Tag Archives: peace building

It’s a small world after all

conflictanalysisclassbybrucestambaugh

The SPI Conflict Analysis Class of last May at Eastern Mennonite University, Harrisonburg, VA.

By Bruce Stambaugh

Imagine the odds.

Last May I took a graduate school course on conflict analysis in the Summer Peacebuilding Institute (SPI) held at Eastern Mennonite University in Harrisonburg, Virginia.

The 16 students in the class represented several countries, ethnic backgrounds and religions from around the world. Each day we sat at tables in groups of four or five with a different mix of students. We collaborated on dissecting some aspect of human discord, usually in preparation for a class presentation.

We were all in the class for the same reason. We had a strong interest in understanding and resolving conflict by peaceful means.

ranaandmebybrucestambaugh

Rana and me in the SPI classroom at Eastern Mennonite University.

I couldn’t have imagined how meaningful the class would be. Nor could I have anticipated the events that would unfold long after the course work was finished.

Keep in mind that most of the students were intensely involved in some aspect of peace building in their respective countries. Dangerous conflict was a daily occurrence for many of them. Azerbaijan, Iraq, Kurdistan, Somalia, Syria, Miramar, and Haiti were a few of those places.

Back home the official duties of class participants varied as much as their backgrounds. Some engaged in peace building through non-governmental agencies. Others were pastors, teachers and even politicians.

The goal was to learn how to analyze conflict, and apply appropriate peace building skills constructively. Upon returning to their home country, they would instruct others in what they had learned or directly apply peace aspects in their vocations.

Meeting with new classmates each day provided a global perspective on the too many conflicts around the world. My problems paled when compared to some of the survival stories told to me privately. Their personal, troublesome stories humbled me.

I was especially impressed with Rana, an energetic young woman from Syria. The news out of that country was not good. Aggressive conflict was wreaking havoc on her homeland. Yet she remained upbeat and actively engaged in class projects.

When the course was completed, I tried to gather any contact information that I could. I wanted to stay connected to my new friends. I knew that I would be unable to communicate with some of them simply for security reasons. I certainly didn’t want to compound the risks they already faced.

Once home I did manage to communicate with a few of the students, mostly via Facebook, a popular social media website. Even in the midst of the fighting, I was able to share periodically with Rana. But I kept the messages to mostly short well wishes.

When the fighting in Syria escalated, including the use of chemical weapons, I became rather concerned. Then the last Sunday morning of 2013, I received a message from Rana that she was fine.

I felt relieved as my wife and I headed to church. I knew we had a special speaker that morning, but I didn’t know who or from what organization.

Prior to the service, I was introduced to the guest speaker, Sarah Adams, who was the Mennonite Central Committee country representative to Lebanon and Syria. I recounted my SPI experience, and asked Sarah if she happened to know Rana.

Before I could say Rana’s last name, Sarah happily replied, “Oh, yes. I know Rana well.” She assured me that Rana was safe and still working for peace whenever and wherever she could. I was thrilled.

Imagine the odds of the three of us interconnecting via Virginia, Syria and Ohio. It really is a small world after all.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2014

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Nepali volunteer is all about business

Amrit Rajbanshi by Bruce Stambaugh

Electronics is one of the stations where Amrit Rajbanshi works at Save and Serve Thirft Shop, Millersburg, Ohio.

By Bruce Stambaugh

Someone had to be first.

Amrit Rajbanshi is the first person from Nepal to serve in the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) program dubbed IVEP, short for International Volunteer Exchange Program. Of all the places in the United States he could have gone, Millersburg gets to be the recipient of his services.

Rajbanshi is serving as a volunteer at the Save and Serve Thrift Store on South Washington Street in Millersburg through next July. The 18-year-old is a first year college student majoring in business.

He arrived in the U.S from Nepal on August 11, and spent his first week participating in an orientation in Akron, Pennsylvania. He is one of 48 IVEP’ers from around the world who are serving in the U.S. through MCC this year.

“I feel blessed to have been chosen to be the first from Nepal to serve in the IVEP program,” Rajbanshi said. He said he chose to volunteer in a thrift shop to learn hands on business skills.

“I have already had several practical experiences,” he said, “compared to simply studying the theory of business in school.”

At Save and Serve, Rajbanshi has been assigned to work at several different stations, including repairing electronics, arranging clothing, serving as cashier, and handling the store’s online used book sales.

Rajbanshi starts each day at 8 a.m. sweeping in the store. He admitted that at first he thought that task was a bit menial for him. But he soon understood that it was an essential part of the IVEP process.

“I realized that if I don’t do the work, then who will do it?” Rajbanshi said, revealing wisdom beyond his years. “This is not only for me. It’s for MCC and all those who come after me.”

Rajbanshi is staying with Stan and Marilyn Kamp of Millersburg. His expenses are covered through MCC and Save and Serve and he receives an $80 monthly stipend for personal needs.

“I feel very welcome here,” he said. “I’m adjusting to the culture.”

Rajbanshi said his hometown in Nepal has a population of 100,000. But he is also used to the country since his father, Meghnath, is a pastor at a rural Brethren in Christ church in Nepal.

Family is very important to Rajbanshi, and he did acknowledge being a little big homesick. Besides spending time with his family, he said he enjoys soccer, chess and working on the computer.

Rajbanshi has two sisters, Urmila, who is a high school teacher and is studying for her master’s degree, and Punam, a high school student. His mother, Chandrabati, is a homemaker.

“I respect my father very much,” Rajbanshi said, “because unlike most others in our culture he treats woman equal to men.”

“IVEP is a very good program and opportunity,” Rajbanshi said. “It is nice to be introduced to the new culture.”

Rajbanshi said he is still learning English, although he speaks English very well. According to Helen Glick, co-manager at Save and Serve, knowing English is a requirement in order to be considered for IVEP.

Rajbanshi said he views being an IVEP’er as a form of peace building.

“I get to know and learn new people and a new culture,” he explained, “and when I go home I can tell my people what it’s really like here.”

Rajbanshi expressed a concern that neither his people nor those of other Asian nations really know what America is like and vice versa. Fortunately, he won’t have to do all the sharing on his own.

“MCC has lots of programs in Nepal in conjunction with the Brethren in Christ Church,” Rajbanshi said. In Nepal, MCC mainly supports efforts to equip grassroots community workers to build peace in their own context. They support education in settings from Nepal’s capital, Katmandu, to a remote mountain stone quarry where children work along side their parents.

Rajbanshi said Nepal is a country in political transition, moving from a Hindu state to a secular republic. He said the government has another year to complete that change.

“By the end of my year here,” Rajbanshi said, “I will use my experience in my schooling.” But true to his nature, Rajbanshi’s goal doesn’t stop there.
“I will try to inspire others to participate in the IVEP program,” he said. IVEP is aimed at young adults, 18-30.

This story appeared in the Holmes Bargain Hunter.

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