During the 2019-20 academic year, as the Center for Justice and Peacebuilding commemorates its 25th anniversary, a series of guest authors will share reflections about CJP’s personal impact. We want to hear your thoughts, too! Thousands of people have intersected with CJP over the years, and each of you has contributed to the work of making the world more just and more peaceful. Join us for our anniversary celebration June 5-7, 2020. Visit the anniversary website for more details.
It has been an amazing journey of education and learning at CJP’s Women’s Peacebuilding and Leadership Program (WPLP).* I joined WPLP due to the attraction from leadership and peacebuilding concepts. It was a marathon learning spree and I have been introduced to the whole discourse around peacebuilding and leadership. The staff and the tutors were exceptional in their quest to make us comfortable. Undertaking the course during the Summer Peacebuilding Institute and all the get-together activities made it all fun and educative.
The analysis course was such an eyeopener and introduced the depth one needs to delve into a conflict beyond what meets the eye. The leadership course was crucial in painting the kind of leader I was. This understanding is so important that I even carry some of the lessons to date. The Strategies for Trauma Awareness and Resilience (STAR) course, equally fulfilling, made me realize that there could be a lot of trauma within our communities. Often times when there is conflict people rush in to quell the fighting and hardly do they return to address the trauma. Because of the STAR course, I have been able to critically think about trauma.
What crowned the whole learning was the practicum aspect. It enabled us to go beyond the theory. The design of the program, such as inclusion of mentors, was so helpful and unique. One big take home: the humility modeled by the various professors of the course.
CJP needs to make better use of the alumni. In this era of connectivity and “live” connections, CJP should mobilize the alumni for some courses. For example, each World Peace Day, the alumni could be tapped to discuss the theme online. Imagine having discussions from all over and making CJP and peace take over the online discussions. Even for a day.
In addition, WPLP was an important program and CJP should look for other means of continuing it. For instance, I hope to see peace work partnership between CJP and other universities like Garissa University. Garissa is a town in Northern Kenya in an area inhabited by communities that have internal conflict; it borders Somalia and thus international conflict is apparent. Many of us recall the horrific tragedy at Garissa University where 148 students were killed. That is a good starting point, building peace from the ashes.
Another area that I did not see come out strongly in this journey of knowledge is the social norms of communities and how these affect peacebuilding. If there is a norm where community sees each other as the enemy, it is important to unravel the social norms holding that notion in place. The same goes for norms of revenge that are practiced. Social norms as we know are adhered to by a large number of people, if not all, in certain areas. Therefore, the particular thing that is a norm will be a serious challenge to any peace building.
I would also like to see a focus on the place of religion in peacebuilding. CJP may be non-religious in its execution of its mandate, but nothing should stop it and definitely it should not shy away from using religious teachings that promote peace. It is needed especially in our world today.
I dream of a world that understands peace and works towards achieving it. All because of CJP.
Maryam Sheikh is an alumna of CJP’s Women Peacebuilding and Leadership Program from Kenya. A long-serving career social worker and an ardent social change agitator, Maryam is now a freelance consultant on matters of protection and a No to Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) community change agent. She is also part of a volunteer peacebuilding team that ran a peace walk dubbed “Walk of Hope” in Kenya. Currently, she is involved in a foundation that is running the Northern Wanderers football club , with the goal of using football (soccer) for peace work among others.
Maryam is also a board member of Northern Nomadic Disabled Person’s Organization that organizes an annual race for wheelchair users called “Desert Wheel Race” and a fashion gala “Beautyability” for women living with disabilities. The race is in the Northern Kenya County of Isiolo, an area prone to conflict, in an effort to highlight the link between disability and conflict, a narrative often overlooked. She is also a proud mother.