Peace Does Not Simply Mean the Absence of Conflict

While writing the program manual for my project over the last several weeks, I have been wrestling with the question of what exactly does peace—more specifically living in peace and peaceful societies—mean to me. What would it mean for the children I am here to work with to grow up in peace? Peace, I have come to believe is like love. It is a word of action, not simply emotions.

Dorothy Thompson said that, “Peace is not the absence of conflict but the presence of creative alternatives for responding to conflict.” Martin Luther King Jr. said, “True peace is not merely the absence of tension: it is the presence of justice.” Recently I read in an article about the origins of the Hebrew word ‘Shalom,’ which is often translated as simply ‘peace.’ However, it is not simply the absence of conflict, but rather takes in the ideas of harmony and a sense of wholeness.

My mother always told us children growing up that ‘prevention is better than cure.’ When Colman McCarthy, the founder of the Centre for Teaching Peace, said that if we do not teach our children peace, someone else would teach them conflict, I believe he meant that we have to be active about pursuing peace. It does not simply come naturally after wars are over, guns are put away, or overt unrest is settled. When asked what was the most important act of peacemaking, McCarthy answered, “Your next one,” which again indicates his belief that peace means actions that we have much control over.

If one were to ask me, I would say that in my heart I believe humans were and are meant to live together in peace. I believe that love is a natural feeling, while hatred is learned over the years. Love has a better soil to sow itself in when there are no forces putting up walls, pointing out differences, but instead has the natural forces that draw us together in companionship and community, as ‘no man is an island.’ But for so long, and arguably more than ever today, those forces that put up the walls, point out differences and whisper in ears the language of hate and destruction have been at work. We, as human beings, cause the most pain and the most suffering to each other. Yet we also have the power to say something about it. In An Imperfect Offering, James Orbinski states: “Over the last twenty years, I have struggled to understand how to respond to the suffering of others. I have come to know perhaps too well that only humans can be rationally cruel. Only humans can choose to sacrifice life in the name of some political end, and only humans can call such sacrifices into question.” Anything is possible in human nature.

Ghanaians often tell me that I made the right choice in African country to reside in because their country is peaceful. “Ghana is peaceful, no?” is the rhetorical question I hear often. I smile and give a slight nod because Ghanaians are proud that they do not have the type of problems that are seen in their neighbors, such as the Ivory Coast or Liberia. But what I have become to think and to witness is that Ghana is a country that knows how to handle its issues without blowing something up or picking up weapons—a country free of war or chaos—but, it is also a country that bubbling, under the surface unrest. And if peace is an active state of existence, in which one is attuned to the needs of themselves as well as linked to the needs and lives of those around them, then perhaps peace is something even a country with a relatively stable democracy needs to find time to talk about too.

In Ghana, I have heard and felt the unrest of the growing youth population about the older generation. The older generation still holds fast to their beliefs that the younger generation must hold their tongues. They don’t often respect the younger generation’s opinions and one sometimes finds it hard to be recognized for a job well done if you are young. The culture does not easily make a platform for the young to gain respect or bring their own innovative ideas to the table. And on the other side, the older generation is frustrated with a younger one they believe have forgotten to respect all matters in which their elders speak on and idealize the West too much. Sometimes old traditions are so embedded that people don’t even realize it. Before George became my boss, my first boss at AMPCAN in 2009 told me that I would probably never get married because I asked too many questions and was too educated, all the while heading an organization that works in part to empower young girls. Furthermore, many in Ghana are tired of the games that politicians play that stall the building of infrastructure in the country. I feel the pain of politicians at each other’s throats, but here in Ghana it reaches different heights; ones in which roads don’t get built and buildings go unfinished because of political party games. Ghana has the passion for peace, but still searches for the right actions to make it a complete reality.

Winner of the UNESCO Prize for Peace Education in 2000, Swee-Hin Toh lists what he views as the components of peace education as the following:

  1. Educating for human rights and responsibilities
  2. Educating for personal peace
  3. Educating for environmental care
  4. Educating for inter-cultural solidarity
  5. Educating for living with justice and compassion
  6. Educating for dismantling a culture of war

These components emphasize that peace education is not just about building peace with oneself, but also interconnecting and relating that to everything else. Bringing in the ideas behind peace and peace education to my project was very important to me. This program is not just about teaching children about the rights that they have, but also about helping them find a voice concerning the issues, as well as a vision concerning their community and their place in this world. It involves the components I believe that every child needs to grow up with a foundation for peace, from my own experience and research. First, they need to feel a sense of worth and love themselves, finding peace with who they are and want to be. Second, they need to realize that there is no “Superman” complex in which someone will fly in and radically bring sustainable change to their lives. They need to take responsibility for their own community and environment and bring about the changes themselves, although they can always look to the greater communities around them for assistance. And third, they should be given the tools, ability, and knowledge to express themselves in the globally interconnected world that is becoming closer and closer around us. This makes them think more about their rights and responsibilities as a citizen of the world, and not just a citizen of their community.

