Tag Archives: Summer Peacebuilding Institute

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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No matter where they live, people are people

enjoyingthegamebybrucestambaugh

Baseball fans enjoying a game.

By Bruce Stambaugh

I find people fascinating, a joy to watch. I can easily pass the time observing crowds at airports, sporting events, meetings or shopping.

Humans come in a kaleidoscope of shapes, sizes, races and ages. They adorn themselves with a variety of intriguing duds and accessories. I marvel at and learn from their diversifications.

mariebybrucestambaugh

Marie was tickled pink that I wanted to take her picture on the dock at Lakeside, OH.

I remember a specific time many years ago when the shoe was on the other foot. My wife and I were visiting her cousin in southern California. Barb had two daughters, ages two and three months. Our daughter was two months old.

I was informed that we were going shopping one afternoon at the local mall. We were quite the sight and unintentionally created an intriguing distraction as we sauntered around the sprawling mall with a toddler and two infants in strollers and two lovely mothers and one man.

When I volunteered to care for the girls while the women ducked into a few stores, the fun began. We became the mall’s main attraction. The kids drew passing shoppers in like they were magnets.

I found myself engaged in conversations with people curious about the children. Were the babies twins? When I said they were born three weeks apart, I could see the mental wheels turning in the questioners’ heads.

When my wife and her cousin, who are close in age, returned to check on us, the eyebrows really arched. People’s non-verbal communication revealed their conceptual inferences about one man, two wives, and three little girls.

learningaboutconflictbybrucestambaugh

Dr. Catherine Barnes (center) taught the Conflict Analysis course during the Summer Peacebuilding Institute at Eastern Mennonite University, Harrisonburg, VA.

In reality, that’s how we operate as social beings. We reach conclusions based on what we see, and interpret observations based on our own life’s experiences and values. Many times, like my mall experience, those assumptions frame and tilt what reality is if the truth is not properly explored.

Recently I was asked what the single most important point I had learned at the Summer Peacebuilding Institute that I had attended in Harrisonburg, Virginia. The answer flowed easily.

“The most significant concept I learned was that people are people,” I said. Not exactly profound, but true nonetheless.

Not wanting to come across as cryptic, I further explained my seemingly glib answer. Based on what I had gained first hand from my global classmates, we all strive and often struggle for the exact same things. We desire basic human needs and rights regardless of our culture, race, religion, wealth, ethnicity, or gender.

groupprocessingbybrucestambaugh

Much of the SPI class involved small group interaction among class members.

Our modest class consisted of female and male inhabitants from four continents, 13 countries, and multiple races and religions. Yet, we were all there for one common purpose. We wanted to gain practical and applicable methods for understanding and resolving conflict.

To that end, the cultures, traditions, and primary languages of each class member became secondary to the overall goal. No barrier would deter our learning, thanks to an outstanding professor guiding dedicated students.

We all had too much to lose by allowing prejudice to cloud our thinking. After all, most of the astute class members would return home to implement and teach the knowledge they had acquired. In too many situations, that would be done in hostile, dangerous, unstable conditions.

Our class discussions easily revealed that people universally desire the same life goals. We all need food, shelter, security, identity, dignity and the freedom to grow and explore in an ever-changing, challenging world.

No political bend could deny the obvious. Regardless of roots of origin, people are indeed people, and they ache to be treated accordingly.

classmatesbybrucestambaugh

Friendships formed from the classroom interactions.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2013

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