Quakers in the World

Quakers in the World

Friends Peace Teams

In 1993 some US Friends came together to share their knowledge of communities in conflict, across the world. They set up the FPT network to continue the dialogue. They thought in terms of raising funds to enable volunteers to join peace teams in conflicted communities.

African Great Lakes Initiative (AGLI) The first major area of work to emerge was in the Great Lakes region in the heart of Africa, in 1999.  David Zarembka, a Baltimore Quaker with extensive Kenyan experience, led a delegation, to find out what peace building work Quakers were already doing, and to explore how US Friends could help. AGLI was the result, and David has been its coordinator throughout.

AGLI works with Quakers in Rwanda, Burundi, Congo, Kenya, Rwanda and Uganda, using a range of peace building tools, notably AVP (Alternatives to Violence). AVP workshops have been used extensively - in refugee camps in Kenya, training community ‘judges’ in Rwanda, and in many other settings.

The conflicts in Burundi required more than AVP, because individuals and communities were deeply traumatised: from this came a new tool, growing out of AVP approaches – Healing and Rebuilding Our Communities (HROC).  HROC helps participants to express their own traumas, but also to hear everyone else’s: it breaks down simple stereotypes, and helps everyone see the complex sources of individual acts of hurt and violence. Slowly, trust begins to be rebuilt.

AGLI has a number of other activities  - a clinic in Burundi, a vocational school in Uganda, mediation in various community disputes, and nonviolence training. It was closely involved with the establishment of the Friends Church Peace Team in Kenya.

African Friends do most of this work, but are regularly joined by international volunteers, mostly for work camps.

FPT in Asia West Pacific. In 2005 a New York Friend, Nadine Hoover, went to Aceh, in Sumatra, Indonesia, on behalf of Alfred Meeting. Aceh had been devastated by the 2004 tsunami, and the initial focus of the visit was relief work.

It was soon evident that there were longer-term, deep-seated needs that Friends could help with. Aceh province had been embroiled in an independence struggle for many years. This had just come to an end, with a peace accord - Aceh remained an Indonesian province but with more autonomy. Many Acehnese were however profoundly affected by the civil war and there was a great need for community rebuilding. Furthermore many Javanese who had been living in Aceh had fled, frightened of Acehnese reprisals, and were in refugee camps.

Within a week of the peace accord, the first AVP workshop took place. It was soon followed by a partnership with Al-Falah school, focussed on ‘developmental play’. Al-Falah school seeks to blend Islamic and Indonesian culture with ideas about education for development, using group and project-based activities. The underpinning idea is that play is a learning experience not only for children, but also for their parents and teachers. AVP workshops have been used in the refugee camps to great effect. The Javanese refugees accepted the Acehnese facilitators, and bonds of friendship and understanding were forged.

In 2007 this work became an FPT initiative, with continued involvement of Alfred meeting, along with others. Human rights work has become a key strand, along with peacebuilding.

Peacebuilding en las Américas. Since 2002 FPT has worked with partners in several countries in Central and South America – Colombia, El Salvador, Guatemala, Nicaragua and Honduras. All these countries have experienced civil war, and have many ongoing tensions and injustices.  Many families do not know what has become of some of their relatives – the ‘disappeared’.  There are many refugees. In all the countries, criminal, gang and drug trafficking violence has become such a large problem that many people say it is worse than the violence of the wars. Domestic violence is also a major concern, with women being injured or killed so regularly that a new word, 'Feminicide" has been coined.

As elsewhere, AVP is widely used: there are over 80 Colombian and Central American faciltators. A Community Based Trauma Healing program, based on HROC, is being increasingly taken up following an FPT-organised visit to Burundi, by some Colombian facilitators. Training in nonviolent resistance is also proving helpful, notably in Honduras.

FPT has had an office in the Friends Meeting House in St Louis, Missouri, since 2006. It has a small group of administrative staff. Each of the three initiatives has a Working Group to steer its work, and find funds and volunteers, and there is a overall Council that brings the Working groups and other stakeholders together for overall guidance and support.

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Further Reading and Credits

  • Zarembka, David, A Peace of Africa: Reflections on Life in the Great Lakes Region, Madera Press, Washington, DC, 2011.