Friday, March 21, 2014

The 2014 Peace Studies Course at International Institute of Peace Studies: An Incubator for Global Friendship, Understanding and New Possibilities for Peace

We came from Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, Philippines, Egypt, Uganda, Tanzania, Myanmar, Japan, Lebanon, Nepal, Sri-Lanka, Thailand, Malaysia and the U.S. We came in shades of white and brown, with a rainbow of national dress, music and foods. We spoke many languages, but communicated with one heart; sharing dreams of freedom; dreams of peace and justice and an end to violence. 

Many participants are already translating their dreams into action; working as Human Rights Lawyers or Social Workers, working in NGO’s that support and assist refugees, orphans or juveniles who attempted suicide bombings. Some are working towards Gender Rights, many works with youth. Others work in development sectors.  Together the participants and resource staff represented over 160 years of experience in Peace and Human Rights Activism and related activities.

IIPS arranged an impressive series of presentations for this group of educated and experienced young professionals. Presentations by Thai, S. Korean, Japanese and U.S. scholars covered topics of Ethnicity, Gender and Power, Structural Violence and Practices on Non-Violence.  There were talks and experiential exercises addressing Deep Listening, Indigenous Wisdom, Conflict in Contemporary Thailand, Global Governance, Peace and Human Security, Approaches to Analyzing Conflict and Approaches to Conflict Transformation as well as new information on the experience of Fukishima and movements towards Asian Democratization. Visits to Buddhist Temples, Mosques and Christian Churches were part of the curriculum along with time at rural, self-sustaining inter-faith communities in Bangkok and Chiang Mai.  

Everyone was both teacher and student at IIPS, discovering commonalities, exploring differences and celebrating diversity.  Late night discussions covered everything under the sun. 

At IIPS, PEACE is not just a word or a theory. It’s translated into action - sharing a room with 1 or 2 “strangers” who become friends; eating and working on presentations together, laughing and dancing and listening to each other, even if it occasionally gets uncomfortable. 
Perhaps most profoundly, each of us was offered an opportunity to leave our “comfort zone” and step into new, slightly riskier spaces, where old ideas, historic grievances and suffering, mistrust and misinformation could be heard and received.  In those spaces minds and hearts could break open, forever expanded and transformed.  

These words of Father Nipot Thianviham, from the Center for Religion and Community Culture, will remain with me as touchstones for creating a world of peace and justice, “Allow a conversion of your heart. Search for the essence, the source of life within each person’s story” and “Walk Humbly, Work Justly, Love tenderly.”

Thank you to the entire organizing team for your vision, hospitality, thoughtfulness and commitment in providing a life-changing experience and depth of learning for all of us at the 2014 IIPS Peace Studies Course.

Ms Rose Gordon
Resource Person, Taos County Juvenile Justice, USA

Wednesday, January 8, 2014


Youth have been frontline actors for social change, nonetheless they are subject to exploitation and misuse by vested interest groups. They are both victims and perpetrators of violence, including religiously inspired ones. Deep listening and inter-faith dialogue are key tools in helping them turn foe to friend and in overcoming the image of enemy through the promotion of sister and brotherhood across lines of deeply divided societies. Listening is often taken for granted, based on the assumption that it is simplistic, which therefore can lead to misinterpretation and is often accompanied by destructive consequences. In fact it requires concentration, care and most importantly empathy to capture not just verbal messages but the feelings and intent of the speaker.
Conflict arises with reasons, most of which are legitimate, therefore listening is a powerful tool in conflict transformation as it helps both listener and speaker to understand interests and fears to mutually fulfill the former and eliminate the latter. It nurtures trust among conflicting parties and empowers the trauma survivors to explore their ability from within. It serves as a key instrument in inter-faith dialogue whose aim is not conversion, but understanding and appreciation of differences at both internal and external levels. It helps oneself explore and transform hidden prejudices into empathy; this is how understanding of oneself is enriched by an understanding of others. Both tools work in a mutually empowering fashion which enhances their ability to discern the complexities of conflict and foster cooperation for the transformation of unjust structures and violent cultures; this is with an aim of achieving common dreams collectively envisioned through deep listening and dialogue.
While religion is often understood by believers and non-believers as a source of violence the misunderstandings and misinterpretations that arise from this can be challenged and corrected. Inter-faith dialogue also offers space for young people of various faiths to explore peace-building guidance that is inherent in all faith traditions and to integrate these resources for collective action for peace.
-Ekraj Sabur
International Institute of Peace Studies (IIPS)