Welcoming people of all faiths to sow the seeds of
non-violence and peace
throughout Africa in the Spirit of St Francis of Assisi

 

 

Quarterly Report 12

30 July 2008

Quarterly Report 12 of the Damietta Peace Initiative

 

DAMIETTA PEACE INITIATIVE
12th QUARTERLY PROGRESS REPORT
APRIL-JUNE 2008
 
 
In Germany, they came first for the Communists,
And I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Communist;
And then they came for the trade unionists,
And I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a trade unionist;
And then they came for the Jews,
And I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew;
And then . . . they came for me . . .
And by that time there was no one left to speak up."
Pastor Martin Niemöller
 
1.      Introductory remarks:
The recent xenophobic attacks in South Africa shocked the world and made many South Africans hang their heads in shame. Shocking images of a Mozambican national being burnt to death made us all ask where we are going as a country. Our government’s response to this catastrophe also left much to be desired. Yet, despite our government’s inaction, we believe that we cannot leave the situation alone since it will not simply go away.
 
 We all know that prejudice, wherever it raises its ugly head, cannot be ignored and requires a creative response in order to be dealt with.  Fr. Donal O’Mahony OFM Cap, our Director, frequently defines violence as “destructive communication”. By this he means people live in an interlocking world, which extends to all creation. Once humans wantonly violate this indissoluble pattern, where both strong and weak are bound together in a holistic framework, there is present ‘violence’ or ‘destructive communication’.  DPI is strongly challenging, through its local PACTs, the stark reality of xenophobia. Local peace groups, educated and trained in the methodology of non-violence, seek to build up greater harmony among their own community; and where xenophobia prevails, to re-build relationships. However, while this message needs to be heard by everyone, we must not forget the inhuman conditions of those people living in informal settlements where a lot of xenophobia is taking place.  They live in miserable shacks without job opportunities, education facilities, limited availability of water and electricity (if lucky!), and surrounded by an atrocious unhealthy environment. They need radical social support and assistance before expecting of them, willy-nilly, the same norms of tolerance as would apply to the rest of us. When the poorest of the poor are forced to compete with ‘foreigners’ for the same scarce resources, heroic understanding is sometimes required.  The Damietta Peace Initiative plans to be in the forefront in working to overcome the effects of xenophobia. We make a brief reference to this action policy below.
 
 
 
1.     Overview
In our last quarterly progress report we were proud to state how one of our PACTs had reached out a hand of friendship to the foreigner in their area. Since then, many other PACTs woke up to the shock reality that a new xenophobic environment was emerging in South Africa.
 
One group highlighted the plight of foreigners in their local Church communities. Others invited refugees to talk to them about their plight. Others decided to voice their stance on the issue, with one woman starting a PACT meeting with the emphatic question, “What is wrong with you men, and your attitude towards the foreigners?” Others again decided to visit a refugee camp to see what they could do to help restore the relationship between the foreigners and themselves.  And the Damietta Peace Initiative, together with the support of Caritas International, have decided to attempt new PACTs, composed of locals and ‘foreigners’,  as a means of integrating ‘foreigners’ back into the community.  
 
Many of the foreigners have shared stories of great fear. Some members of PACT declared they are afraid to speak when travelling in public transport on their way home from work, for fear of being victimised. Two people from two different groups shared that they never got coin change on a public transport trip, but were too afraid to speak up. But despite all these harsh stories that South Africans hear about, day in and day out, there are also stories of hope. One young man from Burundi, no older than twenty-five, told PACT members that in his young life he has already lived in 6 countries as an exile. Yet he has found South Africa – once one was street wise- to be the best country to live in. This was heart-warming to native South Africans who have been hearing only negative stories from ‘foreigners’.
 
 
 
 
 
2.     Collaboration with Franciscans International
Our Director, Fr. Donal O’Mahony set off for   Geneva on the 9th June, 2008, to meet the new Director of Franciscans International (FI), Denise Boyle, to consolidate a new working relationship between the two Franciscan Organisations working for peace. A joint media report was later     released.  
 
