LETTER TO EDITOR
Year : 2018 | Volume
: 16 | Issue : 1 | Page : 3--4
Psychosocial activities and peace building
Anica Mikuš Kos
|How to cite this article:|
Kos AM. Psychosocial activities and peace building.Intervention 2018;16:3-4
|How to cite this URL:|
Kos AM. Psychosocial activities and peace building. Intervention [serial online] 2018 [cited 2018 Oct 15 ];16:3-4
Available from: http://www.interventionjournal.org/text.asp?2018/16/1/3/228777
For those who work in areas affected by armed conflicts, and particularly in post conflict circumstances, it is obvious that psychosocial activities transgress individual and community mental health or the psychosocial wellbeing dimension. It is a part of social reconstruction, of peace building, of contributing to co-existence and reconciliation. Community, or school based, psychosocial programmes are not apolitical. They contain the hidden intention of capacity building of members of the community and of the community as whole for normalisation of relationships between sides in conflicts, for rebuilding common life. This statement is, at the least, right for psychosocial programmes financed within the frame of humanitarian activities.
Personally, over my 20 years of work within areas of armed conflict and in post conflict times, I have had the opportunity to become acquainted with many peace building programmes. I have at times questioned the impact of these programmes spreading the ideas and values of peace and other allied issues through quite abstract concepts and language. These programmes are usually aimed at people who have brought to these trainings their interest, their readiness for reducing hate and for peace building within their environment, and are often highly educated participants.
I do not doubt that such activities are needed and valuable, but my question is how to develop ‘bottom up’ programmes, which will include a substantial number of members of the communities. In my work, I was always preoccupied by the quantitative aspect of programmes (i.e. how many participants, schools or other entities are beneficiaries, the question of critical mass, etc.), which I consider is a much neglected aspect of the psychosocial part of the humanitarian field.
My approach to psychosocial peace building (of course we all think that we developed the best possible approach) in post conflict settings is to integrate peace building, conviviality and allied concepts within psychosocial programmes for teachers. Then, the peace building component is, in a way, a hidden message of the programme in the beginning and within the run of the programme then becomes more and more explicit.
To provide a concrete example to illustrate my point, I will briefly present the content and structure of a programme in Kosovo. In this programme, primary school teachers from the most remote rural areas, villages and regions most affected by armed conflicts, attended a one year group of psychosocial programmes (some of them financed by the War Trauma Foundation), consisting of three or four modules. The method of work was mostly interactive, consisting of group work and role playing, within multi ethnic programmes including Albanian, Bosnian, and Serb teachers. The topics of the programme were usual school problems (behavioural problems, learning difficulties, trauma and losses, and the burden of teachers in post conflict). In the first module, neutral topics – problems of all teachers over the world were included. As teachers of different ethnic groups became better acquainted, friendly relationships developed and feelings of connectedness were established over the course of the programme, more delicate topics were discussed. These included: trauma and losses, education of students for active participation in dealing with problems within their community and solidarity. There were many more similar programmes run only for Albanian teachers, in which a peace building component was also included. Approximately 5000 teachers from Kosovo participated in these programmes.
The impact of the programme was not measured with highly sophisticated evaluation instruments, but by what we could observe as an increased number of contacts among participants of different nationalities, increased capacities to discuss past events and conflicts in mixed groups, the willingness of Albanian teachers (who also spoke a Serbian language) to use this language (at the beginning they did not want to use it), capacity for team work during the training, and contacts among teachers in between the trainings. These statements were illustrated by individual cases of change of attitudes and behaviour of participants. Such ethnically mixed programmes were also run in Bosnia after the war. Similar programmes were run in North Caucasus for teachers from North Ossetia, Chechen and Ingush teachers after the Beslan tragedy. A Palestinian colleague, from Gaza, is of opinion that such ethnically mixed psychosocial trainings could also be run for Palestinian and Jewish teachers in Jerusalem.
Why teachers? The first reason is, of course, because they are educators of new generations. However, there is another important reason. Teachers, particularly in villages, are opinion makers and important people within their communities. Often rural areas are the most affected by conflict and people there are the most on bad terms with each other. It is, therefore, important to encourage and empower teachers to become peace activists within their own communities.
In order to achieve results with such programmes, certain conditions have to be fulfilled: it should be a continuous programme, consisting of several modules in order to permit the development of the dynamic of building links among participants of different groups. The programme should be based on a common denominator of interests of all participants. regardless of their ethnic or religious characteristics, and it is important that teachers recognise the benefits of the programme for their everyday work in school. It should not start with sophisticated slogans about peace and conviviality. It is also helpful if the responsible trainer is a neutral person from some other country that was neither directly nor indirectly involved in the conflict. The implementing local NGOs should represent all parties that have been in conflict. We, psychosocial aid workers, should be aware that we reconstruct something that had previously existed – a common life and tolerance, and are not reinventing the wheel. To be honest, it is not easy to run such programmes.
In conclusion, I would say that peace building is not a matter of trainings about peace. It consists of relationships among real human beings, groups and communities. Solving common problems through common activities is one way of spreading and implementing the values and practice of peace. Schools, with school workers, are a field that provides numerous opportunities for such activities. The school approach is not only applicable for post conflict circumstances, but also for reducing other kinds of latent or manifest conflicts in the society, such as social or xenophobic.
As a final remark, I invited my co-worker and dear friend from Kosovo, Mr. Ramush Lekaj, to be the co-author of this comment. I needed his opinion because we, as designers of programmes, tend to have certain illusions about their efficiency and impact. Ramush agreed with my view and contributed some examples of changes in participants. Let me present just one about an Albanian teacher, whose four closest family members were killed by Serbs in front of him and he had also been wounded. He had spent some years in prison and wanted to leave the training when he heard that the second language used was Serbian. The organiser of the programme was able to convince him to stay. Over the course of the programme, his attitude changed and by the end, he was even willing to use the Serbian language to communicate with colleagues from other ethnicities. To quote Ramush; ‘our programmes spread the message that in spite of everything that happened, it is possible to live together’.
One final note on authorship: Ramush refused to be co-author and explained his reasons, among others that I designed the multiethnic programme which was implemented in different countries, not just in Kosovo. I always think that it is not so difficult to write a paper about an implemented programme. It is difficult to bring the programme to life. The merit for it goes to local implementing partners who are the real authors of the reality of the programme. So, the programmes for teachers were realised due to the good will, pacifism and courage of local partners.