I believe that teaching children the actions of peace means taking care of them. And if we care for them today, and teach them to love and care about one another, there is no doubt in my mind that those seeds that are planted today will one day be watered enough to bring about a better future. We fight in wars for numerous years, yet try peace for only days, weeks, or months. All good things take time. Gradually the healing takes place, and the more things change.

Perhaps, though, peace itself is scary. The idea of living in harmony with one another, with the reality before us that we were not all that different after all. Who would exercise control? Who would we blame when things go wrong? Who would we hate? Who would be ‘the Other’?

A week and a half ago, I finished the program manual. It is 75-pages of teaching resources, handouts, surveys, worksheets, lesson outlines, but most importantly, it is 75-pages of what I hope to be the start of such conversations as this one in Ghana. This is just the beginnings of my own such conversations and wonderings about peace. We have to keep having these conversations.

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Of Dinner Parties, Godchildren, and the Rising Temperature

This past weekend, I spent half my time in Atomic Down and the other half in Adenta. On Friday, I had invited my friend Justin Grinstead, who also lived in Currier House at Harvard, to dinner at the house. I was so proud of myself for being able to give him directions based on the amount of times I had been in the vehicle with George on the journey home. It’s a bit complicated and involves roundabouts and roads that are kind of roads, maybe once upon a time were roads and are now trying to be roads again. When I put up photos, that sentence will make sense. I did not know this at the time, but Justin is working with a man named Andrew, who also went to Harvard. He was a tutor in Lowell House and graduated from the Kennedy School not so long ago. So George, being the ever gracious host, invited Andrew to stay for dinner too, since Andrew had driven Justin the hour it took them to get there in the crazy Ghanaian traffic of a Friday evening. Mrs. Baiden had set a lovely dinner table, complete with beautiful dishware and chairs. The menu was jollof rice, fried chicken, salad, and broccoli (the Baidens love their vegetables). It was a really great time and everyone was there, including Ekua’s fiancé. There were so many good laughs that I would not even know where to begin to retell the story. I think sometimes the best memories are those that clump together into a ball of happiness in which we cannot untangle the mass bundle of joy. I do remember George being the life of the party and telling many stories of his extensive travels (George has been to close to 60 countries!). He was joking that they were making me eat tons of food because every Ghanaian woman had some layer of “chubby” on her and that she also required a “license plate.” At that, everyone could not stop laughing to hear George refer to a woman’s behind as a “license plate.” I told him I would dutifully eat and work on getting my international driver’s license. I think perhaps Justin and Andrew were a bit overwhelmed with the family setting since they live the bachelor life in Ghana, but overwhelmed in a good way. They certainly were liked, and everyone hopes they come back in the future. George wants us to make them palm soup and surprise them by dropping it off where they stay.

On Saturday my old neighbor and dear friend Akua came back to Adenta for a visit. She was pregnant when I left Ghana last time, and had told me she would name me the baby’s godmother. I was surprised when I saw her and she told me that she also gave the baby my last name as part of his name. The baby is now two months shy of his 2nd birthday and is named Kwame. He has another name, because Kwame is just his day of the week Ghanaian name, but that’s what everyone calls him. And he is quite the troublemaker. At one point, he was upset that I told him not to do something and he actually slapped me. I wasn’t even angry. I started laughing and did not stop for a long time, because I had never in my life been straight slapped by such a young person. He’s got quite the spirit. The arrangement is such that I made Akua the promise that when I am settled into a lifestyle (read: not moving around so much) that I would request for Kwame to come live with me and go to school. Essentially I would become his legal guardian. I think that’s why Akua is practicing him to call me Ma Delia and teaching him English on top of his Twi. It’s a big promise, but Akua did so much for me when I was here last time, and Kwame would have more opportunities in America. It was really great to meet him, and they plan on coming back many times while I am here.

