Su Riddell, coordinator of Creators of Peace Circles in the UK, spoke of the many inspiring stories of friendship and reconciliation she had encountered through the peace circles, when she and her team addressed a Greencoat Forum in the London centre of Initiatives of Change on 20 April. Their theme was ‘creating peace: what will it take?’
Su’s Creators of Peace team at the London forum included Monica McIntosh, Mary Lean, Amina Hassan, Judith Henderson, Karen Ridley, Shabibi Shah and Jan Smith. They each spoke of how they had come to be involved in CoP and what the initiative had meant to them.
Su explained that Peace Circles usually take place over six weekly sessions, each lasting about two hours. The group begins by discussing whether the situation that surrounds them is really the peace they want. Then the group discuss what peace actually is and come to the conclusion that diverse elements such as education for children, enough food, an economy that works and access to health services are keys. The group then goes on to discuss what destroys peace and what builds it.
Finally, the group makes a list of famous international peace makers and think about what they did and how they did it. Then the realisation comes that those qualities are indeed accessible to everyone. Everyone has within them the potential to be successful creators of peace. As Yukika Sohma, a veteran Japanese NGO worker, once said: ‘None of us lacks the vision for peace, what we often lack is the first step in action.’
Monica McIntosh from London, who was present at the Caux conference when Creators of Peace was first launched, told how she had come from a background of working in community development and saw the potential for transformation.
She told the dramatic story of her trip to Sudan following the signing of the comprehensive peace agreement in 2005. She and her delegation had originally been invited there by the woman Minister of Mining. However, shortly before the team were due to leave for Sudan, it transpired that the Minister had walked out of the government. Despite this setback, Monica decided to go ahead with the trip, and described the experience as a ‘lesson in faith’.
After a bumpy start, which saw Monica and her team sharing an hotel in Juba with members of the notorious Janjaweed militia, the group were finally able to begin the Creators of Peace circle. Monica noted that while it was useful to have the Creators of Peace manual, she found she had to adapt the method to match the moral and spiritual needs of the culture. As part of the programme, she showed The Imam and the Pastor, a film of interfaith reconciliation shot in Nigeria, and addressed questions on how to forgive those who had killed your people, and how to bring warring factions together.
Several of the speakers in London noted that taking part in a Peace Circle can bring people into reconciliation with themselves. Shabibi Shah from Afghanistan said that she had previously been in conflict with herself and that being part of a Peace Circle had helped her reach a sense of inner peace. This in turn helped her to forgive those who had done wrong to her family and influenced her work in trying to help different Afghan communities in the UK to forgive each other.
Karen Ridley, who was introduced to the Peace Circles by Su Riddell in Oxford, spoke of the ‘profound experience of listening to other people’s stories. There is a ripple effect. Peace is infectious and when it touches your life there are no limits to what can be achieved.’ Karen said that her family and professional relationships had been transformed: ‘When you really live out peace, you gain freedom from anger. Breaking the chain of ignorance leads to friendship.’ Amina Hassan also said that the Peace Circles had taught her to listen to others more deeply and not just on the surface.
Judith Henderson, from Liverpool, said she had run a Peace Circle there involving women asylum seekers, whom she has met every week over several years. One from Uganda had said, ‘We all came from different backgrounds but we all accepted each other. We must learn to forgive each other if we are to find peace.’
Jan Smith, who took part in a London Peace Circle, also found listening to other people’s stories strengthened the bond of the group: ‘It was a very powerful experience sharing our stories as such a diverse group of women. Despite coming from very different backgrounds, we all realised that our needs were the same and this showed us that we needed to work together.’