Saturday, July 28, 2007

It is Possible

by Holly
Last night I was chatting with a Ugandan colleague about the preparation NGOs have been doing for the return of an expected 2,000 women and children from the LRA. I said I hoped it would be soon. He replied with emotion, “I doubt it.” Both of us said together in almost the same breath, “but we have to hope.” I had an interesting encounter with a Special Advisor to the President in Gulu recently and got a little insight. The celebrated but little understood “agreement” that was recently signed between the LRA and Government of Uganda negotiating teams on accountability, the 3rd agenda of the peace talks, is reportedly not an agreement but principles that should apply to whatever agreement is reached. So, we’re not quite as far down the road as the local press made it seem.

Last weekend after we celebrated the MoU signing for the EU grant (“cause to celebrate”) we stopped in Barlonyo on the way back to Lira. In 2004 the LRA attacked and massacred a lot of people there. A mass grave and memorial was built on the site. The plaque on the memorial reads that on that day “121 innocent civilians were killed by LRA terrorists.” The local government says it was 314 people. I sat and prayed for a few minutes. The words running through my mind were familiar. I felt again the deep pain of people who have known too much violence, the groaning of the blood soaked ground, the hope that it would not happen again, that it is over and that healing is coming. I felt it in Srebrenica at the commemoration day of prayer, 10 years after Serbs killed over seven thousand men and boys. I felt it when I prayed on dusty streets in Palestine on the Reconciliation Walk just 2 months before the second intifada started. I heard someone say recently that if you act like you have faith the faith will follow—I don’t know if that’s quite true, but when I get tired or discouraged lately I’ve been saying to myself, “it is possible.” And I think it’s working, because I feel a greater sense of the vision and hope the statement implies. It is possible when we make daily decisions and decide to take steps toward peace, however far away we may feel at the time. It’s a journey, gratefully we don’t travel alone. At CPA we are on that road and we are moving forward.

CPA has begun a project called “Steps Toward Reconciliation.” (Funded by MCC.) The goal is to empower CPA’s community structures of parents and youth to advocate for peace, constructively respond to conflict, and participate in reconciliation. It is initiated and led by parents who are committed to a personal and community process of reconciliation. The project responds to the ongoing emphasis on the importance of incorporating local level mechanisms into a transitional justice strategy.

By the completion of the plan, four steps towards reconciliation will have been taken:

1. Consensus will be built on applying traditional methods of restorative justice in Lango. Significant effort has been made in Acholi to build consensus on how traditional forms of justice can be adapted and used in the modern circumstances. The relevance of this discussion extends beyond the Acholi sub-region to the Greater North, including the Lango Sub-Region, Teso, Karimoja, and the tribes in Arua West Nile. Little has been done outside Acholi to document and build consensus among clan and traditional leaders around traditional justice. As CPA is operational in Lango and Acholi, the project will document and build consensus on the application of traditional justice mechanisms in the Lango Sub-region.

2. Directly affected parents will publicly forgive the Ex-LRA Commanders who have returned to the community. A series of preparatory meetings will be held with the directly affected parties (beginning with founder parents) and their families and clans and separately with the ex-LRA commanders and their families and clans. The preparatory meetings will culminate in a day of forgiveness for those who want to participate. The event will celebrate the progress made toward reconciliation and share practical experiences about the process.

3. A delegation of most affected parents will take that message of forgiveness and restorative justice to the top LRA leadership and negotiating teams. Having documented and compiled practical examples of traditional justice and restitution mechanisms as well as forgiveness and reconciliation, parents will take these practical experiences to the people who are critical decision makers in the peace process. CPA believes that the voice of parents must be heard and considered as part of the negotiations, specifically as discussions are held on issues of accountability and on comprehensive solutions.

4. Parent Support Groups and Youth Groups will be empowered to transform conflict, reconcile and mediate between conflicting families and clans through 100 trained mediators from those groups. Mediators will contribute to the reunification of families as formerly-abducted children return and mediate in the many conflicts between families/clans that are a result of the war. Traditional reconciliation ceremonies will be supported. The experiences of reconciliation will be documented and shared through publications and radio providing a public example of practical forgiveness, truth telling and restorative justice as a way to peace in northern Uganda.

I was trying to think of a catchy name or slogan for the community mediators. The word “mediator” doesn’t translate well into Acholi and Lango. It makes people think more of a match maker Fiddler-on-the-roof style than it does someone who can facilitate a positive space for conflicting parties to brainstorm and agree on solutions. I was thinking of calling them yeast. Just a little bit of it in the bread of northern Uganda can transform everything making the whole thing rise. But then I was told that that in Lango and Acholi if you call someone “yeast” it’s saying they’re a drunkard because it’s used to make the local beer. So the mediators would’ve all been wearing T-shirts that said “Drunkards for Peace.” I’d still like to use some symbol that carries the hope of the power of small things to change everything--something that will encourage the mediators, me and others, when the inevitable fatigue or discouragement comes—to remember that it is possible. Any suggestions?

