13th SPI Sessions Under Way

With an enrollment of 96 learners from 39 nations, participants gathered May 5 at EMU to launch the 13th annual Summer Peacebuilding Institute.

2008 SPI Participants
Participants Dr. Babasheb Ghatage, India’ Stephanie Rodriguez, Belgium; Sikhululekile Mkandla, Zimbabwe’ and Rita Magar, Nepal, listen to welcomes at the opening session of the 13th annual Summer Peacebuilding Institute at EMU.

“This is a mini-U.N,” SPI Director Pat Hostetter Martin announced jubilantly as she surveyed faces in Martin Chapel at the opening session.

SPI enrollment – having dropped earlier due to international travel restrictions – increased slightly this year, along with a rise in nations represented. Though flight delays increased, more international students were able to obtain visas.

Most SPI participants are working in fields such as peacebuilding, restorative justice, relief, development and human rights.

Primarily sponsored by home-based organizations, they complete workshops at the Harrisonburg campus in conflict transformation, trauma awareness and recovery and strategic nonviolence and restorative justice under the direction of EMU’s Center for Justice and Peacebuilding (CJP).

Cultures Unite

Friendships grow as they share living quarters, meals, cultures, perspectives and fun.

Represented at SPI are many ethnic groups, faith traditions, governments and economies; experiences of privilege as well as poverty and sometimes homelessness.

“We come from homelands at war and from communities that have lovingly sustained us,” Martin noted.

2008 SPI Participants
2008 SPI Participants

Passing a microphone, guests introduced themselves and their homes, which included Jordan, Italy, Burma, Israel, Indonesia, Pakistan, the Czech Republic, Singapore, Bangladesh, the Philippines, Egypt, Zimbabwe, Nepal, Liberia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Dubai, Afghanistan, Iraq, Haiti, Vietnam, Uganda, Kenya, Northern Ireland, India, South Korea, Ghana, Colombia, the United States… and an indigenous nation located within it.

‘Beauty’ All Around

Robb Redsteer and Don Yellowman are citizens of the Dine Nation (a.k.a. Navajo) in northern Arizona.

Yellowman – here for his first SPI – led a prayer in the Dine language which ended in words translated as “beauty behind me, beauty before me, beauty beneath me, beauty above me.”

2008 SPI Participants
Don Yellowman (left) and Rob Redsteer from the Dine nation (they prefer that name over Navajo, given them by the Spanish) in Arizona lead a prayer of blessing in their native tongue to close the opening gathering.

He and Redsteer, an SPI 2007 alumnus, aspire to being “traditional peacemakers” and starting an organization of Dine peacebuilders – not as an arm of tribal government, formed to address civic issues, but as a venue for what Redsteer calls “bigger issues” such as environmental preservation.

Having studied peacebuilding methodology here a year ago, he brought Yellowman to help expand that knowledge.

At the gathering celebration, Redsteer told of hosting Middle Eastern students from CJP last summer on his reservation west of the Grand Canyon. He enjoyed hearing them sing in their native Arabic, while reflecting, “In my culture, we don’t sing anymore.”

Redsteer wants to help revive the Dine culture, in the wake of the U.S. government historically severing Native American children from it.

“I hope to hear my grandchildren sing in the Dine language,” he said.

He and Yellowman heard of SPI at a conference in Albuquerque when they met EMU conflict studies professor and SPI instructor Jayne Docherty, whose focus is applying peacebuilding principles to deep-rooted conflicts in America.

New Workshops, Faculty

SPI workshops new this year include “Faith-Based Conflict Transformation: Beyond Realpolitik and Secularism.” A recent addition is “Using Media to Promote Peace.”

New SPI faculty include EMU graduate Gopar Tapkida, West African regional coordinator of the Mennonite Central Committee peace network.

“We have some of the finest faculty, but they will join me in saying they learn as much from you,” EMU President Loren Swartzendruber told the audience in welcoming them to the Shenandoah Valley and to campus.

2008 SPI Participants
Petra Sachova from the Czech Republic introduces herself during the opening session of SPI. James Tucolon from Liberia is seated next to her.

Bringing a Lilies of the Valley bouquet, Phoebe Kilby, CJP associate director of development, noted that in traditional floral lore, those blooms signify “return of happiness.” Following her remarks, SPI Program Associate Bill Goldberg led a moment of silence for victims of the past weekend’s devastating cyclone in Burma.

A slide show created by CJP community assistants, led by Jonathan Jenner, featured a map with many pictures of diverse people emerging from continents. SPI’s four sessions, each lasting approximately 11 days, will run through June 13, drawing some 218 participants from 50 countries.