Outward Bound, and Opening
by Mary Liepold with Alicia Simoni
Mother Teresa prayed, “Oh God, crack my heart open so wide that the whole world falls in.” Ever since I came across this prayer I have tried to make it my own.
The world falls into my heart one face, one flower, one outrage or indignity at a time, I have learned. God isn’t finished with me, but I believe this heart is a deeper and softer place than it was when I came to Peace X Peace five years ago.
Since 2005 I have been privileged to interview hundreds of peacebuilding women and men around the world and help them tell their stories to our global audience. I am so grateful to you all! Now I hope to enlarge that experience by focusing on one woman’s story for several months.
The Women PeaceMakers Program is beginning its eight year. It is an opportunity for selected, heroic women leaders from Asia, Africa, Europe, the Middle East, and the Americas (the PeaceMakers) to document, share, and build upon their unique peacemaking stories. The PeaceMakers gain a respite from their demanding lives, networking opportunities, and time for reflection, and the world gains access to stories that would otherwise remain untold―like far too many women’s stories since the world began.
My colleague Alicia Simoni, our Editor and Community Manager, was a Peace Writer with Zandile Nhlengetwa of South Africa in 2008. You can read their joint effort, “Deepening the Peace,” here. Alicia says:
“When I watch films or read books set in South Africa, it looks and feels so familiar. It’s as though I’ve been there. When I talk about apartheid or about the Truth and Reconciliation Commission there is a part of me that feels like I’ve experienced these things firsthand. As Zandile’s Peace Writer, I spent weeks immersed in her memories. We walked down memory lane together, confronting emotions she had buried long ago from places I had never been. My goal―one that at times seemed out of reach―was to craft a written document that did justice to the life Zandile leads. I hope that in the end I did this.
I learned a great deal about my own strengths and vulnerabilities in the process of being a Peace Writer. And I know the same was true for Zandile as a PeaceMaker. We both grew in ways that neither of us ever could have anticipated. (Read more about the bond that developed between Zandile and Alicia in PeaceTimes Edition 104.) I remember Zandile saying at the end of her time in San Diego, ‘This experience has reminded me that I need to walk the talk. If you talk about peacebuilding you must be a peaceful person not only to other people but to your family―my son, my daughter, my grandchildren and my church group. The IPJ is talking about peacebuilding and respect and I saw it in them – how they related to us [PeaceMakers], the kind of respect and dignity they showed to us.’
I’m looking forward to returning to the IPJ on September 29th and joining Mary, and other friends and former colleagues, for the 2010 Women PeaceMaker Conference, “Precarious Progress: UN Resolutions on Women, Peace and Security.” Nowadays it’s not uncommon – even in halls of power – to hear “women” and “security” in the same sentence. The question is, does it amount to more than lip service? The conference, which coincides with the 15th anniversary of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action and the 10th anniversary of UNSCR 1325, will be an opportunity to celebrate how far we’ve come, and, more importantly, to strategize where to go from here. I just wish Zandile could be there too.”
I (Mary) will be working closely with Merlie B. Mendoza from the Philippines. In the several decades that she has been active as a peacebuilder and humanitarian at both government and grassroots levels, her country has seen dramatic changes of government, severe natural disasters, and continuing conflict between government forces and separatist groups. In the late 1990s she facilitated the release of 12 indigenous people from life imprisonment, and in 2008 she was abducted and held hostage for two months by the militant separatist group Abu Sayyaf. These are just a few highlights, though. Soon I’ll begin to understand them and much more in context.
I knew next to nothing about the Philippines a few months ago, and suddenly it’s all around me. (Look for some choice Filipina Voices from the Frontlines in the weeks to come.) An archipelago of 7,000 islands, it’s the 12th largest country in the world, and a neighbor―across an expanse of the South China Sea―to Vietnam, where my middle son was born. My ears, my mind, and my heart are opening. I’ll return in January with new skills, new knowledge, and a new eagerness to hear and share your unique and essential story.
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