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Cause for Celebration

by Ben

Holly and I want to share the joy and success of CPA with all of our friends and family over a significant accomplishment. A few months ago the European Union put out a call for proposals entitled "Northern Uganda Rehabilitation Programme". 90 applicants went through the laborious process of applying, with only 8 organizations to recieve the award. CPA was one of those 8, and the only local organization working in Northern Uganda to recieve funding! It was a cause for celebration, a moment that we could take a breath and say "job well done" to ourselves and the entire CPA staff. This funding accounts for a large portion of our three year plan. Now we're gearing up for the challenge and are ready to give this programme our full effort.

(Here is Holly, Betty, and Sylvia on the evening of the MOU signing)

(CPA's chairperson and mother, Angelina, congratulating her children)

Friday, July 13, 2007

3 words 3 desires

Recently I read a novel. I had the feeling that half the women in the US who are 20 or 30 something have read it, are reading it or are planning to read it. But since I'm in Uganda I have no idea what the popular opinion or hype about it is. The book itself was a nice way to spend a couple of evenings feeling a little more connected to my cultural peers (and comparing my own experiences with those of the main character in Italy and India with pasta, italian and yoga). I like Rumi (the Sufi poet) and I don't know the context or what he said because I'm getting this from the book and not direct from the source, but the novel says that Rumi says that we all have 3 things that are the essence of what we really desire and want in life. We can narrow it down to three words. And then if we discover that any of those three things conflict with each other we will be miserable--so better to just pick one of them and stick with it. I don't know if it's supposed to be a static thing, that for our whole lives there are really only three things that we want, but I thought about the core of my consistent desires and I think it's all captured in three words:




Beauty could be the feeling of sand between my toes with my feet up on the dashboard with great music playing, or Acholis dancing, or the smell of Colorado air the first day of a new season, it could be the flowers blooming around my back porch, or it could be really good swiss chocolate sent in a care package that I eat after a long day at work, or it could be a moment between a friend or partner that you realize is something unique and shared or it could be purple pillows.

Love I don't want to sort it into categories. Describing it would almost certainly cheapen it (at least with my limited mastery of the English language). Maybe the only thing to say is that the desire is for love, not for me or from me but just love and more of it.

Redemption, I struggled to think of the third word although I feel the desire most strongly and am driven by it all the time--giving it a name was tricky because it changes. The desire in it's purest form is redemption--wanting everything and everyone to be restored to all that they should be and to be a part of that process. In it's most selfish form, it's just a desire for power. But since I think it's better to nurture my purer desires, I'll focus on redemption.

Ben's are: wisdom, love and contentment.

What are your three words?

Thursday, July 05, 2007


by Ben

I have always liked gardening. One of my first memories is going to my mom and asking her if I need needed to buy my own tools if I wanted to go to farmers college. But here in Uganda, my love of gardening has come alive. It certainly helps to have year-round warm weather and fertile soil. But the act of digging, planting, weeding, creating, and nurturing the land has given me rest in times of chaos.

Anyone who knows me will say I'm a "doer". I need to be productive. Standard ways of relaxation (yoga, meditation/prayer, journaling, sunbathing) don't stimulate me enough-my mind wanders. I need to be slightly active in something to actually free my mind and process my thoughts. And gardening is the perfect medium. Another similar activity is fishing--you're busy baiting the hook, casting and reeling, but it really doesn't take away from personal reflection and processing.

A typical evening in the garden: It's 6:00PM. I get home from work and take a few minutes to play with Ogiko and change into old clothes. I'm emotionally tired from a hectic day. I could escape into a book, movie or food, but I sense the need to process my day. I go to the shed and pick up my hoe. I feel the cool grass under my bare feet as I walk across the yard. I begin digging the ground around the green pepper plants. The ground is soft because I dig it frequently. The soil is black. In the distance I hear a rooster crowing and children playing. The sun is gently setting. I plunge my hand into the loose soil, pick up a handful and squeeze it. It smells rich with nutrients. By now I'm sweating and my muscles are warm. All of the sudden I feel balanced and connected to the earth. I can begin to look back at my day with healthy perspective. Anxiety and stress has been washed away and replaced with a sense of gratitude.

This is a picture of what I pick out of my garden daily (besides the pineapple-this is our first one). In front are two varieties of jalepeno peppers, next to a sprig of basil. To the right are some cucumbers. In the blue bowl are several varieties of tomatoes. Behind the tomatoes are passion fruit, and a pineapple to the left. Between the bowls are a couple of green peppers.

Still to come: onions, peanuts, carrots, broccolli, cassava, eggplant, spinach, and lemon grass. Other fruits include: guava, bannana, mango, and avocado.