as if Jesus was being really unfair. Those who were able to increase their money were rewarded but the man who had taken care of it, not lost it, was punished and the money taken away from him. It didn’t fit in with the Jesus I had been taught about in the past. I worried about this story, questioned the Sunday school teacher and my parents but no one had an answer that satisfied me. I can remember lying in bed trying to make sense of the story.
Eventually I came to a conclusion that satisfied me. Talent was a biblical word for money but if I used the word as I understood it as a 9 year old – skills and abilities that we had been given and not earned – then I started to make sense of the story. They were talents to be used and not wasted. I could see that the man who had buried his gifts had not made the full use of them as expected – so they were taken away from him.
Having cracked the problem I felt rather pleased with myself but gradually, I realised that this was not just a story, it had significance for me. I looked at the talents I had been given and with the honesty of a 9 year old, recognised them for what they were. They were a gift and not to be wasted.This sense of gifts to be used – and combined with the Quaker Advice – ‘live adventurously’ has been the driving force in my life and why this grey haired woman is giving this Public Lecture today.
TESTIMONY TO PEACE
One of the central elements of Quakerism is the belief that there is a spark of God/the divine/love and compassion in everyone. This belief has had a major impact on the way that we view the world. It has led to a number of Testimonies, for example, to equality, to simplicity, to truth and to peace. These Testimonies are not a type of creed to be signed up to, but a vision of a way of living which have been expressed in words. Three hundred and fifty years ago Quakers issued a statement during a period of unrest following the restoration of the monarchy which included the words:
We testify to the world that the spirit of Christ which leads us into Truth, will never move us to fight and war against any man with outward weapons, neither for the Kingdom of Christ, nor for the kingdoms of this world.·
This declaration was to re-assure King Charles II that Quakers were not planning an armed rebellion. These words are often quoted as if they are the Peace Testimony but they were an attempt to express Quaker beliefs in the Seventeenth Century. Over the centuries others have tried to express it in the language of their time.· In Ireland Yearly Meeting’s Queries for Serious Consideration we are asked: Do you live in that life and power which takes away the occasion of violent conflict, and with God’s help work for reconciliation between individuals, groups and nations? Do you faithfully maintain our witness that all war, or preparation for it, is inconsistent with the spirit and teaching of Christ?
However we express it, whatever language we use, it’s only a way of trying to put what we believe into words.· The next step is to put words into action!!· We could stand back, not becoming involved.· But, for us, with our insight into that spark of God in everyone, we feel that it is important that we play a full role in trying to create a world which takes away the occasion for all wars.· Quakers have engaged as individuals and corporately, sometimes alongside the other Peace Churches to try to prevent the outbreak of wars. They have engaged in mediation and direct contact with those threatening violence; been imprisoned for refusing to fight in the wars; provided care for both sides during and after the conflict and experienced the discomfort of being ‘out of step’ with public opinion.· A high price to pay for trying to live out our lives in a ‘different’ way. THIS IS PART OF OUR INHERITANCE – WHAT DOES IT LOOK LIKE IN OUR OWN LIVES – TODAY? HOW DO I RELATE TO IT? WHAT DOES PEACE LOOK LIKE?· It is often described as the absence of war – the absence of violence· Peace is an active rather than a passive state, a positive rather than a negative.
While I was working at Quaker House I heard the story of a group of women who were given disposable cameras and asked to take photos of ‘peace’. They found this really difficult. They were so used to looking for images of violence, conflict, destruction, that trying find something to photograph that depicted ‘peace’ was very hard. Most of them were unable to find anything to convey an image of peace although one woman took a photo of her husband asleep in his chair. Sidney Bailey, the British Quaker – said in the Swarthmore Lecture in 1993:
Peace begins with ourselves. It is to be implemented within the family, in our Meetings, in our work and leisure, in our own localities and internationally. The task will never be done. Peace is a process to engage in, not a goal to be reached’
It has an enormous impact on every part of our lives.·
– the way we value ourselves and our view of the world;·
– how we relate to our family
– how we respect difference
– our relationships with members of our Meeting
– working with others for a common purpose
– our attitude to colleagues at work
– dealing with frustrations
– challenges in the workplace
– our use of leisure how we use our time
– how we contribute to our local communities
– how we view the world and if there is any role for me.
