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We Transform Leaders into Peace Resources

25 January 2010 No Comment

Dekha Ibrahim Abdi

Dekha Ibrahim Abdi

Kenya

I am a Muslim and a Peace-builder. The two things are in harmony in me, like being a professional and being a mother.

I grew up in Wajir, in a mixed neighborhood of Christians and Muslims. My role model was my mother’s mother, Makka. She was a strict trainer of character. She taught me to be ladylike. “Don’t talk and eat.” “Don’t drag your feet.” And so much more! I used to cut hair and fingernails and save the money to buy her a scarf or slippers. In 15 minutes she had given it away. “But I gave it to you, Grandmother!” I would say. And she would reply, “I have given it to a young mother who needs it more than I do, and I have blessed you. May Muslims and Christians be your friends.” She lived for societal good; she valued relationships.

I didn’t get it at the time. Ten years later, in 1999, I was working in Birmingham UK. It was a winter day when I ran out of milk for the children and my washing machine broke down. A Christian neighbor, Lenora Wilson, came to my door unexpected. “Do you have any washing? Would you like milk from the supermarket?”  That was the blessing of my grandmother.

She understood diversity and the globalized world, so long ago. She was my first university, my river of knowledge. She was the inspiration for the Peace Development Committees, a model later used by Pact, USAID, and other partners. I have degrees in education and peacebuilding. In Peace II, I work with my colleague Isaac, who is a civil engineer. I am the social engineer. Our roles complement each other. We coordinate cross-border peace dividend projects that meet concrete, shared needs like water, roads, and hospitals. We work with communities to design projects that meet their felt needs. The process is as important as the products, and transparency is crucial.

We start out in a new community by posting ads on the trees in the market. From the first meetings, we use a transparent process of community planning and contracting that builds trust and neighborliness. We succeed, make mistakes, reflect, learn, and go on. We have to get past or around the resistance of businesspeople who have links to the governments and the armed groups, but in time we transform key leaders into societal peace resources.

People in conflict have a block to visioning the future, their trauma. When structural violence goes on for a very long time, people fear peace. It’s the unknown. They know war. The peacekeepers, the security officers are traumatized too. Healing and social reconciliation require looking at the various narratives. To move from competing narratives to collective healing requires transformation. And there are practical ways to do that.

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In 2007 Dekha received a Right Livelihood Award, sometimes called “the alternative Nobel Prize.”

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