Thursday, November 9, 2017

New Developments After 25 Years of Creators of Peace

Kirsty Argento in coversation with Jean Brown

In 2016, Creators of Peace (CoP) celebrated its 25th anniversary as a global network of women in peace building. Jean Brown served as an international coordinator for 23 years, and developed the approach that today is being applied by individuals in communities around Australia and in over 40 other countries. Kirsty Argento, volunteer coordinator at IofC Australia, interviewed Jean before participants at the Asia-Pacific Regional Gathering that took place in Taiwan in 2017.

Creators of Peace Meeting in Sydney

Kirsty Argento: Creators of Peace has been around since 1991. How did you build your initial methodology?

Jean Brown: CoP started with a conference of about 700 people together in Caux in 1991. It was so successful, they said, ‘Let’s have another conference in 1994.’ Then in 1995 there was the UN’s World Conference on Women in Beijing – the theme was ‘Action for Equality, Development and Peace.’ I went with a CoP colleague, Vijayalakshmi Subrahmanyan from India. That took us onto the international stage as official observers. In 2001 there was another conference at the Initiatives of Change centre in Panchgani, India. Vijayalakshmi asked me if I could prepare some workshop material for that conference. I had two particular themes: ‘Do we really know what peace is?’ and then, ‘What destroys peace? What creates peace?’ Following that conference, I thought that this could be usefully developed into conversation pieces for groups of women to engage with. I added six more, so then there were eight and now10 so-called ‘gathering points’. These formed the basis for our manual that is now used by facilitators who run Creators of Peace Circles.

Kirsty Argento: Looking across the world, we see there are over 1,000 people involved in Kenya alone. How is Creators of Peace so successful in engaging participants?

Jean Brown: Initially, it was that women who took it on were those who had already trained with IofC. They already had that background, and this was putting in their hands a very simple, tangible way of reaching out. One key to success is having a ‘champion’. If I look at the countries where it has worked best, there is a champion. Take Trish McDonald-Harrison in Sydney - the place where CoP has really taken off most in the Western world. She was a woman of such heart, a magnetic type. She used to say, ‘When I say the words ‘creator of peace’ and I see the twinkle in the person’s eye, I know I’ve got them!’

The story-sharing component of the Peace Circle means a lot to people. We get comments like, ‘I’ve never shared my story before with anyone,’ and ‘I’ve never been listened to before’. The act of women hearing each other’s stories, across the diversity of ethnicities and religions, affirms our common humanity in a powerful way.

There is also the fact that our methodology is so simple. At one level you could say anyone could do it, but now we’re trying to formalise the facilitator training to be sure everyone understands its proper usage.

Kirsty Argento: In the peace industry, there is an explosion of women’s empowerment movements. Does CoP deserve a place in that industry? Does CoP have something to offer?

Jean Brown: We’re very small fish in a very big pond, but there’s often something missing in women’s work that we can offer. I had a call from a friend working with UN Women regarding a workshop she was organising for women leaders from Libya. This person was saying that she knew the women were in conflict with each other, so the UN Women training would not be so effective. Could I come and run the Creators of Peace Circle first, before they did their own training? She saw that through the Peace Circle we address the ‘relational epicentre’. Sadly, because she needed Arabic-speaking facilitators, of whom we only have a few, and we had only a couple of weeks’ notice, we were unable to meet her request. I have a similar story from Kenya: a US agency came to run a high-powered program and the participants weren’t comfortable with each other. A friend who was involved in that program said, ‘If only we had shared a Peace Circle first.’ A Palestinian woman activist once commented to me that many programs have nothing to empower the heart, alongside their focus on economic, political and social empowerment.

Kirsty Argento: What is the operating structure of CoP globally?

Jean Brown: Somewhere around 2006 to 2007, we created a global operating structure. We called ourselves the International Coordination Team. We only started an election process for that around 2013, which formalised it even more. In 2008, we entered into a Memorandum of Understanding with Initiatives of Change International, for Creators of Peace to be recognised as a program of the organisation. In more recent times we have become an Associate Member of the International Association of IofC. There are seven to twelve members on the International Coordination Team at any given moment - currently there are seven. I have now stepped down, and we’ve moved just now to having an Executive Officer. Our Treasurer is Romanian, and we have a Nigerian President. Our EO, Kate Monkhouse, resigned from her paid employment to give all of her time to advancing Creators of Peace. Currently she is supported by personal donations with the hope that eventually she can be supported by funds granted for various projects.

Initially, I designed Creators of Peace Circles for Western countries where the huge influx of diverse cultures threatens the stability of old communities. The circles were designed to build trust across the divides and appeal to women to open their hearts and homes. However, they took off in Africa, and gradually other countries requested them. They cost almost nothing; just some photocopying and a cup of tea. In Africa, however, to bring women together you need to provide transport, food and sometimes compensate for lost earnings. Funding is an issue.

Johannesburg City Council has requested our Peace Circles to be part of what they offer, so they will pay facilitators. The other thing I’m interested in at the moment is that a country like Burundi has found ways of combining the Peace Circle with a development project - introducing a new and faster way to process the staple food, cassava. On the first day participants prepare the cassava and leave it to detoxify, then follows the three days of the Peace Circle - detoxing hearts and relationships. On the final day they have a feast and then show people how to design a new type of dry toilet. These additions to the Peace Circle are meeting the needs of rural people across the country. The model is attracting interest and funding, which allows facilitators to receive some honorariums. One international foundation has asked that we deliver the same model in Congo and Rwanda. There is a lot of potential in this Creators of Peace development model.

Creators of Peace Meeting in Sydney

· Read about the 25th anniversary ‘Living Peace’ conference here: http://www.caux.ch/closing-plenary-living-peace-telling-new-story

· To get involved in Creators of Peace near you, contact the National Administrator in Australia, manu.granados@iofc.org

Images courtesy of IofC Australia and Shoshana Faire