Sunday was another day in Adenta, but this time at Emma’s house, as my Sundays have now been promised to. I’m unsure, however, if my wardrobe can survive this arrangement. Emma’s mother feeds me approximately every three hours, which is just too many times for my stomach. I can feel it expanding when I leave their house. But she’s just too nice to say ‘no’ to. No counseling sessions by his dad this time, though, since he was away at a funeral. I even had to force myself to stay awake the whole time I was there, because Emma’s friends Leo and Kwame came over for lunch and to hang out with us. Now that I’ve mastered the art of getting back via tro-tro from Adenta to Atomic Down, I can spend longer amounts of time on my visits. I’m definitely getting the hang of these routes!

As the temperature continues to rise in Ghana, I am promised that there will be one last heavy rainfalls before the dreaded dust storms brought in all the way from the Sahara set in. I find a lot of dust gets in my eyes now, so I’m really dreading how much dust I will be inhaling and crying out of my eyes when the dry season is upon me. I’m just glad in the heat wave that today’s weather is foretelling sets in, I am working from home since everyone else is traveling to monitor children we placed in homes throughout Ghana. I finally had that breakthrough at work and am working in earnest on brainstorming lesson plans for the program and writing them up, as well as making all the supplementary documents for them. Needless to say, it will be a gloriously busy week!

“Stop Watching Novelas and Do Something”

I think this is when most people give up on their stories. They come out of college wanting to change the world, wanting to get married, wanting to have kids and change the way people buy office supplies. But they get into the middle and discover it was harder than they thought. They can’t see the distant shore anymore, and they wonder if their paddling is moving them forward. 

– Donald Miller, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years

 

None other than my younger brother Jordan gave to me the above little piece of advice: “Stop watching novelas and do something.” He told me this out of his possible alarm at finding out that while I was talking to him I was currently eating popcorn and watching English dubbed Spanish soap operas…in Ghana. In my defense it was mainly those few days I was not home…and the days we come home for lunch or early…or Sunday…Apparently in Ghana, Spanish soap operas are a huge hit, and they are, quite frankly, a bit addictive. As I talked to Jordan and told him what I had been up to though, he seemed to think it was lazy. What’s interesting about what he said, though, is that it reflects sometimes how I feel when thrown into the workplace of a developing country, and especially a nonprofit in a developing country.

In the classroom of life, one of the most important lessons is Resizing Lofty Dreams 101. I like to start big—like REAL BIG when I have an idea. There’s nothing beyond my reach in my mind, though in reality there are many things that are beyond my reach (for the moment) for various reasons. So then I resize. I won’t say downgrade, because I do not change the essence of what it is that I want to do, but rather, I take a new look at it and fit it into a capacity that is more suitable for the environment and resources at hand. But that’s not the real resizing that you have to do when dealing with nonprofits in the developing world. That resizing has to do with your project or idea in general. There are so many hoops to jump through, to put it one way.

There’s no beating around the bush that getting things done in Ghana—and I will generalize out into the majority of developing African countries—takes patience, and lots of it. Things take a long time to get done. In fact, they take a long time to even be addressed. There are a variety of reasons for this. I could talk about how oftentimes you have to “know someone” to get anything done. I could talk about how party politics are at an all time stalemate in these countries in which the constant changing of all jobs government related every time someone new takes over leads to games of chicken that only have one loser: the citizens. (I know this sounds similar to America, but it’s worse here. At least our politicians would sign a deal to get roads fixed, whereas, that’s not so true here.) Or I can even talk about a culture here that is laid back to the point that sometimes at work everyone lounges about doing their personal stuff during work hours. That’s just not how I operate. But again—patience. I won’t get much done by yelling at anyone to make the most of our work hours.

There’s another important quality other than patience that one must find within themselves, and that is endurance. I remember during the service on Sunday the pastor talked about how the bigger your dream is, the more you are sometimes tested to find out your dedication and worth to complete the dream. Delay does not mean denial. Just because I have not gotten a rapid start to building my project the way I would have liked (but ultimately always knew would not happen because of the system) does not mean that it will not happen. It will happen. The one great thing about George, and something I learned from him last time, is that he would always tell me that if there is something I want to do, I need to do two things. One, I need to make it a feasible goal for the time I have. And two, I need to just do it. Sounds a lot like my advice to stop watching novelas and do something. Because doing something is always better than nothing.

I had an acquaintance, however, who told me that he thought what I was doing in Ghana just wasn’t enough. And there’s always a debate about what is not enough versus what is too much in development work. But what I could not shake from that conversation is the fact that he told me that he believed that the impact was too low. The impact was too low. I’m not sure what to make of that type of viewpoint, besides disagreeing with it. What type of impact is too low? Perhaps you can have an impact that is not the right type of impact, but the word “impact” still indicates that someone or some thing has been changed by what you have done or will do. At the risk of sounding too optimistic and too idealistic (both things that I’m always at risk of sounding or feeling), I must say that change has to begin somewhere. I’m thinking of calling my program APEG (The AMPCAN Program for Empowering Girls) and having the sort of tagline of the program be, “Place a peg in the right place, and watch as minds grow and change.” Nothing is too small, especially when placed in the right area, to grow and cover a wide area.