3.     Collaboration with Caritas International
 
At the same time, a new relationship between Damietta Peace Initiative and Caritas International has been developed. Sr. Aine Hughes represented Caritas in the discussions with the DPI team. Practical joint actions are planned. Sr. Aine has been co-opted on to the Governing Board of DPI.
 
4.     Interaction With Interfaith communities:
Our interaction with organisations of various faiths had been kept to a minimum in our desire to consolidate. Yet a contact with a new organisation was possible. While in Kwazulu-Natal (KZN), Lance Thomas of the DPI Central Office, and our International Coordinator, Sr. Lilian Curaming, FMM met with the World Council of Religions for Peace (WCRP) of KZN. Though no formal agreements were undertaken at this first meeting, a working relation was established. Much time was spent in explaining to each other our respective roles. DPI is now included in WCRP directory and can anticipate being invited to meetings of other of religious groups working for peace throughout Kwazulu-Natal.
 
 
5.     Activities:
5.1.                     East Africa: Based in Kenya
The post election violence in Kenya prompted many unexpected extra activities from DPI in Kenya. But this has yielded a great upsurge in the number of PACTs formed. The Kalinde PACT which initially started with 7 members has now grown to 15 members. Recently two of its members were trained as PACT ENABLERS. In Rongai there are now 8 PACTs. One of them is a Youth PACT. Mathare PACThas 30 members and meet regularly in their neighbourhood. They also organized sports for peace and an orphanage support programme. They are presently organizing some activity for the world environment day.
 
Kibera PACT played a great role in defusing violence in the Kibera slum during the post election violence in Kenya. One of the most significant events was when they saved an Anglican Church from being burnt down by a rowdy violent gang. They surrounded the church with placards of peace and non-violence while kneeling to invoke divine help. Upon seeing this, the gang marched off without destroying property or injuring anyone.
 
The same group also organized a peace walk around the Kibera slum. This attracted many people who joined them in their call for peace and non-violence. This group is set to be divided into three PACTs by the end of next month. Wajir PACT was started by a Carmilian sister late last year after she graduated from one of DPI's PACT Enablers seminars. At the moment it has over 15 members. Br. Benedict is set to visit the PACT in July. Hola and Mpeketoni PACTs are also slowly but surely picking up.
 
 
PACT enablers Training seminars
DPI organized two seminars during the visit of Sr. Lilian in Kenya. The first seminar was held on 17th to 20th April 2008 at the Mary-Ward centre. This was a continuation of the PACT Enablers training held there last year. Gratitude is owed to IMRS (Ireland) for enabling Damietta Peace Initiative to pursue such intensive training programmes in Africa. Disappointment was expressed that only 7 of the 16 already trained Enablers attended the seminar. But there were 13 new-comers. The participants shared ideas about various topics including human rights, peace building, and conflict management. The potential of DPI for their local communities was also highlighted. The participants made a visit to a Sikh spiritual centre and also to a Shiite mosque and an Islamic Training Centre.
The second seminar was held between 23rd and 24th April at Tumaini AOSK centre. It attracted PACT members from nine different PACTS in Kenya. They participated in training sessions on conflict prevention, conflict resolution, and peace building. Those who attended will now help in setting up PACTs and become PACT ENABLERS for new groups. It was suggested that some large PACTs should divide into smaller and more participative groups. A separate detailed report about the seminars is available from the Damietta Peace Initiative’s International Office in Pretoria.
Collaboration with others
Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation - Franciscan Africa (JPIC-FA)
Following the example of St Francis of Assisi, DPI has endeavoured to reach out a hand of friendship to other groups working for peace. Since its inauguration early this year, JPIC-FA has been working closely with DPI in networking with the Franciscan family in Kenya. Moreover JPIC-FA has been involved in the facilitation of a recent PACT Enablers training seminar.  On 21st April 2008 Sr. Lilian and Br. Benedict met with Sr. Kevin and Br. Gianfrancisco of JPIC and discussed among other issues the question of identity, areas and levels of collaboration between the two organizations. Multiplication of peace groups is not necessarily a bad thing. Each has their own catchments area. What is important, however, is close collaboration between groups.  
 
