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Peace Is My Rock

17 June 2010 One Comment

Chic Dambach

“I build peace because I care about the human beings involved. It goes back to my Peace Corps experience, when I lived in an impoverished village in Colombia and fell in love with the people. I learned that people all over the world are lovable.”

Chic Dambach is the executive director of the Alliance for Peacebuilding (AFP), the North American representative to the Global Peace Alliance (GPAC), a Peace Corps veteran and former head of the National Peace Corps Association, a three-time Olympics official, a seasoned citizen diplomat, the author of the  soon-to-be-released book ­­­­Exhaust the Limits, and so much more. But when Mary Liepold asked him about his proudest accomplishment, all that came second.

The proudest? Sixteen years ago, I donated a kidney to keep one of my sons alive. He’s 18 now, and thriving. Family comes first.

Speaking of family: In this Fathers Day week, what is the most important message you handed on to your kids?

It’s the same one my parents instilled in me: Enjoy life, and leave the world better off than you found it.

The work I value most is what I did with a few Peace Corps friends and officials on both sides of the Eritrea-Ethiopia border 10 years ago to help bring peace to that region. We built a trust relationship with the leaders of both countries, and in the words of Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Meles Zenawe, created “the momentum and the spirit which made this historic achievement possible.”

Two years later in the Congo, we got rebel leaders to form a coalition government, with the very government they were trying to overthrow! Rebel leaders became cabinet members in that government. I almost broke down in tears when I told this story recently at a conference in Milwaukee. People were dying by the tens of thousands, and then they weren’t. I am proud of that.

I build peace because I care about the human beings involved. It goes back to my Peace Corps experience, when I lived in an impoverished village in Colombia and fell in love with the people. I learned that people all over the world are lovable.

Haile Menkerios

Who are your peace heroes?

Jimmy Carter. Martti Ahtisaari, peacebuilder, former President of Finland, and 2008 Nobel Peace Prize recipient. New Zealand’s Helen Clark, who heads the United Nations Development Program. US Rep. John Garamendi, who worked with me to broker the Eritrea-Ethiopia accord. Haile Menkerios, Assistant Secretary General of the UN. He was Eritrea’s ambassador to the UN during the worst of the conflict, and of all the officials on both sides, he was the one who got it right away. After the peace, when it became clear that the president of the new government wasn’t serious about the democracy he had promised, Haile and 14 colleagues mounted a strong protest. Of the 15 men, 13 have been in prison for 10 years. Haile was not arrested because he was at the UN. He can’t go home, so he’s made an extraordinary career there. He’s a close personal friend, and I believe he respects the role of civil society more than anyone else at the UN.

Do you have a spiritual practice?

Yes―fly fishing. And it’s NOT about fish. It’s standing in that cold stream where the fast-moving water washes all your troubles away. It’s about synchronicity, when everything aligns. That, and my family, are what keep me centered.

What books have had the biggest impact on you?

Many titles, but especially a few that I read when I was young. Victor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning. Camus’ The Rebel, and his essay, “The Myth of Sisyphus.” At the time that essay was written, after the end of World War II, people were buying into nihilistic existentialism. Camus took the symbol of the ultimate in futility, pushing that rock and seeing it roll back down, and he says, Yes, but he’s got the rock! There is meaning, value, humanity in that. As long as you’ve got a rock to push, you can be happy. Peace is my rock.

I really believe we’re getting it higher, so I can push it with joy, hard as it is and heavy as it is. People shake their heads and say, “After all these years, you’re still an idealist,” and I say, “Yes, and I’m enjoying it!”

It goes back to that advice from your parents: “Enjoy life, and leave the world better off.”

That’s right! Whatever I may have accomplished, I have been so lucky to have known so many great people, from street vendors to heads of state; from business tycoons to Ersel Coates, the wonderful woman and dear friend who swept the floors in our old office building. It’s the people and the causes that give meaning and value and joy to our lives.


Chic’s autobiography up to now, Exhaust the Limits, is scheduled for October release from Apprentice House of Loyola University in Baltimore.

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One Comments to “Peace Is My Rock”
  1. Mares Hirchert says:

    Very inspiring story! I’ve shared you with Facebook on this Father’s Day!

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