Peace is a process that starts with ourselves and bears fruit in our actions. This lecture concentrates on what I have learned about living this vision in areas of violent conflict because that has ben my experience but others could apply it to many other areas.
PEACE TESTIMONY IN THE WIDER WORLD
We have all seen what happens to a society when there is deep rooted, unresolved conflict that turns into long term violence.· Apart from the physical destruction of buildings, infrastructure and the impact on the economy and patterns of life, there is a breakdown of trust, a fear of the ‘other’; and withdrawal into groups with similar loyalties.· People feel safer with their own and distrust others.· A sort of normality is pursued around the violence and mayhem. People develop coping strategies – but these are a means of survival but not the solution.· Normality tries to make sense of what is the abnormal in a world where peace is the exception rather than the rule.· The trauma of violent conflict affects all and not just those directly involved. Families and communities identify with ‘their side’ and the damage to one becomes damage to them all. I understand that children still continue to be affected by the impact of the Troubles because their parents and grandparents have been unable to deal with the trauma they experienced. A sort of selective amnesia can become more comfortable than painful memories.· Concepts such as ‘truth’ and ‘trust’, so essential to the functioning of communities, can become damaged by such experiences.· A deep-rooted conflict needs to be addressed on many levels in order to ensure that the peace deal for this conflict will work and not contain the seeds of the next conflict.· There are no quick solutions.
A TRIP TO THE CINEMA
When I was about 11 years old I went to the cinema with my class. We were studying the Normans and Saxons in history and the film was being shown at our local cinema. This was very exciting especially for me as I came from a family that had only taken me to the cinema twice in my life, to see Snow White and Bambi. To go to the cinema in school time – what a treat.· The film I found so exciting as a child was a version of Sir Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe. It was set in a period of conquest by a foreign power that had appropriated the best land for its own supporters. Social status was dependent on membership of a specific ethnic group. Power and wealth was held by the few. New laws favoured the newcomers. The prejudices, bigotry and injustices were played out in a violent conflict between the Normans and the Saxons.· I can’t remember much about the content of the film but one scene remains with me. There had been much violent antagonism between the Normans and Saxons but at a crucial moment the King rode in on a white horse and everyone knelt before him. The King gave a heroic speech about his vision of the future and concluded with the words, ‘when you knelt down you were Normans and Saxons but you arise as Englishmen’. At which point the men got up from their knees and shook hands, slapped each other on the back, going off together into the future in harmony.
We all cheered!· All good stuff for the cinema but often people confuse the vision with the demands of reality. A significant figure makes a powerful speech, a peace treaty is signed, much talk about a shared future. Excitement, relief that the violent conflict has come to an end. The cavalcade of mediators, negotiators, commentators, funders and the media move on to the next conflict.· An assumption that having signed the paper and shaken hands, the future will look after itself. The peace agreement is not the end but the beginning of another, long, painful process that needs as much time, funding and support.· What we are talking about is deep rooted conflict based on injustice which does not disappear overnight with a handshake and good will. The handshake and good will are a start but unless the community is willing to address the issues, speak, listen, they will continue and re emerge in the future.
Ruth Patterson, Director of Restoration Ministries, wrote recently The decommissioning of weapons is a step towards lasting peace the decommissioning of hearts and minds is a much slower process.
Any process to rebuild societies following a violent conflict must have a sense of what it wants to achieve, how it’s going to get there and what it will look like in the end.· It is important to have the roadmap set out and often these ideas are written down as if they go in a straight line. Step A then step B, rather like a recipe for a chocolate cake. List the ingredients, use them in the right order, cook at the correct temperature and hey presto, a beautiful cake, just like the picture in the book.· In real life situations of violent conflict the process of building peace might be analysed and set down but there might be more eggs than originally thought, the flour might be of a different quality, the butter too hard and difficult to cream, the chocolate unavailable and the oven go out at the crucial moment.· With such ingredients the linear approach is not appropriate. Building peace is not a precise process but sometimes circular, sometimes goes back on itself, sometimes involves more or fewer players than originally thought and some parts may have to be repeated.· It needs the framework and vision but also the space for those within the process to work creatively.
