After fifteen years spent as a media witness to conflict-affected peoples, my peacebuilding work has allowed me, in a small way, to be more effective in supporting some sort of a journey towards breaking cycles of violence. And yet why do I continue to see exactly the same conflict issues, no matter which continent? The patterns are so predictable. What is unpredictable is the ability of the human spirit to choose dignity over humiliation; the victim to become a survivor; the powerless to acknowledge their strength. This is a rite of passage to cherish because one chain in the long cycle of violence dissolves forever. There can be no more ‘dark nights of the soul’ when Truth becomes Beauty. Amandla Awethu!
With a background in video journalism and a Masters in Peace and Conflict Studies, Flavia Abdurahman has worked in many conflict-affected countries, including Afghanistan, India, South Africa and Uganda, documenting women’s conditions and producing stories for ABC TV, SBS TV and other organisations. She has researched, written and produced videos for the Afghan Ministry of Women’s Affairs, including awareness-raising videos on domestic violence, women’s rights and women’s potential to heal their broken communities. These were broadcast on local and national television and radio stations throughout Afghanistan from 2006 to 2009.
During her 15 years in the field, dealing with peoples affected by extreme conflict and witnessing NGO/INGO activities, Flavia has found a distinct disconnect between what was happening ‘on the ground’ and reports produced by the media, academia and NGOs. One clear example is the portrayal of domestic violence as most severe during open conflict. While media images centre on this being the time when women are at their most vulnerable in the home, in reality rates of domestic violence usually peak in the post-conflict period when soldiers return to their families. First the wife suffers at the hands of her husband and mother-in-law, then she targets her children. So, domestic violence evolves into trans-generational violence, affecting all the members of a family and perpetuating the cycle for future generations.
This ‘disconnect’ begs two basic questions: is donor funding for gender and peace issues being spent effectively? Could these issues be resolved locally by the people who are affected by the violence? If so, they would then need to be educated about the latest lessons learned in peacebuilding, self-reliance, self-empowerment, trauma awareness and healing strategies, in ways that they could understand and interpret for themselves and their communities.
By 2011, Flavia was in a position to translate her thoughts into action. As a volunteer with Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH, she started training refugees in peacebuilding in a Ugandan refugee settlement. The classroom was a modest mud hut with a single light bulb. The students, initially, were few. Conditions in the settlement were basic, power struggles were frequent and racial tensions escalated, with gang warfare imminent. At this point Flavia’s students gathered like-minded refugees and together they prevented the impending violence by getting the settlement’s church choirs to sing, from dawn until dusk, on the football field that separated the two clans. After that, the previously divided communities within the settlement came to understand the value in peacebuilding. Flavia’s first class after that particular clash numbered 84 students – almost 50% from each warring clan – from Somalia and from eastern DRC (the two locations of Africa’s longest-running conflicts), with a few additional students from Eritrea and Ethiopia.
Peacebuilding is about rebuilding relationships in such a way that the violence will not reoccur. So, the students are trained in the fundamental components of non-violent facilitation and mediation – non-judgmental neutrality and social inclusion. They are also trained to investigate and analyse the root causes of the conflict, and to develop peacebuilding strategies. This process includes many self-reflection exercises on how the violence, in all its forms, has affected their behaviour and outlook. The trauma awareness component encourages students to create safe places for themselves and their community, where they can facilitate the necessary activities to process the grief, shame and guilt from past events. They are then ready to formulate healing strategies. The training is applicable to both victims and perpetrators.
Inspired by the level of dedication of her refugee students, Flavia has established a non-profit organisation, PeacebuildingTV, to produce the peacebuilding training in video form, as a free, online resource for peoples affected by long-time conflict. Now back in Sydney, Flavia is in the process of building support for PeacebuildingTV, inspired by the fact that survivors of long-term conflict are capable of transforming the cycles of violence themselves; that, with the relevant training, they will become the architects of a future dramatically different from the past.