A Creators of Peace facilitator talks to Nisha Sreenivasan about her work in a former war zone - and why it needs to continue.
A baby lost - and returned
Trudging past smoking houses and children playing with bullet shells, January 2006 saw Meena Sharma, 30, on a human rights mission to Hetauda, Nepal. In the aftermath of the 10-year conflict between the Nepalese government and the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist), Meena’s mission was to collect data on human rights abuses and report them to the UN.
In one village, still scarred by the fires from a fresh conflict, she met a young mother boiling salt water on a wood-burning fire for her children, who hadn’t eaten in a day. She told Meena her story of how her village was attacked in crossfire just after she had given birth. In the panic to flee, her new-born baby was left behind.
Later that night, a woman army officer knocked on the door of her refuge hut. She held a baby against her vest, tied around her neck with a shawl.
‘Whose baby is this? I took him from a burning house.’ she asked. Relief flushed through the young mother as she recognised and claimed her son. The officer turned around to go, revealing her back sodden with blood.
The mother told Meena that the officer must have held the baby to her chest as she crawled through gunfire. She said, ‘I did not know who she was, where she was from, or if she was from my village. But I got my baby back because of her.’
Later that day, Meena and her team met separately with the Maoist and Army leaders in the area. ‘They both gave data of things like how many people they had killed from the other side,’ said Meena. ‘But then I finally asked, “Do you know anything about an army woman who risked her life for a young boy?” Both sides said, “No these are small, common things we don’t keep track of.”
‘It made me wonder, who is responsible to document these things? We don’t even have space in our national broadsheets to document these cases. I asked myself, as a human rights activist, how can I identify these stories from conflict?’
Facilitating a Peace Circle with victims of conflict
In 2011, Meena took part in a training event to become a facilitator with Creators of Peace. Many who took part said that, for the first time in their lives, they felt connected and supported by other women.
She later teamed up with 12 other women from the training event. They used the tools they had learned to hold their own Peace Circle in Bardiya, an agricultural district, on January 2012. She made sure to invite women from both Maoist and Army sides. Many of the women had been abducted and forced to serve the militia. Some had been tortured.
Meena said, ‘Initially when they entered the room, the Maoist victims sat on one side, and the Army victims sat on another.’
She started off with a few ground rules, assuring the women that everything they said would remain in the room.
‘When they started sharing their experiences, I was amazed at the reaction,’ said Meena. ‘When a woman shared her story of rape by army men, they all cried and hugged her, no matter which side they were from. They all shared the same pain. By the end of the three days, it was very hard to identify who was from which group.’
‘Healing is what I am here to do’
The bonding among women and the results that she witnessed from Creators of Peace Circles encouraged Meena to drop her other roles and conduct Peace Circles full-time, even using up her weekends for the events.
‘This is my passion,’ she said. ‘It is not a technical job where you can read a manual. You need to put both your heart and head in it. Healing is what I am here to do.’
From 17-21 February 2020, Creators of Peace will host a regional gathering at Asia Plateau, the IofC centre in Panchgani, India, for Peace Circle facilitators like Meena. All facilitators are volunteers, and the event will equip them with strategic thinking and other skills to be able to continue facilitating Circles with confidence. Sponsorships and donations will enable women from remote locations or difficult situations to attend.
Meena hopes to be there - and to bring some new facilitators with her. ‘Many of the women now active in Creators of Peace don’t get to go out of their villages,’ she said. ‘This would be good exposure for them to meet people of other backgrounds. It might encourage them to do something for their own community.’
However, she may have to cancel her trip, if funds are not forthcoming.
Shoshana hopes that women in Australia will band together to support women in other countries. ‘It’s like an energy exchange,’ she said. ‘We may not be able to be there to give them our time but given how many of us have much more in our lives than we need - giving the gift of money is a way we can participate in women’s empowerment. Our world is filled with people in such pain and we need to contribute to the healing.’
- You can read about a follow-up Creators of Peace Circle facilitated by Meena and colleagues in Nepal here
- You can continue to support Creators of Peace to enable more Peace Circles in more locations by making a donation here.