UNDERSTANDING THIS PROCESS IN ACTION.THE STORY OF THE LAUNDRY·
Several years ago I visited a small town in Croatia during the civil war which had seen the town fought over many times by the Serbian and Croatian armies. The front line had moved backwards and forwards across the town until a truce had been agreed. The civil war continued elsewhere but for this town, for the time being the fighting had stopped. The fighting had stopped but much of the town was in ruins. Barbed wire separated the Croatian from the Serbian population and the distinctive notices of uncleared mines remained. It was a sad, depressing sight. A once prosperous town had been crushed and its residents were the survivors. European Quakers had contributed a number of volunteers to an international work camp, assisting the local people as they rebuilt their town.·
I met with a local Croatian woman who had been a prominent member of the Communist party before the civil war had erupted. She had attended UN gatherings as a representative of Yugoslavia.· She talked about her experiences of the violence, the destruction of her town and what had happened to its residents in the wake of the devastation. A small group of women had started to meet once a week for a coffee and to cry. The one thing that they had in common was that they had all experienced a loss – the loss of their house, their husband, a child, a parent, during the conflict. Week after week they met, drank coffee and cried as they shared their experiences of loss. Gradually they decided that it was important to channel their shared grief into shared action. What the town needed was a laundry – what we would call a laundrette. Many homes had no water, few had heat during the winter and everyone was struggling to wash and dry their clothes.· Energized by this they formed a plan. They started making traditional dolls and handicrafts to sell, identified a central building with some walls standing and asked the international volunteers to convert it into a laundry. After months of intense activity the building was opened with large washers and dryers bought with the money the women had raised and a small grant from Quaker Peace and Service.· I was there soon after the opening. We stood in the laundry, washers one side, dryers on the other and a large table for folding clothes in the middle. An impressive achievement that had been a positive outcome of their shared experience of loss.· As a social worker I had been aware of the work of Elizabeth Kubler Ross. She developed a grief model which many of you will know, which suggests that everyone experiencing bereavement, trauma or emotional shock passes through identifiable stages:
1. Denial: it’s not true, there must be a mistake
2. Anger: why has this happened to me, what about all the other people who should have had this experience – why me?
3. Bargaining: trying to offer changes in life style or behaviour to some higher being in exchange for a reversal of the loss
4. Depression: sense of hopelessness – fear of the future.
5. Acceptance: recognition that what has happened cannot be changed – reality.·
This model was originally developed to assist people’s understanding of the process that they went through when facing their own death or that of someone they loved. It was descriptive of a process. It is a model to help understand and deal with people’s personal reaction to trauma.· The women who met for coffee and tears were working through their own cycle of loss, providing comfort and support for each other until they reached a point where they were ready to look outside their grief. To look beyond the pain. To look forwards. This takes time because having worked on one layer of grief, further layers were revealed.· They reached a point where they were ready to take the next step:· reshape the pieces of their lives into a new pattern. They were able to do this together. What I have been describing was their process.·
What I came to realise through their experiences was that the grief model could be applied to individuals coping with their own loss but that it could also be applied to communities. They have to work through their experiences corporately. There is no magic wand. Not all members of the community will work through their grief at the same pace, but with mutual support the community is able to move through the stages of this process.· However, they were only one half of the population of this town. I was unable to visit the other side of the barbed wire, where the Serbian residents lived. There were women on the other side of the wire living through similar experiences. They would have been old neighbours, ex school friends and workmates,· The pain of the women I met coming to terms with their own loss was the first step; the more difficult would be the next one – with those who were perceived as the enemy – who might have been the cause of their loss.
Building peace has to involve all layers of society, the decision makers, community leaders, individuals, often at local level most difficult because the memories are very raw.· It takes courage to speak out – fear of what our own community will way – fear that the hand offered in friendship will be rejected.· The process is not linear – many issues have to be revisited, stories retold.· Building peace is hard work and there are no short cuts. Trust has to be established – who takes the first step?· As communities try to move forward within a peace process, they face challenges as they try to come to terms with the past, with the implications of their actions.· It is not possible to walk away from the past. There is unresolved business which haunts the path forward as both sides try to come to terms with their perception of themselves and that of the other side.· Some things may have to be left to time and the passing of generations to deal with. The civil war in Croatia came to an end, the barbed wire was removed and life in Croatia moved on. Relationships were re-established. I met with someone a couple of years ago who told me that the Laundry was still in existence and the women continued to work together for their town.