So I will smile and recall my tranquil lessons from Psalms and my simple living book for patience, and I will diligently work on writing the lesson plan manual to my program for endurance. And because of the two, I know that this will happen. I will make it happen. Then again, TIA—this is Africa. I won’t be in the midst of an easy story, and I’m going to have to keep paddling, too far from the shore and not yet at my destination. Even when I can’t see the destination, though, I can always envision it. Because even though TIA, I know as well, that TID—this is Delia.

AND ‘T’ STANDS FOR TRUST

On Thursday, as part of my summer paralegal job, I got to attend depositions for a case with my boss (who remarkably doubles as my brother). Some of what was questioned of these men was the case law that hearsay is not sufficient by itself and must be corroborated by independent investigation or steps to prove the reliability of whomever the hearsay originated from. It is a protective law for citizens so that we are not harassed by mere happenstance, and that reason and cause are present in legal activity. That’s why there is so much emphasis on corroborating what is said.

At the center of the curriculum I wrote, last time I was in Ghana, was the acronym A.C.T. ‘A.C.T.’ was chosen because it spelled ‘act,’ which is a word that requires deliberate motions and movement. The acronym was supposed to teach the children about what they could do if something bad, particularly sexual abuse, was happening to them. The first letter ‘A’ stood for alert, signifying that the children should tell someone about the situation. ‘C’ stood for care, meaning that the students should take care and be cautious of their surroundings, avoiding those bad places and people that was possible to avoid within their power. And ‘T’ stood for trust, which meant that the children should trust that if they alert the proper person(s) and were as careful as they could be, that they should trust that someone would care and something would be done.

I always thought that ‘T’ was the most important letter of A.C.T. I thought that if the students did not believe that ‘T’ would happen—that something would be done to help them—then I had lost the odds of ‘A’ and ‘C.’ It was my romantic thoughts of good triumphing over evil that put so much emphasis on ‘T’ and needing those children to believe that people would care if something bad happened to them. I certainly cared—but then again, I was leaving. And that fact sometimes made me feel like I put so much emphasis on ‘T,’ but in reality, trust was much more complicated than my acronym. It readily defied the confines of my chalkboard lessons. For example, whenever I asked the students to name a few people that they could trust, the top three answers—parents, teachers, and police officers—were the top three groups of people perpetrating the crime.

I guess this rings true for many situations, but it still seems a cruel twist of life that the very people who we give our trust to, are sometimes the very people so quick to betray it. And when it’s the people who are supposed to be taking care of these children, it creates a web of fear in the community of voices revealing unspeakable crimes against a child, and a stigma for those who dare to unveil it. So these children are asked to give proof that what they say about someone who is seemingly trustworthy is true. Corroboration for their story is demanded, while their words become less sure of what they once knew to be their life’s horrible truth. And the ‘T’ I teach becomes nothing more than the letter after ‘s’ and an empty declaration that someone would care and something would get done. I saw the aftermath often. At one school, a girl asked me questions after the first lesson that were too specific to be hypothetical. She ended her line of questions by asking what happens if you tell someone that you were being hurt, they don’t do anything, and someone kept hurting you. I told her that we have to believe that our situation can change and that she should try and tell someone else. But then she replied that others had been told, and nothing had happened. I wish I had a response for her then, but at that moment, I could not think of anything to say to her. I tried to take her aside, but it probably is not so surprising that I could not find her after I was done teaching in other classrooms at school. I tried to follow up at the school, but nothing came of that. If I see that girl again, I can only pray that her voice reached the right ears, such as AMPCAN and other NGOs in Ghana that are trying to put an end to child abuse and neglect. If I see her again, I would tell her that sometimes to change our lives takes a complicated mixture of patience and perseverance, although those are often coupled with lessons no child her age should learn and situations they should never go through. But most importantly, I would tell her that when I say that ‘T’ stands for trust, I also mean that she should trust that if something bad is happening to her that she has it inside of her to hold on until the tide change, and in certain situations, aid herself as well. This is one of the main reasons why I developed my curriculum. These children will become their very own trusted line of defense when empowered with the right knowledge. And myself, along with all the other people working in this field, will stand right there on the front line beside them. Because ‘T’ isn’t just a letter—it stands for trust.