The full-tuition scholarship for an international or indigenous person “new to peacebuilding” requires an application from the individual and a partnering organization. A six-week internship after attendance at SPI is also required, with specific objectives and an action plan.
Sumina Karki, 29, is a program officer working primarily in community mediation and dialogue with The Asia Foundation. A founding member of the Nepalese feminist group Chaukath, she came to peacebuilding three years ago after working as a journalist and researcher.
SPI provided Karki with new skills – she took courses in faith-based peacebuilding, conflict coaching, and truth-telling, reconciliation and restorative justice – but also time to “refuel and reflect,” she said. “Working along with local facilitators to bring stakeholders to dialogue and working with them, filling them with positivity and optimism, encouraging them – all of that takes a lot of mental, spiritual and physical energy.”
At SPI, “there is so much to learn and you come to realize that you are not the only one, that there are people around the world who are working in really difficult situations and still hopeful that change can happen,” she said. “I have derived much positive energy from that.”
Karki calls dialogue processes a “preventive and more proactive way of managing conflicts,” even in a country with caste, class, gender and ethnic divides. The Asia Foundation is widely regarded in Nepal for efforts in training communities about mediation and dialogue as a tool for conflict transformation and peacebuilding. This is an especially important tool for citizens in remote areas who cannot easily access judicial systems.
Despite having a female president and around 30 percent female parliamentarians, Nepal is highly patriarchal. Out of 7,000 mediators, The Asia Foundation has trained more than 2,000 female mediators – an important step towards inclusion and equity at the community level, Karki says.
THERESA “TESSY” GUSIM-NDASULE
Everyone leaves loved ones behind to come to SPI. However, gender-focused interfaith peacebuilder Theresa “Tessy” Gusim-Ndasule left an especially curious six-year-old son back in Nigeria who clearly intended to hold his mother accountable.
“Every day, we talk and he says, ‘Mom, how are your classmates today?’ and I say, ‘They are fine,’ and then he says, ‘Mom, what did you learn about peace today?” And then she gives a full report.
She also missed her daughter’s second birthday. But Gusim-Ndasule says her daughter will forgive her. “She’ll be happy when she grows up that I missed her second birthday because I was working in the pursuit of peace.”
Gusim-Ndasule experienced interfaith violence as a child and on several other occasions in her life, which has provided motivation to address this topic as a program officer with the Baptist Church and the Women’s Missionary Union in Kaduna.
Gusim-Ndasule hopes to train Christian and Muslim women together in conflict transformation skills and form a group to visit rural communities and Internally Displaced Persons camps. The sight of women of different faiths coming together to promote a culture of peace “will send a strong message to the women in the camps who are nursing grievances and holding onto grudges for what has been done to them.”
Participating in SPI has been “a blessing,” she says. “I’ve seen how the community here lives and nobody looks at you by who you are or where you come from. It’s the humanity that matters. That is something I am taking in and taking with me. You see a light in everyone, no matter your race, your gender, your faith.”