Sadly, people and communities may think that they have come to terms with the past – moved on – built new lives – but unexpected events may trigger the memories and fears from their past.
The five stages of the grief model help to make sense of the process but like the chocolate cake, it’s a guide, not a recipe.· Anyone who has experienced loss will know that the stages are not so clear cut; progress goes backwards, forwards and in circles.· It is a very slow process but building peace takes time, commitment and determination.· It is the process for those involved; the role of the supporter is just that, to be supportive. Non-judgemental, yet not naive, but with no personal agenda.· A difficult role but one that Quakers have engaged with in many different settings.
HOW SHOULD WE ENGAGE? WHAT DO WE BRING? VALUE ADDED FACTOR
A prominent figure in Northern Ireland observed recently that Quakers brought the ‘value added factor’. Quite a comment! We bring those elements that can develop, enhance, open up and bring new light and opportunities. Quite a responsibility. Quite a reputation.
Alongside this view that Quakers bring the ‘value added factor’ I should also like to mention, what I always refer to as, Quaker ‘credit’.· This is the credit that has been built up over the centuries which enables us to be heard by decision makers, to be listened to, when we speak from our own experience, and to be trusted because people feel safe with us.· This Quaker credit has been earned. It is valuable and we should not abuse it, waste it and let it be frittered away – once it has gone it would be hard to regain.· When I left Queens University and went to work for Quakers in London I had only been in post about two weeks when there was an opportunity to go to the Foreign Office to meet with the Foreign Minister about the recent gas attacks by Saddam Hussein on the Kurds.
The door was open but unfortunately the person with expertise on the Middle East was away. I was sent in her place. I knew about the attack and the Kurds but didn’t have my colleague’s knowledge.· As I sat on the underground, making my way to Whitehall I was terrified. If I made a mess of this as Anne Bennett, I could live with it. If I made a mess of it as the representative of Quakers and ‘wasted’ some of the Quaker credit that had made the meeting possible, it would be terrible.· I survived, so did the Quaker credit but it’s something I’m very aware of every time I speak, act or don’t speak and act on behalf of Quakers.
EXAMPLES OF VALUE ADDED AND QUAKER CREDIT
I’d like to develop this through three areas of Quaker activity with which I have been involved – two examples of Quakers acting corporately and one by an individual – as an illustration of ‘value added’ using and enhancing Quaker credit in practice.
QUAKER HOUSE BELFAST·
An area of work where the value added factor and Quaker credit was at work was with Quaker House Belfast.· Quaker House was established in 1982 following a lengthy process of observation and analysis of the situation in Northern Ireland by the Watching Committee – some of whom are in the audience tonight.· The activities of a series of volunteers working and living at Frederick Street Meeting led to the idea of establishing a Quaker House, creating a safe space for people to speak and be heard and being open to opportunities as they arose.· There had been other Quaker Houses in areas of violent conflict. It involved setting up house in a ‘neutral’ area, the appointment of Representatives to live and work at Quaker House and a readiness to listen and build bridges without any personal agenda. It was a model that had been tested and found to be effective·
Quaker House didn’t organise conferences, publish reports or ‘think papers’. It engaged quietly and slowly in processes of dialogue. As Rufus Jones, the American Quaker wrote in 1937, I pin my hopes to quiet processes and small circles, in which vital and transforming events take place.· Dialogue was achieved through active listening as well as talking. It implies accepting and respecting the views of others and trying to understand where they are coming from.· Diversity and division are openly discussed in this process. It is not trying to provide answers but does hope to leave people questioning their own position, the position of others and look at the shared and conflicting underlying needs.· This requires trust, confidentiality and a commitment to long term work with no immediate outcomes.·
Quakers undertook this work as an expression of their Peace Testimony in action. Quaker House Belfast has benefited from money, time and prayerful support from all parts of IYM and other Yearly Meetings. It has been a witness in our name, living out our vision. Each Representative came with different skills but the beauty of the project was that the Representatives and the committee were willing to respond to the changing circumstances – building on the past but grasping new opportunities.· Opportunities to build relationships with paramilitaries, senior civil servants, politicians in Northern Ireland, Dublin and London and engage in cross community work. They were involved with issues around Parades, being a presence at flashpoint areas and bringing together people from different traditions to discuss contentious issues.· Each Representative built on the work of their predecessors. Trust and a confidence in Quakers was handed on.· As I said earlier, building peace is a circular rather than a linear activity and having a project that was ‘there’ ready to respond creatively was one of the strengths of the programme. Details of some of the work of the Representatives and much of the learning can be found in the chapter on Quaker House in the book ‘Coming from the Silence’ which is available at Yearly Meeting.
