Since its establishment in 1981, every year the United Nations sets aside Sept. 21 as “a globally shared date for all humanity to commit to peace above all differences and to contribute to building a culture of peace.” But establishing and maintaining peace is possibly one of the most elusive humanitarian outcomes to achieve. It requires commitment and dedication in the face of serious challenges and often painful legacies of violence and war.
While it’s easy to focus on the many negative news stories we watch and read about in the news every week, on this International Day of Peace it’s important that we pause to celebrate where significant progress has been made in peacebuilding efforts around the world.
For example, in the Darfur region of Sudan—an area ravaged by decades of sectarian violence—World Relief is the primary NGO partner in three localities working to improve food security, increase household income generation, build health and nutrition, and enhance access to water and sanitation. Integral to all of these efforts is our work to strengthen community based reconciliation. Twenty Peace and Reconciliation Committees (PRCs) were established in strategically-located villages to monitor and resolve conflicts as they occurred, also teaching and encouraging community members to value and seek peace.
The PRC project aims to increase resolution of existing conflicts and reduce the number of newly arising conflicts over water and grazing land, as well as provide vulnerable groups enhanced access to livelihood opportunities. In a final evaluation of the project, we found that an astonishing 95.5 percent of community members experienced a decrease in communal conflicts. Such progress doesn’t happen overnight, but the PRC initiative proves that real gains can be made in some of the most challenging circumstances.
Similar processes have been pursued in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) through the work of Village Peace Committees (VPCs). VPC members are nominated by their local community and then trained in peacebuilding and conflict resolution in order to resolve conflicts involving threats of violence, land use, livestock disputes, domestic problems, ethnicity, tribal and national identity issues and more.
The success of the VPCs has become well-known throughout the region. In fact, today, local governmental authorities often refer to these committees because they have resolved hundreds of previously irreconcilable conflicts. VPCs are proving so successful that our hope is to expand the program throughout eastern Congo in the coming years.
These examples of grassroots peacebuilding efforts demonstrate that waging peace is often cheaper and more effective than waging war. World Relief’s work with congregations and other community groups to resolve conflicts before they spill into violence and bloodshed, lays the groundwork to overcoming poverty.
Peacebuilding work in Darfur and the DRC is resulting in tangible peace in areas where reconciliation was once thought impossible. Both individual and collective lives are being stabilized and transformed as order, harmony and nonviolence comes to one community at a time.
Investing in peace, particularly in fragile states, is a wise investment that pays long-term dividends. Individuals are able to pursue their livelihoods and provide for their families—which are the fundamental building blocks to maintaining peaceful, stable societies. The international community must come to see that investing scarce resources in grassroots peacebuilding efforts pays off in terms of long-term peace and stability.