Elen Huegel, a graduate of Eastern Mennonite University's Center for Justice and Peacebuilding, took second place in the visual arts category of the 2018 Alumni Storytelling Contest: Spreading the Word of Peace. Huegel's "Dignity" includes photography and a tapestry made with a back-strap loom. (Photo by Andrew Strack)

CJP recognizes winners of its ‘Spreading the Word of Peace’ storytelling contest

Eastern Mennonite University’s Center for Justice and Peacebuilding has announced the winners of its Alumni Storytelling Contest: Spreading the Word of Peace.

Entrants were judged in three categories: literature, visual arts and performative arts. The first place winner in each category earned a $2,000 prize, with second and third places receiving $1,000 and $300. The contest was open to all CJP master’s and graduate certificate alumni.

The contest was conceived by CJP peacebuilding network coordinator Diana Tovar Rojas after a meeting two years ago with CJP donors Marian and James Payne, who reflected that stories of peace are told far less often than stories of war.

“‘How can we spread the word of peace?’” Tovar Rojas remembers James Payne asking. “We’re honored to host this contest as one of James and Marian’s last wishes, to bridge the gap between peacebuilding and the arts and encourage our alumni to share their insights in formats that can reach wide audiences.”

A panel of three judges with a diversity of experience in the arts and peacebuilding selected the winners:


  1. Elena Huegel MA ’07, “Acompañamiento: The Privilege of Walking Alongside”
  2. Florina Xavier MA ’04 and Ashok Xavier MA ’04, “Stones to Silver”
  3. Michel McAndrew MA ’17, “Nostos [Homecoming]”

Visual Arts, including fine arts and contemporary arts:

  1. Ali Gohar MA ’02, “The Sun Also Rises”
  2. Elena Huegel MA ’07, “Dignity”
  3. Michelle Jacket  MA ’13, “Beyond Essays: Approaching Peace Education Differently”

Performative Arts (two entries received):

  1. Carol Grosman MA ’09, “Jerusalem Stories”
  2. Katrina Gehman MA ’15, “Standing as a Woman: Breaking Internalized Objectification / Overcoming Patriarchy”


In the category of literature, the first-place “Acompañamiento: The Privilege of Walking Alongside,” Elena Huegel MA ’07 shares the story of “how a Catholic Mass organized by a Maryknoll sister, officiated by a Jesuit priest, at a Protestant school, for the mother of a Buddhist woman, has become a beacon of light in my personal practice of presence with others and has influenced the development of an international trauma healing and conflict transformation program.”

That program, created after the 2010 earthquake and tsunami in Chile, is called the “Retoños en las ruinas: esperanza en el trauma” or “Re-growth in the ruins: hope in trauma” program.

Acompañamiento is a Spanish term that describes the privilege of walking alongside others on the path of integral healing, Huegel explains in writings accompanying her entry.

The narrative tells of her initial resistance to taking trauma healing courses at her first Summer Peacebuilding Institute, and how she explored the principles of acompañamiento over the next five summers at SPI and later in the earthquake recovery process. Those principles became the foundation of the Retoños program, developed by the staff at the Shalom Center of the Pentecostal Church of Chile in cooperation with the Brookfield Institute of Massachusetts. Church and community leader-participants in six Latin American countries “are continuously redesigning and contextualizing the different modules to fit the needs of the people whom they, in turn, accompany,” she writes.

Florina Xavier MA ’04 and Ashok Xavier MA ’04 were awarded second place for “Stones to Silver,” which describes their years after graduating from CJP, when they began working in villages to bring groups together and “rehumanize the other.”

“The stories and the frustration took a toll on us as well,” Florina writes. “We coped differently, I picked up stones and Ashok spoke to the groups. The change came when we realized that we could work together. The healing process began when I made the first pendant and for him when he bought me the tools.”

The couple eventually sold the pennants and brought the proceeds back to the village, sharing the story of their own journey coping with fear and anger through the conversion of the stones into something precious. Sharing their own humanity helped the villagers recognize that in all others, they write.

Michael McAndrew MA ’17 received third place for “Nostos [Homecoming],” inspired by Odysseus “who, upon his return to Ithaca after war, wanted only to speak freely to civilian and veteran alike in the promotion of lasting peace,” he writes.

“Since the days of Homer’s the Odyssey, veterans have returned home from war seeking homecoming via the social bond,” he writes. “After war, a traumatic encounter with the Real, speech to the Other is rendered much more difficult than before deployment. These veterans, in the tradition of Homer himself and Siegfried Sassoon, have used storytelling, particularly poetry, to articulate their journey home from war to audiences.”

Greek for “homecoming from the sea,” “Nostos” is centered in the Homeric storytelling tradition and “aims to speak about the unspeakable experience of war through poetry,” McAndrew writes.

Visual arts

Three works of visual art were awarded prizes.

In first place, “Baya sahar sha [The Sun Also Rises]” by Ali Gohar MA ’02 is a video of a play telling the story of an intervention in an honor killing that gives the accused woman a voice and ultimately preserves her life. The video of the play was broadcast on television, and therefore was seen by women in their homes, and is now used in capacity building programming.

“I have personally observed and gotten much feedback that elders and police personnel, when they watch my play, cry from the core of their hearts, as they attended women honour cases but did not play their due role,” Gohar writes.

In “Dignity,” which took second place, Elena Huegel MA ’07 uses photography and a sample tapestry made with a back-strap loom to portray a “tapestry of dignity where identity, understanding, equality, freedom, justice and hope come together in culturally recognizable patterns that inform and sustain my trauma healing and conflict transformation work in Chiapas, Mexico,” she writes.

As a newcomer to the community, Huegel knew she had much to learn of Mayan life, and so she “sought out wise women to guide me,” she writes. “A grandmother, along with her daughters and granddaughter, have allowed me to enter into the sacred space of the back-strap loom shared by women since before the arrival of the Spaniards. Learning to weave has become a living metaphor that shapes my commitment to affirming the dignity of others, especially women and children, while nurturing my own.”

“Beyond Essays: Approaching Peace,” an art exhibit compiled by Michelle Jackett MA ’13, received third place recognition. Its 12 pieces by students in Conrad Grebel University College’s undergraduate peace studies program are inspired by John Paul Lederach’s concept of “moral imagination.”

“If peacebuilders need strong creative insight to assess and address conflict and violence,” Jackett writes, “then peace education needs to provide creative opportunities to cultivate morally imaginative peacebuilders so that they are capable of understanding, and responding to, the complex realities of the field.”

With photography, paintings and sculptures, the exhibit has become “a springboard for further conversation with Grebel’s peace studies program to assess and develop the strategic use of the arts for promoting transformative classroom learning,” she writes.

Performative arts

In the category of performative arts, first place was awarded to Carol Grosman MA ’08 for “Jerusalem Stories Performance Exhibit Dialogues.” The submission includes video footage of a performance program of monologues as well as a photography exhibit. The monologues are based on real personal stories collected by Grosman from diverse Jerusalem residents focusing on how they are affected by conflict and their connection to the extraordinary city of Jerusalem. The photography exhibit consists of portrait photographs of these individuals and Jerusalem street scenes by photographer Lloyd Wolf.

A spoken-word poem titled “I Am Not Your Thing” by Katrina Gehman MA ’15 earned second place. It is part of a project in which Gehman weaves a narrative of her battle “to overcome gender oppression personally in my own life and vocationally in the lives of others, as an iterative process,” she writes. It also includes a song titled “Face of a Woman” and a short story “My Mother Gave Me Patriarchy.”