I would like to give an example of a piece of work that originated while I was at Quaker House as an example of how it evolved, including things that I find difficult to talk about.
During the West Belfast Festival in 2006 I was invited to an exhibition of quilts about the victims of violent conflicts at the Clonard monastery. I had no particular interest in quilts, but it had been organised by Relatives for Justice and Roberta Bacic was exhibiting a quilt made by women from Peru, to demonstrate their experiences during the violent civil war. The Peruvian Quilt was a soulful and skilful depiction of their terrible experiences and extremely moving.· However, the bulk of the exhibition consisted of huge panels of green cloth hanging from the floor to the ceiling. Set on these panels were small pictures, all the same size. Each picture commemorated someone who had died in the Troubles. They had mostly been designed, embroidered or appliquéd by members of the family the picture was commemorating. It was colourful, wonderfully descriptive of the life of the person before they died. All the pictures were lovingly commemorating a victim.·
As I read the inscriptions I became more agitated. Some of the people, men, women and children had been killed because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time but others, had been shot by security forces while on ‘active service’ and others blown up as they were placing bombs.· I walked up and down the display and talked with a couple of stewards. They told me how they had made their panel, how proud they were of their brother who had been shot while on active service.· I could feel my anger rising and I didn’t know how to handle it.· I left the exhibition and I walked up and down the Falls Road, trying to come to terms with what I had seen and understand why I felt so angry.· The prayer of St Francis asks make me a channel of your peace. I didn’t feel like there was any channel at all – there was a big blockage and the blockage was in me.· I got back to Quaker House. As I worked and lived on my own, there was no one to talk with about my emotions and the struggle I was going through. So I wandered around the house and up and down the stairs, trying to make sense of it all. I had to understand and then try to deal with my anger.·
This was not my first experience of the utter waste of life during the Troubles. I had been hurt, upset, wept in the past but this was the first time I had felt so angry.· Perpetrators could be victims and victims could also be perpetrators.· What I had accepted theoretically was now challenging me emotionally and I was finding it very difficult. Gradually I came to realise that I had been seeing it through my eyes rather than their eyes, walking in my shoes rather than their shoes. I had my own baggage.· I didn’t get much sleep that night as I prayed and tried to work through my powerful reaction to the exhibition. I realised that I had to find a way to channel this emotion.
Out of this anger came the vision of Quaker House organising an exhibition in a neutral space where examples of work to remember all those who had died in The Troubles could be exhibited. I had no idea at that time if any other pieces of work existed. I made tentative enquiries and I went on to discover that many other groups had produced work, quilts, wall hangings, paintings, mosaics and stained glass panels. It was all so inspiring – commemorating what had been lost. There was a massive amount of material within Northern Ireland, produced by individuals, single community and cross community groups and everyone I approached was enthusiastic about the idea of exhibiting their work. It was as if I was pushing at a door that had been waiting to be opened. The second part of my vision was to bring together women from two communities to create a new quilt as an expression of their vision for the future.
I left Quaker House before this could be brought to fruition but others took the vision forward. There was a magnificent exhibition of quilts in Derry The Art of Survival in 2008 and a cross-community quilt, Shared visions, made by women from Belfast which was launched at Stormont in 2009 and is on exhibition at this Yearly Meeting.· I was not proud of my angry response – the images pushed a button in me that I didn’t know was there – but I am glad that it was possible to channel the energy into something positive and that the Quaker House Management Committee were able to support me in this venture.