 JPIC-FA will share materials and database of all the Franciscans they are in touch with. Further, the Franciscans trained by JPIC will be encouraged to share their values with the local PACTs. On DPI’s part, it will promote the activities of JPIC-FA among the PACTs and others.
 
On 26th April 2008 JPIC-FA invited Sr. Lillian to facilitate a workshop on non-violence for some Franciscans working in the area of justice and peace. This gesture enhanced the collaboration between the two initiatives.
 
Comprehensive course on Franciscan Missionary Charism (CCFMC)
Br. Benedict and Sr. Lillian met the representatives of CCFMC in Kenya. The three member committee, consisting of Sr. Chanda, Sr. Venancius and Br. Peter are still new in the office with the departure of Sr. Ching. DPI sought to highlight areas of collaboration. DPI received several copies of the CCFMC lesson units for the new DPI (Zambia) and their PACT ENABLERS.  Sr. Chanda and Sr. Venancius will spearhead the DPI-CCFMC collaboration.
 
Wanton Sisters
The Wanton Sisters is a Franciscan congregation based in the United States of America. When the Sisters met up with the DPI Kenya National Coordinator, Br. Benedict, at the FI seminar in Uganda, they expressed interest in what DPI was doing at grassroots level.  They have volunteered to support the activities of one of the PACTs in the slums in Kenya. A micro-finance project proposal was proposed to the American-based Wanton Sisters by the Rongai PACT.  
 
CJPC, CARITAS, CRS, HAKIMANI, AOSK
DPI has also been working closely with Catholic Justice and Peace Commission (CJPC), Caritas International, Catholic Relief Services (CRS), Hakima (Jesuits) and Association of Sisters of Kenya-Justice and Peace (AOSK-J&P). Along with DPI these groups have formed a task-force after the post election violence to advise and cooperate with the Kenya Episcopal Conference on the way forward for peace in Kenya. DPI was congratulated for its peace building efforts among the grassroots in Kenya. CRS contributed immensely in facilitating the DPI PACT ENABLERS seminar.
Br. Benedict and Sr. Lillian met up with the Caritas International representatives in Nairobi. Unfortunately, their leader, Mrs. Janet, was on vacation. So a follow up meeting will take place at DPI’s Nairobi office on her return.
 
Muslim women
On 22nd April 2008 Br. Benedict and Sr. Lillian met Najma and Mariam who are representatives of a group of Muslim women working in Nairobi. After discussions of our mission and vision, areas of collaboration between the group and DPI were set. The women were willing and ready to support and work with our PACTs. A follow up meeting was arranged. The Muslim women invited DPI to their up-coming inter-faith dialogue.
 
 
 
 
 
5.2.                      South Africa:
A full day meeting was held between members of the International Office of DPI and Mr. Mark Barwick of PAX CHRISTI. A closer working relationship was agreed upon for future activities. Mr. Barwick expressed praise at the work of DPI. Shortly after this meeting Fr. Donal went to Rome, Ireland and the United States of America as part of his promotion of DPI. In Rome he met with the Ministers General and in New York he met with some of the key Capuchins of the New YorkProvince.  The legal incorporation of Damietta Peace Initiative as A.C.T Inc (Africa Calls To-day) was also completed during his stay in US, with the New York lawyer, Lisa Johnson. Lisa did all the work ‘pro bono’. 
On his return to the office he shared the inspiring story of Clodagh Johnson-McEvoy, the 5 year old daughter of Lisa. Clodagh donates $1 a week for the work of DPI from the $5 weekly allowance she receives. Clodagh dreams of coming to Africa when she is older to “help the poor in Africa.”
 
Lance Thomas presented DPI to members of three SFO groups under the invitation of Mr. Caleb Molefe, who coordinates the activities of the SFO in his region. He was a member of the Lady Selbourne PACT and is seeking to get DPI accepted by all SFO groups in his area. He also presented the Damietta Peace Initiative once again to the young religious in formation of the Franciscan Order in South Africa. He hopes one day these young Franciscans will continue the DPI programme when they get their assignments.
 
