In this season of peace and renewal, I wanted to pause for a moment in our hectic schedules and let you know just how much your support and goodwill means to people who are challenged by war, violence and poverty.
Our Shalom teams have just returned from the Kenyan border with South Sudan, Uganda and Ethiopia, where we have been working with Turkana, Pokots, Samburu and Dassenach peoples and conducting workshops aimed at ending the cycle of violence that troubles this region. These are by and large hard working people with proud cultures of raising livestock in harsh terrains, but they have faced years of sporadicinter-tribalviolence – the kind that has taken so many lives in the countries of eastern Africa. As I have said many times, real peace is not the mere absence of war, so Shalom focuses primarilyon building trust with community elders while also strengthening communities by building schools, providing solar lighting, providing water and health facilities. As one influential leader said to me recently, “without your peace intervention addressing the root causes of the conflict, and educational programs, radicalization of our youth will increase.”
These workshops help us to “teach the teachers” about conflict resolution and reconciliation. Always, we spend time listening to local leaders, hearing their concerns, and getting to know our partners in these communities. I can tell you that as the world searches for a more peaceful future, particularly at this time of year, these methods are working in eastern Africa.
In just five years, the Shalom Center for Conflict Resolution and Reconciliation has trained more than 5,000 community leader and village elders as peacemakers. Through our school projects, we have upgraded, built, expanded or electrified 91 schools. All told, Shalom’s programs have empowered over 25,000 peacebuiders along the path to peace for their communities.
Our model is working, and our entire team is deeply grateful to the help we receive from generous and visionary supporters in the United States, Ireland, United Kingdom, Australia and elsewhere. We are also very appreciative of our partners, including the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD – comprised of 8 countries), state institutions, inter-religious ‘minded’ organizations, and civil society groups, among others. The path to lasting peace requires a strong coalition, and our partners around the world are vital to our progress. You are one of them.
Yet, we all read the headlines, and we know that violence and warfare are still very much with us. Larger regional conflicts, the rise of terrorist groups, and continued outbreaks of sectarian strife among tribal communities, often motivated by the need for water, resources and security still challenge the road to real peace. The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs has reported this month that “revenge attacks, competition over land and water resources, cattle rustling, and struggles over political representation” have all taken their toll.
Our Shalom team here on the frontline knows these challenges well, we know the people and places involved, we see the AK-47s and Kalashnikov rifles, and we’re aware of the danger. Yet our experts are working in the field every month, conducting workshops, meeting with leaders, improving schools, and pursuing a path to lasting peace. Shalom means peace with justice and harmony holistically integrated.
The next few years will be critical for thousands of these communities, and Shalom’s proven successes provide a real foundation to build upon. As we celebrate Christmas and look forward to a New Year, I ask you consider these facts:
- Shalom’s model is fully integrated and reflects the understanding that peace is closely connected to development. We work with chiefs, elders, politicians, headmasters and other leaders in each community – and at the same time, we work to improve education to build a stronger future for peace.
- Shalom currently has more than 200 requests from communities for school projects, ranging from the construction of classrooms and solar electricity projects to providing equipment likes desks, blackboards and books. Our work is closely tied to the next generation.
- Shalom is empowering women and girls in a culture that sometimes does not fully respect their vital contribution and human dignity. This is changing, and our programs aim for a 50-50 ratio of women and men, and we are persistently helping and encouraging girls to attend school.
- Shalom provides for human needs whenever we see them. People cannot learn when they are hungry, they cannot collaborate and work when they are thirsty. Our relationship with aid organizations allows our team to arrange for humanitarian relief when needed.
- Shalom’s model is both rural and urban. We implement numerous peace workshops and projects in Kibera, an area of the city of Nairobi that sadly represents the largest urban slum in Africa. We understand that poverty is the enemy of peace, and many of the Kibera residents subsist on little more than a dollar a day.
This is such a wonderful season for so many, a time when we traditionally gather with family and friends and enjoy the fruits of our labor and the spiritual warmth of this blessed time. Please know that in our Shalom family, we are also renewed and strengthened by your friendship and kindness. It means everything to us. You are precious and with us every day here.
On behalf of the Shalom Center, our committed team, and those we serve, I’d like to wish you and your family a very Merry Christmas and a New Year of peace!
Gratefully yours, Shalom,
Fr. Patrick Devine, SMA
Shalom Center For Conflict Resolution and Reconciliation