One further comment about the work with the quilts before I move on. I was talking with a woman who had made several quilts that depicted her experiences of The Troubles from her Republican perspective. We were looking at a quilt from Latin America which was depicting fighting between soldiers and paramilitaries. Suddenly she stopped and said, that’s odd, the soldiers have faces. I asked what she meant in my quilts I only put faces on the IRA figures. We were silent; there was no need to say anything.· The Quaker House Belfast project is in the process of being laid down. I think that this is a brave step by the Management Committee. The situation in Northern Ireland is quite different from 1982, the house had already been sold as it was no longer in a suitable part of Belfast for the work and rather than try to adapt an existing structure to a totally different situation, the project is to be laid down. This does not imply that there is no longer any need for Quaker work in Northern Ireland, but that the type of work has changed.·
I hope that IYM and Ulster Quarterly Meeting will establish a small group to keep a watchful eye on Northern Ireland and when new openings emerge, an appropriate project will be established. How do we include those who feel disenfranchised, isolated or disappointed with the Peace Process? What can we learn from our experiences to prevent the violence breaking out again? Quakers have a reputation for looking for the ‘gaps’, not repeating what others are doing and, when it’s time, to lay down a project or hand it over. This requires discipline, a sense of using resources wisely and keeping the needs of those with whom we work at the centre of the work.
My second example of the Quaker’s value added concerns Burundi.· I visited Burundi during the civil war. There were daily reports of massacres, tit for tat killings and everyone I met had a personal experience of the violence and family members who had been murdered.· Burundi Quakers come from both Tutsi and Hutu families and felt that this was one of their strengths at a time when many of the churches drew their membership from one group or the other.· Quaker Peace and Service was supporting a number of peace projects local Quakers were taking forward in the midst of the violence – at great personal cost.· One project involved rebuilding houses after they had been torched during one of the regular tit for tat raids. The group of local Quakers would come together to give one day’s labour to rebuild the houses of either Hutus or Tutsis.· These were subsistence farmers with very little and often had to walk for miles in order to give their day’s labour, but they were trying to build a more peaceful society.· The houses were square, with thatched roofs, and a door. The traditional house.·
When I arrived, the group had already dug the large hole into which the loose red earth and water would be tipped. Some of the men jumped into the pit and ‘worked’ the mud with their feet.· I was invited to join them but squatted by the side of the pit and talked with them about their faith and a need to do something.· The well-worked mud was put into wooden frames and left in the sun to dry. The bricks would be built into the house and the roof made from banana leaves.· In a few days the elderly widow who had been burnt out would have a new home.· There was a wonderful atmosphere. Lots of singing, laughing and a fantastic smell as the women and young children prepared the food on an open fire.·
As I squatted by the mud-filled hole, I saw a movement out of the corner of my eye: a soldier coming down the track. I got up slowly. Was he on his own or was he leading an attack on the group?· Suddenly the others saw him and shouted out greetings and the children ran towards him.· He was a young soldier stationed locally who had come into contact with the Quakers and so impressed with the way that they lived their lives that he wanted to join them. He had worshipped with them and become a very popular member of their Meeting. Today he had come to say good bye as he had just heard that he was being posted to another part of the country.· Later I sat with the soldier, the Quaker Pastor and his wife as we prayed with him. As he left I had to ask the question that had been rushing around my brain. These soldiers regularly went out on raids to wipe out villages and individuals. Now that he was a Quaker how did he deal with these orders?· Every time I look at the list of those going out on raids I’m frightened but the Good Lord cares for me – my name is not there.· The QPS contribution to this project was very small, paying for the wood for the door frame and door and for the ingredients for a meal for everyone to share while they were working.· I was there as the representative of the organisation that had contributed such a small sum to this work. I felt privileged to meet with such brave men and women, witnessing for peace in an environment of very violent conflict. Quakers in Burundi, Rwanda, Kenya and the Democratic Republic of Congo continue to develop small, inclusive and focussed project s in extremely violent situations. They live out their vision and witness for peace. They need our ongoing support and prayers.
