SUMMER, 2001: Volume 6, Issue 2
A Ugandan Peace Initiative by John Lampen
In 1997 the Ugandan Fellowship of Reconciliation (JYAK) arranged an exchange visit between women from Soroti and Kasese districts. Quaker Peace & Service funded this. The Kasese group asked for more training in peace work, and a seminar was arranged, with Grace Sentongo, Angelica Kashunju and me as the trainers. After this first visit in 1998 the Rwenzori Peace Bridge of Reconciliation was formed, with women and men as members. The same trainers gave further seminars in 1999 and 2000, and the group was very active in between. Slowly they worked to convince the local MPs, government and police that such work had no party-political agenda, and that it had a real part to play in the community.
One of their activities was to found peace clubs in the local secondary boarding schools. Besides the need for spare-time activities, these schools had suffered considerably from rebel raids; many teenagers had been abducted and enslaved, and on one occasion the rebels had set fire to a locked dormitory when they failed to get in. The peace clubs frequently used song and drama; and in one school I saw a most moving song with actions which commemorated this horror. One of my concerns has been to broaden the club’s range of activities, particularly by adding conflict resolution training. Last year I wrote and produced a short handbook for them which we launched with a two-day training workshop for student committee members and some of their teachers.
In 1999 we visited Bwera Primary Teacher Training College and gave a workshop to the whole Senior Class. A peace club was formed in the College and two students, Sarah Kakumba and Alfred Kuule, came next day to the Rwenzori Peace Bridge of Reconciliation seminar. We planned to revisit the college five months later; but we ran into hostility from the Principal, who had not been present at the earlier meeting. She said there was no need for such a club in her college; when I suggested that her graduates could do a lot of good in this respect when they took up school posts (for example, in landmine awareness education) she barely listened to me.
But this January I met Alfred and Sarah again. They told me how they had felt so enriched by the seminar that they had ignored her wishes and continued the club. Now they had graduated, and all the members planned to initiate peace clubs in the schools where they were going. In his village during the long Christmas holidays, Alfred had formed a short-term peace club of boarding school students; and they too had enjoyed training, discussing issues, and writing songs with a peace message. They all planned to start similar clubs in their schools next term.
He had also encouraged a women’s group in the village to take up peace issues, and they had started a program of discussions and visits to increase family harmony. Meanwhile Sarah had also set up a village group, which works with local families on the conflicts centering on having a disabled child in the family.
I was taken to visit other local peace groups which were affiliated to the Peace Bridge. A very impressive women’s group was engaged in job creation projects and AIDS/HIV awareness education. Though it wasn’t my task to make suggestions, I was impelled by things I had seen to ask them to consider creating a club for teenage girls who had had no schooling, to give them some training in health and hygiene, child care, home economics and women’s rights. Another club had been founded in a refugee camp to press for their needs to be recognized, with a large children’s section.
The Rwenzori Peace Bridge of Reconciliation has been in existence for three years; and is now ready to plan for a long-term future. One part of this concerns organization (office, transport, staff, communication) and fundraising. The other part is their projected activities. They dream of having teams which can offer a service whenever there is a conflict. This would be based on the village groups, with a co-coordinating desk in a central office. They say, “Peace education is the major device to use for the achievement of our mission; we therefore have an immediate need for a team of trainers. The role of the team shall be to give members skills in conflict resolution (team of mediators), counseling (team of counselors) and preaching peace.” They have applied to JYAK to send a trainer to start the creation of such a training group. I also suggested that they renew the contact I was able to make for them last year with AVSI (the agency with whom I worked in Kitgum), whose experience of creating a community volunteer counseling program would be most helpful in developing these plans.
Peace Bridge’s program also includes: establishing rehabilitation centers for youth who have dropped out of school because of conflict; workshops and seminars with all sections of the Kasese community including politicians, civil servants and security personnel on the promotion of peace in the District; exchange visits with people from other areas; the development of peace monitors in every sub-county, based on the school peace clubs and village groups, who would forward information on conflicts to the co-coordinating desk.
I was struck once again by the vision, energy and relevance of this group. They have almost no resources (I was able to cover the costs of my visit, and give a modest donation to their general expenses), and not very much training; yet they have made a careful assessment of what is possible in their District and devised to tools to achieve it.
Note: Diana and John Lampen run their own small training and consultancy agency, The Hope Project, based in Stourbridge, England, which works for peace in partnership with local organizations in Britain, Belarus, Bosnia, Croatia, Uganda and Ukraine.