On the 30th May, 2008, Sr. Lilian and Lance left for extending training workshops in Newcastle and Port Shepstone in KZN. On the 31st of May they met with a group in New Catle and presented DPI for the first time to them. This group had been invited by Sr. Inne, FMM. The participants were very impressed with the presentation and suggested that they start their own PACT by August which would allow them the chance to share with more people from their community. We were impressed at the speed at which they agreed to start a PACT group. One of the participants subsequently spoke to “Hospice” members. The Hospice authorities then requested DPI to present its peace programme to the Hospice members. A local Evangelical Pastor invited DPI to give a talk to his community in August for ‘Women’s Day’.
 
In Durban they met with a ward counsellor of the ANC, who had worked many years in Nigeria in Muslim-Christian relations. He was excited at the work of DPI. He first learned of DPI from a Muslim group with whom he was in contact with.  Later that evening they met with members of the WCRP who invited Lance and Sr. Lilian to an inter-religious forum in KZN. Time did not permit, but it was planned that a local PACT ENABLER, Sr. Mary-Anthony, would attend on their behalf. As fate would have it, floods made it impossible for Sr. Mary Anthony to attend the meeting.
 
They also met with Mr. Christoph Baumann, of AVP, who was now working at the University of Kwazulu-Natal. He too was very impressed with the work of DPI and saw the valuable contribution DPI is making towards his own peace proposals. He gave them copies of his work and asked them to read over it.
 
The workshop held in Port Shepstone later that week went off exceptionally well. 19 teachers from the local schools attended the workshop. They promised to implement DPI in their local schools and asked if they could come again to KZN in order to present to the rest of their staff what DPI was about. The teachers were enthused by what was presented - as could be gleaned from the comments and evaluation after the workshop. Included in the group was Sr. Mary-Anthony who is responsible for all the Catholic schools in the area along with 6 other government schools. Sr. Mary-Anthony is a most impressive woman and she assured us that she would see to it that DPI would be implemented in the schools that she cares for. 
 
The xenophobic attacks in South Africa left many of the Capuchin missionary students feeling threatened. Since many of them are from outside the borders of South Africa DPI was asked to give thirty-two Franciscan students a 2-day workshop on xenophobia. Freddy Mnyongani and Lance Thomas conducted the workshop.
 
5.3.Southern Africa: Zambia
The structures for the development of DPI in Zambia are fast establishing itself, following Sr. Lilian’s visit in March. A follow-up training course is planned for July. Sr. Lilian Curaming, FMM will travel to Zambia to oversee the training. Directing the development of DPI in Zambia is Fr. Thomas Zulu, OFM Cap and his team, comprising of Sr. Chileshe Bupe, FMSA, (Chaplain for youth in Ndola Diocese), Mrs Rosario Fundaga and Sr. Regina, Holy Cross. Good relationships have are being forged with many diverse faith communities.
 
 
 
5.4.Nigeria:
Nigeria is progressing well under the direction of the Franciscan Missionaries of the Divine Motherhood (FMDM) Sisters, spearheaded by Sr Helena. Mr Perx Maji is well on his way to establish PACTs in the area. His extreme capabilities and knowledge of peace work is invaluable to DPI. Mr Maji will be doing a course in Birmingham, England next month on peace and non-violence.
 
6.     Moving Forward
As Kenya continues its mopping up operation after their post election tribal conflicts, and South Africa is trying to reconcile its own ethnic divide, and Nigeria, DRC having their own conflicts and tensions, it seems DPI is not short of challenges in Africa. With all the constant conflicts, it is easy to fall into a pessimism that makes one just want to give up. Yet we all know that this is not the answer.
 
Somehow the relationships in Africa have become seriously fractured. These fractures need to be repaired. Governments can come up with great plans designed to bring their peoples to “order”. Yet time and again they fail. Damietta’s way of peace-building at the grassroots level is certainly providing new hope to local peoples in Africa.


 

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