Finally, I should like to tell you the story of Dorothea Woods as she told it to me. She was an American Quaker working for an international Non Governmental Organisation (NGO) in Geneva and an active member of the Geneva Quaker Meeting.· In addition to her fulltime job with the YWCA, she had a deep concern about the treatment of conscientious objectors to military service. In order to make people more aware of their experiences, she collated and produced a newsletter.· She had a network of people worldwide who would send her reports or newspaper cuttings about the treatment of COs and changes to national legislation.· The newsletter was produced by hand on an old copying machine on a regular basis and reflected these reports on a regional basis. It was a time consuming commitment in the days before computers, emails and the internet but it was her contribution to building peace.
Geneva Meeting had a discussion about what they might do as a Meeting to mark the Year of the Child in 1979. Dorothea offered to produce a ‘one off’ issue of her newsletter relating to the involvement of children in armed conflicts. Unsure that she would be able to find enough material to fill a newsletter, she contacted her network and asked if they could provide any information about this topic.· To her amazement she was overwhelmed by material. It flooded in. Children had been hidden from view and whether they were full members of national armies, guerrilla groups or militias, there were vast numbers of children involved in violent conflict as active participants, victims and sometimes as both.·
Dorothea had uncovered an area that stretched beyond her ‘one issue’ newsletter. It became a regular newsletter.· The Quaker United Nations Office in Geneva took up the issue of Child Soldiers and worked with other NGOs, Governments and the UN to include an Optional Protocol to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child which was adopted in 2000. The Optional Protocol outlaws compulsory recruitment of children under the age of 18 by both government and non-government armed forces. Although it still allows Governments to recruit volunteers under the age of 18 it obliges States to ensure that members of their armed forces under age 18 do not take direct part in combat. The Protocol has had an impact on government forces and as a signatory to this Convention the UK government was obliged to take under age soldiers off the ships in the lead-up to the first Gulf War.·
However, the largest numbers of child soldiers are with unofficial armed groups who do not observe the UN Conventions and Optional Protocols.· There are many reasons why children become involved with militias and armed groups but they quickly become brutalized by the experience.· To extricate them from this role is only the first step. Many need help to deal with the trauma they have experienced and their reintegration with their societies is a long and painful process.· There are now many organisations engaging with their long term needs. Quakers continue to work with these young victims, on the long and painful process to rebuild their lives – to reintegrate into their societies.· So much has developed from what was thought to be a ‘one-off’ Newsletter that Dorothea Woods decided to compile to mark the UN Year of the Child.
Sometimes we are able to see the issue very clearly, at other times we stumble across them. How we respond when we become aware is what is important. So – what have I learnt about the Peace Testimony, Building Peace from my contact with these three quite different pieces of work? So much – but they include:·
– Commitment to a lengthy process·
– Small steps·
There may not be immediate results· It’s possible to influence international institutions and change government policy· Often the issues are staring us in the face – we can ignore them or respond.· Sometimes it involves personal sacrifice – it often takes us out of our comfort zone.· It often involves working quietly for a shared goal· There is a need for prayerful support – for time and energy of committee members overseeing the work and the assistance of donors.· This list could go on and on but all started with one small step. I have described some of the experiences that have contributed to my understanding of the Peace Testimony in action. Living our vision and building peace. You will have your own stories. Quaker Service and IQFA would have other stories to add. Many of our efforts would come under the category of ‘work in progress’ rather than task completed! In the final section of my talk I would like to look towards the future. Share with you some of my thoughts and the questions I ask myself:
WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE? WHAT FACES US IN THE 21ST CENTURY?·
We are living through a period of immense change within families, nations and internationally.· The social, economic, climate and political changes affect everyone and the shifting global patterns of power and influence, will have a long-term impact that is difficult to imagine.· Existing problems within our society and Western Europe, such as unemployment, underachievement, breakdown of family structures, diminishing social cohesion will all be exacerbated by the long-term implications of the global financial crisis.· At times we can feel overwhelmed by the fact that we have become part of the economic, political and social system whether we wanted to or not.· How do we tackle such an all encompassing system?· Are the issues too big for us to tackle?
