Friday, June 08, 2007

People Who Are Part of the Solution

From right to left: Iraqi peacebuilders Hero Anwar, EPIC's Erik Gustafson, Sister Helen, Lynn Kunkle, Samuel Rizk and Lisa Schirch. (photo by Geoff Schaefer)It is one thing to read an interview, but quite another to actually meet the peacebuilders working for change in Iraq -- to see the way their eyes light up when they talk about the successes they've had, and how committed and passionate they are about their work. And in interview after interview, conversation after conversation, what gets me most is that they all say the same thing: peace is possible. Reconciliation between Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds is possible. They've seen it, they've been a part of it. They know.

Last night, I was privileged to be invited to a dinner attended by the Iraq peacebuilders featured earlier at the Capitol Hill briefing, "Peacebuilding in Iraq and Afghanistan: Building Security from the Ground Up" (look for more info on that event here soon). Amongst these brave Iraqis was Hero Anwar, Program Manager of REACH, an Iraqi community development organization. I spent most of the evening hearing, and being moved by, her stories.

Hopefully we'll be doing a Ground Truth interview with Hero soon. But in the meantime, I just want to convey how incredibly hopeful she was about the prospects for peace and an end to civil war in Iraq. Hero talked about an area outside of Mosul, where Kurdish and Arab villages initially refused to work together on a water distribution program, each village administration wanting to negotiate separately with REACH. But eventually, they came to understand the necessity of collaboration, and managed to form a single team, work with REACH, fix the problem and resolve their conflict.

As Hero explained, sectarian rifts seem a lot deeper and more important when one is unemployed, lacks access to electricity and clean water, and is wondering where the family's next meal is coming from. But give people ownership and responsibility of a project to improve their situation, listen to, value and incorporate their input, and it is amazing how unimportant those rifts suddenly become.

We've heard the same things from other peacebuilders, such as Bruce Parmelee of CHF International, Daniel Rothenberg of IHRLI, and Michael Miller of ADF. Work with the people on small, inclusive projects, and the progress may seem incremental and localized, but overtime it can have a cumulative impact.

I told you a couple weeks ago how Sunni and Shiite leaders have been reaching out to end violence and negotiate differences. And everything I said then has been validated by Hero Anwar and the other Iraqi peacebuilders I met last night.

Make no mistake -- clearly there is still a lot of work to be done. The media may be painting an unnecessarily bleak picture of Iraq by not telling you stories of successful peacebuilding, but they're not lying. And Hero never for a moment implied that her work in uniting Kurds, Sunnis and Shiites in small communities was easy. But the point is, everybody who really knows what's going on in Iraq is saying the same thing: it can be done.

I, for one, have never felt so hopeful and excited about the work we're doing at EPIC, and the long term prospects for a peaceful Iraq.


Anonymous said...

Just be careful about only mentioning the female's ideas and comments. The men may feel slighted. Not an easy rope to walk.

Emily Stivers said...

We will bring more stories from all these peacebuilders eventually, but on the contrary, all the Iraqi and Muslim men I have met - not only last night, but since I began here at EPIC - have been extremely respectful of me and the women with whom they work. These men treat women as equals, and all are working together to promote peace in Iraq.

In fact, Hero discussed bringing men and women together in Iraqi community associations as well as Arabs and Kurds. In some cases, it's rough going at first, but with smart strategies and time, the men have been accepting and respectful of the women, and the women have learned to speak up and stand up. Real progress is being made.

You are dealing in stereotypes, anonymous, and THAT is a much more difficult rope to walk.

Geoff Schaefer said...

I want to draw everyone's attention to this blog and the absolute importance of the insights it portrays. "Give people ownership and responsibility of a project to improve their situation, listen to, value and incorporate their input, and it is amazing how unimportant those rifts suddenly become." This is a profound statement and I want you to seriously think about this for a minute or two and then think about it in the context of what you hear in the media. I know you, as well as all of us, daydream about solutions and ponder different strategies almost everyday but THIS article, if you pay close attention to what it is actually saying, is one of the best ways to compliment and guide our thinking on the subject. I was at the panel discussion and dinner last night with Emily and Erik, I heard every word they said as they looked at us with sincerity and hope on their faces. It's WORKING. I think that slips by us way too often but it's true: these small strategies are helping end (albeit on a small level thus far) the terrible sectarian strife you hear on the news. I think it's important to read this blog and then work your way back up to the "big picture" in your internal debate and thought, and then look at the potential for success if we only commit to these strategies with more money, time, and effort. If these programs and the work these NGO's are doing were our priority, we might see a completely different Iraq right now. I urge you to not be cynical about this and just give it some thought. Thank you.

reader said...

It's wonderful that your organization is meeting with Iraqi representatives and showing them that there are many of us here who want to help them make things work albeit on a small scale to begin.

Geoff Schaefer said...

We feel that is the only true way to get some real work done. Because honestly, what do we know? We don't live there. So the best people to talk to are the natives of Iraq and the people who work over there consistently. It's the best way to find out more about what's going - directly from the source. I hope you continue to enjoy reading our interviews and blogs from with these brave people. Thank you for the support

Anonymous said...

I agree with another comment I saw. Where's the publicity? Where was the media? No cameras, nothing! Even as hard as you try, one little website can't get to that many people. Somehow you must get the press out. Too bad you don't have a connection to Paris Hilton.

Army Grunt said...

It's not just the small villages and community action programs where these changes are happening. Check out this CNN article from Thursday. Apparently, Lt. Gen. David Petraeus, commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, paid CNN headquarters an impromptu visit to talk about significant improvements in Anbar province, which has been the site of some of Iraq's most devastating violence to date.

"What's taken place in Anbar is almost breathtaking," he said. "In the last several months, tribes that turned a blind eye to what al Qaeda was doing in that province are now opposing al Qaeda very vigorously. And the level of violence in Anbar has plummeted; although there clearly is still work to be done."

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