If we remember our past – the slave trade formed an important part of the economy yet this did not deter Quakers in their determination to have it abolished. Many of the traditional building blocks are shifting – do we need to listen, watch and revise some of our thinking? We live in what is often referred to as a ‘global village’ what happens globally affects us locally. These threats cannot be ignored, they affect us. We are not the only people rethinking the way forward.·
Military leaders are no longer dealing with wars and proxy wars between two superpowers or ethnic groups trying to free themselves from colonial rule.· They are facing situations where groups are using insurgents with low tech equipment to achieve their goals.· The military response and traditional tactics using high tech equipment has had to be dramatically rethought.· Military training has been developing programmes that engage much more closely with the local communities.· They recognise that meeting violence with violence will not be effective.· The military are now working with community and religious leaders in Iraq and Afghanistan to explore, through dialogue a, vision of another way.· Does this sound familiar? Would we have anything to contribute?
At the launch of the Quaker Quilt at Stormont, May Blood quoted the following words: There are those who made things happen. There are those who watched things happen. There are those that asked what happened? Do we want to continue to be the people who make things happen?· When we face the question of where do we go from here, we should ask ourselves· What are the challenges of the next 10 years?· What are we good at?· What works?· Who are our natural allies?· Who should we be listening to?· Should we evaluate our well tried and tested methods?· How effective are demonstrations?· What impact do peace camps, petitions and letter writing have on decision makers?· Are some methods better than others?· Do they just make us feel better?· If we review our projects like Quaker Service, Quaker House, IQFA, and the Peace Committees – could we have done more? Were there gaps we missed? Why did we miss them? Could we have been more objective in our approach?· Who are the decision makers we should be reaching out to influence?· Modern communication systems are very powerful, what use should we be making of them?· What are our strengths?· We have access to decision makers and decision shapers nationally and through the Quaker offices at the EU and the UN. Do we use these opportunities? We have developed the skills of creating safe spaces for people to talk openly about issues they might not feel free to talk about elsewhere. Where are these spaces needed today?·
I met a Canadian Muslim. Her husband was an Islamic scholar and she was an academic who also carried out evaluations of development projects funded by a Muslim organisation.· She and her husband had been so appalled by September 11th and the fact that is was supposed to have been carried out on behalf of all Muslims – in their name.· They felt that they had to do something. They decided to approach their local churches to ask if they would engage in dialogue.· This was not a Christian problem or a Muslim problem but a common problem and to work together would strengthen the position of those opposed to such violent action.· Their suggestion was welcomed and they met with the congregations of 2 or 3 churches.·
However, they quickly discovered that what the church people wanted was to convert them to Christianity. They had little interest in a programme of dialogue and working together for the common good.· Sadly the couple decided that for them, this was not the way forward. She wondered if they had approached Quakers there might have been a different response.· Would Quakers have been reaching out to her? Would we know where to look? We have used our spaces to listen not only to the stories but helped communities to take forward the issues constructively. Who should we be listening to? What are the issues that need to be heard?· We have our Quaker ‘Talents’. Are some of them hidden away?· Have all of them been identified?· Are we using them?·
We have the powerful asset of the Quaker ‘credit’ I mentioned before. Are we using it? Are we using it wisely, knowing that once it has been ‘spent’ it will not be available for future activities? We have the capacity to be creative in our approach to issues. Are existing projects following a familiar pattern, could changes be introduced? New directions explored? We have tried to lay down or pass on to others pieces of work once they have become established or their purpose has been achieved. Are we persisting with some work that is holding us back? Using energy that could be used for other purposes? We are facing new challenges in the Twenty-first Century. There are many other organisations seeking to address the problems. Traditionally Quakers have worked with other s. Who should we be working with? If we work alone we should aim to engage with the areas not being addressed by others.
Where are the gaps today? Should we be addressing them? Modern funding for projects focuses on aims, objective and outcomes, often within a 3-5 year time frame. This is good practice – but ……We should ask ourselves, is our witness today to have an impact for today or is it to be viewed in terms of one or two life times? Quakers have a rich history and it is important that it is celebrated. But ….. New chapters wait to be written. The lecture has been about my own personal journey of living our vision. Everyone in this room is living out the peace testimony in their lives. Some days we are more successful than others! We are all trying to make a difference. We do this through personal witness in our daily lives. Whatever our contribution – all contribute to the whole. All require that we take that first step in order to make an impact. We are living out our vision – building peace. In the words of St Francis –
Make me an instrument of your Peace.